You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16 (NASB)
I am a classically trained Biblical Counselor. By this I mean I was originally trained under the paradigm of Dr. Jay Adams, Dr. Wayne Mack; which gives little credence to the idea that "mental illness" is as widespread as many would have us believe. To be clear there are legitimate cases of organic brain disorders that are verifiable through objective medical testing, however they are in the minority of the millions who are diagnosed as "mentally ill" each year by means of subjective methods.
Regardless of the legitimacy of the diagnosis, the fact remains that we encounter opportunities for ministry all the time in our daily interactions with people who have been given a diagnosis code and a prescription for a medication that is intended to help them cope.
We can offer something better than coping.
As the Church, we are charged with bringing the light and hope of the Gospel to those who are lost and hopeless, and yet I fear we routinely fail in serving this growing number of people!
Many Biblical Counselors are fearful of interacting with them and discipling them. They (We) mistakenly think we are not qualified to deal with the problems the "mentally ill" bring to the table, and nothing could be further from the truth. We say we believe the Bible contains the answers to all of the problems of life; do we include the problems the mentally ill have in "all?" Do we believe Romans 8:28-29 applies to them? We had better or we are diminishing the power of the God we serve!
The question to the one who is diagnosed as mentally ill must be the same as for any other counselee; "Do you want to know what the Word of God says about your problem?" The goal must be the same as for any other counselee, they are to glorify God by how they live their life to the best of their ability.
We dare not ignore the sin issues they present or excuse sinful behaviors because of the psychiatric label given to them. We must be faithful to teach, rebuke, correct, and train them in righteousness.
We can help them to learn to think biblically and deny the temptation to be self-pitying in spite of a culture that wants to turn their focus inward and make it "all about me." This counselee can learn to serve their spouse by becoming a godly husband or wife (1 Peter 3:7) and their children (Ephesians 6:4) despite how they feel.
We can teach them how to work as unto the Lord using the abilities God has given them (Colossians 3:22-25) in environments that may be challenging and godless.
On one hand, ministering to a person diagnosed as mentally ill is no different than ministering to any other counselee who struggles with anger, decision making, fear, anxiety, parenting, or any other common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13) problem. On the other hand, some people in this group will need a much greater level of involvement than a low maintenance counselee. They might need more intensive discipleship and accountability than many others you serve and your involvement with them will be of a longer duration.
The ministry of the Biblical Counselor may be the first glimmer of hope this counselee has received in his or her life. Start discipleship where they are at and as you dig through each fruit issue and confront sinful thoughts, beliefs, and desires you should be presenting the hope and change that comes from unity with Jesus Christ and the gospel. Their suffering becomes purposeful and they will see that their diagnosis has helped reveal the contents of the heart.
Don't shy away from these counselee's! Ministering to those labeled as mentally ill can be challenging but very rewarding as they begin to see small changes taking place in their lives. A few cautions are necessary for the Biblical Counselor: unless you are a medical doctor, don't give medical advice. You should not advise anyone on medications and never ever suggest the counselee stop or start taking medications prescribed by their doctor or prescriber. Our place is ministering to the immaterial man, or the spiritual realm of the counselee, stick to what you do best. Follow the instructions of Paul to the Thessalonians:
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)