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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

When Medication & Therapy Aren’t Enough

[This is another post from my weblog, “On Second Thought,” posted on the website of Lorna Dueck’s show, “Context.”]


Rwanda needed more than therapy.

Perhaps no one living in the world today has witnessed a more awful situation than did Canadian general Roméo Dallaire. The former UN commander had to stand by helplessly as Hutus attacked Tutsi and Hutu moderates in a bloodbath that resulted in more than 800,000 deaths.

On this week’s program, filmmaker Paul Gross quotes General Dallaire saying that we must go beyond recognizing the damage done to soldiers by physical wounds and mental wounds to consider the toll taken by moral wounds as well.

Our minds can suffer because of physical illness and injury, and we need medical help for those problems. Whether for a drug, or a surgical intervention, or even just a new diet and exercise program, we rightly consult a physician to sort out our mental issues.

Our minds can suffer also because of mental illness and injury, and this week’s guests rightly urge us to seek psychological therapy for those problems as well. Perhaps a cognitive therapy app can help us remedy daily distortions in our thinking. Perhaps we’ll need a more sustained program of counseling, job training, and steady good company to enjoy a healthy outlook and a purpose in life.

So far, so good.

Yet the Christian religion, along with similar outlooks, shares Roméo Dallaire’s conviction that often our anguish and dysfunction are rooted in morality, not only in physicality or mentality. Not all mental problems are understood best in terms of sickness or injury, but in terms of sin and guilt.

What has damaged our minds has not always been a mere accident of circumstances, like contracting a virus or being struck by a falling icicle.

Sometimes it is the result of intentional wickedness as individuals or institutions out to do us harm actually succeed in doing so.

And sometimes, as General Dallaire acknowledges about soldiers, the harm we have intended to do to others, and succeeded in doing, hurts not only them but our selves as well.

Full healing, therefore, might well depend on more than medical or psychological assistance. We need spiritual and ethical help.

If we cannot forgive those who have injured us, they injure us still. If we have not received forgiveness for the damage we have done, our guilt presses down on our souls like a leaden suit.

Rwanda needed, and needs, more than physical repair and psychological counseling, crucial as those are. Rwanda needs repentance, forgiveness, and both the restitution of losses and the changing of hearts and ways…or the demons it has temporarily sequestered will come roaring back with a vengeance.

So it is with you, and me, and with every one of us.

By all means, then, let’s provide for ourselves and especially our needy neighbours all the medical, physical, and psychotherapeutic remedies we can. Our streets, our shelters, and our reserves are full of people we have starkly abandoned, to our national shame.

By all means also, however, let’s fully support and fully use the ethical resources of our churches and other institutions who offer us moral realism and rehabilitation. We dare not assume that physicians and psychologists can solve all that is wrong with our hearts, as General Dallaire knows all too well.


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