Our road to union with God is the most beautiful, fulfilling, challenging, and worthwhile venture one will take in this life. So how does this play into our path towards healing trauma and achieving true mental wellness? Below are a few areas of focus I would outline as being foundational to holistic mental health care for clients in Christian Counseling.
1. Take your Spiritual Life Seriously
Your spiritual health is a direct entryway to your mental health. The reality of spiritual warfare in this world is emphasized extensively in the New Testament. Around a third of the Gospels includes the topic of deliverance, and Jesus commanded the apostles to cast out demons in their continued ministry. The battle for our souls begins in the mind and moves to the heart, making the state of our mental health a feasting ground for our enemy and his minions.
Therefore, we are meant to be vigilant against this aspect of our reality especially as followers of Christ. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”
Furthermore, Ephesians chapter 6 emphasizes this world being a battleground stating, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This world is not a cruiseship, it is a battleship.We are called to be IN the world but not OF the world for a reason.
2. Invest in a Rich Mental Prayer Life
Whether we are scheduling intentional quiet-time with God (this is essential), or praying passively throughout our day, remember that we can reach Him through internal mental prayer at any time of day - while brushing your teeth, taking a few breaths between work meetings, on our drive home, etc. Talk to God in all things at all times of day – the good, the bad, the ugly, the random, the seemingly insignificant.
This will develop your relationship with the Lord and help you feel closer to Him. Just as we strengthen our human relationships through communication, we must invest in our relationship with God. He wants to hear it all from you and wants to be in deep friendship with you more than anything. (Jeremiah 29:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Timothy 2:8)
3. Unrelenting Worship
We were, first and foremost, made for a relationship with God. We will be unfulfilled
until we live our lives in, with, and for Him (Luke 4:7, The Book of Ecclesiastes).
4. Daily Bible Study
The Word of God is a powerful anesthetic for any anguish we face in life. It is the soul-
food we must live on to strengthen our minds and nourish our hearts. (Proverbs 4:20-22) Don't underestimate the power of the Word of God in your healing journey and in your spiritual development. To truly know Jesus and to conform to His image, we must get to know Him through His Word.
5. Healthy and Secure Relationships
We are social creatures. We were made FOR love – to give love and to receive love. All human relationships are imperfect and flawed, but we can learn to be more effective, gracious, and skillful in cultivating healthy attachments, especially those that bring us closer to Jesus and encourage us to walk the path of sanctifying grace. (1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 27:17)
Additionally, God is very much an attachment-focused and relational God. Genesis 2:18 says "it is not good for man to be alone" which is why he created Eve as a companion for Adam. For example, God created the angels to be apart of His holy family, is Trinitarian in nature (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), instituted sacred covenant bonds with the Israelites, gave us the sacred sacrament of marriage, and created a family-system model for us to live within.
6. Boundaries with Ourselves
We are called to discern what healthy self-denial looks like in our individual lives. As all parents know, we deny our children of things they want sometimes for their own good (even if they disagree or might not understand why). Our Heavenly Father asks us to similarly learn to deny ourselves in ways that benefit and strengthen us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. (Galatians 2:20, Galations 5:24, Matthew 16:24)
7. Boundaries with Others
Know your limits, understand how your personal core values inform your needs,
and learn to guard your heart and mind in your relationships. The foundation of secure relationships is built upon mutually respected boundaries because they honor and protect everyone involved. (Proverbs 4:23, Proverbs 25:17, Galatians 6:5, 1 Corinthians 15:33)
8. Find Purpose, Healing, and Identity in Imitating Jesus
As disciples of Christ, we are asked to pick up our crosses daily to follow Him. (Luke 9:23-25) Jesus did not come to take away suffering. He came to redeem our present suffering by giving it meaning and direction. This world is not our home, and we aren’t meant to get comfortable here. (Romans 5:3-5) We are promised that discomfort (suffering, trials, and
persecution) will be a part of this life. (John 16:33)
Jesus shows us how to deal with the worst of this world in the most spectacular and distinguished of manners, which is meant for our good and the good of others. His ways are perfect, and we are called to conform to His perfect image, where we will find all that we need and so much more (Romans 8:28-30).
In this, we will sacrifice worldly comforts, which are empty in terms of the existential, but we will gain the fruits of the narrow road which leads us home. (Matthew 7:13-14) I love studying the Gospels for this reason or reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Á Kempis,
the most popular Christian book in the world behind the Bible.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 5:3
9. Develop Holy Habits
These are habits that glorify God, our temporal bodies, and our eternal souls. For
example, Physical Movement, Proper Nutrition and Hydration, Focusing on Sleep Hygiene, Gratitude Practices, and Being Mindful of Toxic Influences. Develop a healthy relationship with your body and care for it to the best of your ability. Not only is this pleasing to God and respectful to the Holy temple, which is our physical bodies (Romans 12:1), it drastically improves our mental health as well.
Furthermore, we should work to limit or eliminate toxic influences which harm our spiritual, physical, and mental well-being (i.e., people, social media, news media, harmful chemicals, junk food, processed sugar, neurotoxins, ungodly content, etc.).
10. Exposure to Sunshine and Nature
We are not meant to live as we do now in our modern world. Most of us are stuffed behind a desk indoors and with unnatural lighting for most of our workday. Our ancestors spent much of their time outside, moving, laboring, and being exposed to the earth and sunlight. When we do these things, we also benefit significantly in our mental health.
According to the NIH, almost half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, which impairs sleep quality and energy levels and causes depression, anxiety, and many physical health issues. Furthermore, Dr. Andrew Huberman, a renowned ophthalmologist and neurobiologist at Stanford emphasizes the benefits of rising with the sun in the mornings and ensuring we get direct sunlight within an hour of waking to stabilize mood and circadian rhythm (sleep).
11. ACTS Journaling
Any type of journaling is incredibly beneficial for our mental health as it helps us
process emotions, reveal unconscious thoughts, and resolve internal stressors effectively and productively.
ACTS journaling is a Christian means of journaling that stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. This means to 1. express your love for God, 2. examine your conscience, 3. share gratitude for all of the ways He is present in your life, and 4. ask for what you need.
12. Get in Touch with your Emotions (but don’t let them rule you)
Our emotions are data – they help us understand our responses to life. Emotions are a God-given part of our humanity that animates our inner experience and helps us relate to others. Creating space for our emotions to process and move through what we feel is healthy. Depending on the circumstance, this may take more or less time and be more or less appropriate to entertain.
For example, with trauma and grief, we must always have compassion
and patience for our wounds. These responses are autonomic and intrusive, meaning they are not consciously controlled. God meets us in this very real pain. (Psalm 34:18)
On another note, if we are disrespected and talked down to by a coworker, we may struggle with feeling incompetent or low in our self-esteem. These feelings might lead to making up stories in our head about our worth that are just not true. It is human to feel, but we must also temper our emotions with the spiritual truth that what we think and feel is not always factual or trustworthy. (Jeremiah 17:9)
13. Charitable Endeavors and Generosity
Exercising love of thy neighbor and giving back to others is encoded in our very nature. When we get beyond ourselves to focus on others in a healthy manner, we will experience the fruits of the greatest drug on the planet – l o v e. (Matthew 5:7, Luke 6:35, 1 John 4:8)
14. Hobbies That Spark Joy
Utilize your God-given talents, gifts, interests, and passions. God gives us these inclinations intentionally and they often lead to our purpose.
For me, those interests include just about anything artsy, cooking, weight lifting, being outdoors, going on random road trips, reading, martial-arts, and fueling my inner-nerd with learning new things. My passion for the human soul and neuroscience led me to become a Christian Counselor.
15. Mindfulness Practice
Learn to slow down and minimize distractions so you can live in the present moment. We are inundated with more information in one 30-minute scroll through social media than our ancestors were in a week or more. No wonder we are all so anxious. Our modern world is overwhelmingly unnatural and more than our brains can process.
Get back to simple – sink into your senses; go outside and listen to the birds sing, feel the sunshine on your skin, breathe in the fresh air, look up at the patterns of the clouds or the networks of the tree branches above you, sip on a refreshing cup of coffee or iced-tea. Take more time just to notice and be.
16. Know Thyself
I'm a fan of what's called "parts work." which is a method of therapy also known as Internal Family Systems or IFS. IFS helps us to understand the individual fragmented pieces of what make up a whole person. We often say, "one part of me feels this way while another part feels that way."
This is because we have various "parts" of ourselves which have adapted to the world differently and often do not function as a unified team. Understanding your parts is important in discerning maladaptive trauma responses, determining helpful versus unhelpful patterns of behavior, and gaining control of our functioning. Self-mastery is required for a healthy Christian life as we are to submit ourselves to the will of the Father. (Titus 2:12, 1 Peter 2:11)
However, unhealed trauma (what I refer to as the enemy's playground) often leads to a lack of awareness of ourselves, a lack of self-control and tends to be a significant barrier to the spiritual life.
17. Identify, Process, and Heal your Past Traumas
As mentioned above, healing trauma is crucial in dealing with the spiritual warfare which seeks to destroy us. Trauma is an unfortunate reality of this life and one that touches us all on different levels. Unprocessed traumatic wounds can not only block us from growing spiritually, but it also alters our very nature in emotional and neurobiological ways.
The personality structure, the resilience of the nervous system, our ability to attach to others and build relationships, and our overall functionality in life are common areas impacted by trauma. The good news is that we have a mighty God who equipped us with spiritual and human tools to help us overcome these challenges. My favorite of these tools is the medicine that is a loving, compassionate, and empathetic therapeutic relationship. All of you is welcome here.
“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” - Breneé Brown
18. Forgiveness (towards self and others)
Did you know that there are numerous studies on the harm caused by not forgiving others? It is literally a poison to the body and soul. If you are in therapy, there is likely at least one person you are working on forgiving. Forgiveness is a non-negotiable for the Christian life as the one who forgave us requires us to practice this same virtue (Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness is a spiritual practice that we choose, which takes time and diligence in prayer and is usually a longer-term goal when dealing with trauma. As we heal, process, feel, and strengthen ourselves in Jesus, he makes way for the hardening of our hearts to break down these walls. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you seek this deepest and most necessary healing phase.
19. Adaptive Coping Skills
Gain self-mastery skills that support the development of discipline, self-control,
and temperance. Acquire additional skills for soothing the nervous system and managing the mind. These should be guided and informed by your values which will move you toward who you want to be as a child of God.
"It is perfectly okay to need Jesus and a therapist." - Unknown
Soul Revival Christian Counseling is based in San Antonio, Texas and is accepting clients for virtual counseling in Texas and Colorado. Please visit us at https://www.soulrevivalchristiancounseling.com for more information or to book a free 30 minute phone consultation with Michelle Byrd, M.Ed., LPC.
** DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not therapeutic or medical advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 988 or 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255). **