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Mental health and the training of the clergy

by
18 October 2013

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From the Revd John Brown

Sir, - It is alarming that more than half the clergy polled by St Luke's Healthcare had received no training about stress, and, therefore, find it difficult to cope with (Leader comment, 11 October).

This lack of understanding of mental-health problems leaves them ill-equipped to provide pastoral care to the many afflicted in this way, who continue to experience the stigma attached to mental illness, owing to this ignorance.

Thankfully, the needs of stressed clergy are at last being taken seriously, but the contribution of modern depth psychology towards resolving these issues needs fuller recognition.

Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, and son of a Swiss pastor, acknowledged the vital contribution of religious experience towards the healing of his patients. He claimed that none of them in the second half of life fully recovered until they had found God at the centre of the soul, and described his own experience of constantly circling round God as a planet revolves around the sun. So, when asked in a TV interview whether he believed in God, he famously replied: "I don't need to believe: I know."

By insisting that self-awareness can be achieved only when the ego or conscious self explores the depths of what he called the collective unconscious, particularly through the study and interpretation of dreams (there are more than 130 references to dreams in the Bible), Jung helps us appreciate the riches of the Christian mystical tradition.

As the 14th-century mystic who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing said, it is by trying to get a true knowing and feeling of yourself "that I trow soon after you will get the true knowing and feeling of God as he is".

It is reassuring that the Pilgrim course recently launched by the House of Bishops quotes from perhaps our most famous mystic, Julian of Norwich, and emphasises the importance of personal experience in our encounters with the living God rather than the academic study of theology.

I look forward to the day when every parish offers a school of prayer, encouraging every member of the congregation to discover the way of prayer that suits him or her best, since, in the words of John Wesley, "an ounce of experience is worth a pound of knowledge."

JOHN BROWN
3 Manor Way, Middleton-on-Sea
West Sussex PO22 6LA

 

From Emma Laughton

Sir, - It is encouraging that your leader comment (11 October) tackled the issue ofstigma in mental health, on the same day as you reported the appalling death, after police restraint,of Tom Orchard, a much-loved church employeewho was a user of mental-health services (News). The inquest has yet to take place; meanwhile, the Crown Prosecution Service is considering the case.

There is some irony then, and unclarity, in the leader's statement that "To kill oneself or another is seldom a sane act." If officers are found responsible for Mr Orchard's death, will theybe judged "insane"? Other explanations would be more likely. Actions can cause unintended death, whether innocently or culpably. But there is a deeper problem with this statement. It feeds rather than challenges the false equation that bad=mad=bad, which is one of the basic untruths of stigma.

Violence and killing flow from a range of ordinarymotives that are common to humanity. Violence is a norm for some people and sub-cultures, in wars and where civil society disintegrates. These motives and norms are not psychiatric symptoms. Let us beware. The shallowidea that "killing is insane" easily becomes "the insane are killers" - the very lie that your leader set out to criticise.

Such misperceptionsare damaging and dangerous for people with mental-health problems.

EMMA LAUGHTON (Reader)
Dolphin House, Dolphin Street
Colyton, Devon EX24 6NA

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