I get paid to listen to stories; sad to tragic, funny to bizarre. Iím a Christian clinical psychotherapist; and no, that's not an oxymoron. The bible actually has a lot to say about mental illness. Terms like schizophrenia, paranoia, OCD, psychosis, bipolar are manís attempts to label what God already described centuries ago in His Word.
Time has honed my practice, and I now specialize in clients with paranoia and personality disorders. Here's a favorite paranoia-related verse I keep on my desk:
I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no one is pursuing them. Leviticus 26:36 NIV
My newest client, Hannah, was a perfect example of that verse. It didnít take much interaction with her to diagnose paranoid personality disorder plus generalized anxiety disorder, but all that medical mumbo-jumbo could be translated into one wordófear.
Hannahís paranoias came out like lava oozing from a crack in a volcano, a slow and steady eruption that she was helpless to hold back.
"You donít know what itís like being me," she began. "Theyíve tapped my phone. They follow me. Everywhere I go I see people talking about me. Voices whisper to me at night. And now Iím afraid my sister is stealing my money."
"What makes you think that, Hannah?"
"Itís obvious. My money keeps disappearing and sheís the only one who knows where I keep it."
"Could it be that youíve just lost track of your money?"
"No!" she responded indignantly. "She's getting back at me for things she says I did to her when we were kids."
"Have you confronted her about it?"
"I donít dare do that!" she exclaimed. "Iím afraid Iíll lose control and hurt her bad. I can get really, really angry...especially when the TV tells me to get back at somebody."
"What does the TV tell you to do, Hannah?"
"Well, mostly itís those game shows. You know...like Wheel of Fortune? The scrambled letters are a hidden message meant just for me."
"What kind of things does it tell you?"
"Oh, sometimes it just tells me things about me. You know...like Iím no good. Iím a bad person. Iím going to hell. But sometimes it tells me to hurt somebody else because theyíre bad too."
"Have you ever acted on those messages? I mean have you ever hurt yourself or somebody else?"
"Well..." She hesitated. "I have punished myself a few times for being bad. Like pulling out my hair or scratching myself, but I havenít let myself do anything to anybody else."
"How does it make you feel after you've hurt yourself?"
"I feel better. I feel...like Iím paid up for a while, know what I mean? Cuz I deserve to be punished."
"Yes, Hannah. I do know."
Shifting the focus of our conversation, I began a gentle inquiry. "Hannah, would you say thereís anybody in this world that you truly love?"
Hannah fidgeted in her chair and avoided looking at me. Finally she murmured, "I can't love. I'm too afraid."
"I used to feel that way, too."
"Really?" Hannah eyed me suspiciously.
"Yes. But then I read something by a guy name John that made me think differently about my fears. I want you to read something." I slid a plaque across my desk.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. I John 4:18 NIV
"Hannah, Iím happy to take you on as a client, but please understand that my help is temporary. However, I do know someone who can help you permanently. His name is Jesus. Do you know who He is?"
"Sure, I watch all those religious shows on TV, TBN and all that. They talk about him all the time."
"Well, theyíre talking about Christianity, Hannah. But Christianity isnít religion. Itís a relationship with Christ. Without that relationship, itís just talk, like we're doing here. Iíd like to begin our relationship with a firm foundation, something we can really build on. You need saving, Hannah, and Jesus is your Savior. Would you allow me tell you more?"
"Can he get rid of my fear?" she asked, her eyes earnestly searching my face. I nodded.
"Tell me," she whispered.
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