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Mental Illness and the I-35 “Miracle”

Jim Burroway

December 18th, 2007

I’ve already mentioned that a very good childhood friend of mine developed schizophrenia when we were in high school (he wasn’t diagnosed until his mid-twenties however, despite years of counseling). But wait, that’s not all. During a summer session in college, one of my four dorm roommates was particularly interesting. His name was Codé; he was French and rode a Peugeot bicycle around campus. We all thought something didn’t add up to his story though. There were just too many odd twists and inconsistencies. Then after about a month, he disappeared and nobody knew what happened.

Well, toward the end of the term, we finally learned that “Codé” was in a psychiatric hospital on the West Coast. He wasn’t from France, but he was from Versailles, Kentucky (where they pronounce it “ver-SAILS”). And he was bipolar. The moral: when someone is acting very strangely, there’s a good chance we’re dealing with a serious mental illness.

Warren Throckmorton has been digging further into the “Highway to Heaven” story. He talked with three principals in the story: Rev. Joe Oden of the Dallas-area Heartland World Ministries Church, Paul Strand at CBN, and Michael Johnston at Pure Life Ministries. The interesting thing that’s coming out is that they all saw clear signs of mental illness, but they all chose to ignore it. Unless there’s a worse possibility: that they are not trained to recognize it when they encounter someone who’s mentally ill.

The episode with Codé surprised all of us. But then, none of us were studying to be mental health professionals, nor did any of us pretend to participate in the neo-counseling netherworld in which so many ex-gay ministries operate. Heartland World Ministries and Pure Life are being supremely reckless when they take on the task of “counseling” those who they say are suffering from a “pathological” condition while refusing to submit themselves to professional regulation. They get away with it by saying that they’re Christian counselors, not psychologists, psychiatrists or, you know, real counselors. But they’re doing nobody any favors. What’s more, their purposeful lack of professionalism exposes them and their clients to potentially serious consequences. Heartland and Pure Life are lucky things didn’t spin tragically out of control. But the luckiest of all is James Stabile. Damn lucky.

Comments

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Emily K
December 18th, 2007 | LINK

Jim, thank you so much for following up on this. I am Bipolar and I know full well how devastating the effects can be when you don’t have the right support system. James Stabile is INDEED the luckiest in this story. And those who ignored the signs of his mental illness should be ashamed. James could have been violent, or suicidal, something much worse than a pathological liar.

Benton
December 19th, 2007 | LINK

I think for the longest time here was a notion in society that clergy = therapist. I had a class in seminary called “Pastoral Counseling.” My final paper for the class was why I thought the class name was a disservice. Pastors are not called to be counselors. Yes, they may be there to be supportive, but they are not (usually) trianed to be threapists. And the pastoral relationship can be threaputic, but it is NOT therapy. Clergy can be supportive but they need to REFER! I had a classmate who plopped a DSM-IV on the desk and said every pastor needed one of these on their shelf. I was offended. I took classes in the proper use of this tool and that he thought you could just pick it up and use it was offensive. Also, pastors are NOT supposed to be diagnosing their congregants.

Again, just because someone has Pastor, or Father, or Bishop in front of their name does not mean that they are therapists, they are THEOLOGIANS. If they want to do more, then get thee to a Ph.D. in psychology program.

tantien
December 19th, 2007 | LINK

I worked w/mentally handicapped adults (some being bi-polar) and I want to say thanks for this important message and as always, well delivered. This is so unfortunate, aside from the larger implications of this movement what this boils down to is, it really damages people and puts them at risk. Lets hope James is safe under the care, support and guidance of a loving family.

Something important to note is that unfortunately if a “counselor” is affiliated w/a religious organization they are not held up to the same standards as a licensed therapist (CSW, MSW, psychiatrist or Psychologists) who’s not affiliated- this varies from state to state, but its very scary.

Furthermore I’ve heard the standard to which aacc, ncca, abc and other christian counseling associations hold their “counselors” to isn’t very high.

when will this awful madness stop?

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