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Book: The Pastoral Handbook of Mental Illness

(First note: it took me five minutes to make sure the title was right, what with the capital “I” and the lower case “l”s right there beside each other.)

(Second note: this book was provided by Kregel Academic/Ministry for the review. Then I spilled coffee on it, set it aside to let it dry, and forgot to review it until the last minute.)

PastoralMentalIllnessSteve Bloem’s The Pastoral Handbook of Mental Illness is a useful tool in the minister’s toolbox. That’s the key line here: if you are a minister in a church, you should get this work and keep it on hand as you deal with people, especially as you deal with those who come to you for counseling. Why? Because most of us do not have counseling degrees. Most pastors and ministers spent some time in counseling classes, but that was mixed with courses on everything else that is involved in the day-to-day work of serving a church.

But, at times, we are the first people that our congregants ask about mental health questions. Perhaps the second, after they have asked a family care care doctor. And we are often ill-equipped for the questions. Bloem’s work helps crack open the door so that you can see the depth of what a problem may involve, which will help you see how to help alongside encouraging the individual to seek competent mental health care.

Which is a key aspect of this book: it is not here so that unlicensed individuals can play Sidney Freedman. The goal is that ministers will be equipped to guide those who have mental health issues to competent care.

The other use of this work, which is potentially more valuable, is that the minister becomes more equipped to broaden awareness of mental health problems and provide community support within the church. For too long, Bloem asserts, the church has not been a place where those with mental health issues can find care and support. He suggests that a general ignorance may be part of the problem. I’m inclined to agree.

The book starts with a rationale for its existence, which is helpful, and that is followed by an alphabetical reference section of major diagnoses. This is extremely useful for those times when someone comes to you and says “Pastor, my family member has been diagnosed with SAD. What does that mean, and what do I do?” You can turn right to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and see some suggestions of help.

The list is of major issues, and therefore is not exhaustive. I would have liked to have seen a bit about adult diagnoses on the autism spectrum, but there are some personal reasons for that. Overall, it is very helpful and gives you good guidelines.

The strength of this book is in the questions at the end. Bloem explains the difference in counseling models, highlights the Biblical reasons one might seek counseling, and addresses some other common questions.

In all, this one should be part of the required texts for pastoral counseling classes and then kept on your shelf through your ministry years.

Book provided by Kregel Academic. They didn’t provide the coffee I spilled on it, though…

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