The Pastoral Handbook of Mental Illness

Steve Bloem: A Guide for Training and Reference

The Pastoral Handbook of Mental Illness
A Guide for Training and Reference
(Kregel, 2018)

WHO: Steve Bloem, a certified counselor, former pastor and executive director of Heartfelt Counseling Ministries.

HE SAYS: “People under the stress of mental illness could be said to be in the fog of war, where confusion abounds and the ability to stay the course at times seems beyond the human ability to cope.”

THE BIG IDEA: Few pastors are trained to recognize or deal with common mental disorders. This guide was written so that they might know how to help people who have mental illness.

This practical guide begins with helpful lists of psychiatric terms, spiritual terms and research and treatment information. The main body of the book is a listing of major mental illnesses. Each entry includes a definition of the illness, age of onset, risk factors and treatment options.
Next is a chapter on suicide that includes warning signs to watch for and key facts. This is followed by a thorough section on common questions about mental illness.
The book concludes with appendices on diagnostic differentials, medications and the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale.

“God does not come to them in their fragile, unstable state as a harsh disciplinarian, but as Shepherd who is there to carry them.”

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What is a common misconception pastors and ministry leaders have about mental illness?

Pastors and other ministry leaders tend to think the person with a mental illness can’t handle stress. For example, when I was first depressed, I feared there would never be any relief. When I finally started on the mend, I called a deacon who was in charge of choosing potential pastoral candidates. I asked him if I could be reconsidered for the pastoral opening in his church. He answered, “Preacher, we heard that you have a case of the nerves.” And that was that.

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How can pastors be better equipped to counsel those suffering with mental illness?

I truly believe this manual for training and reference will be an important resource for pastors. It is written to be exactly that, a resource. It is written chapter-by-chapter with all the mental disorders listed, a tip for the pastor, symptoms, average age of onset; everything I could think to include that would give a pastor or even a Christian counselor a framework with which to help their counselees. Once a person buys the book, they can contact me by email or phone, and I will help them with any questions they may have. Heartfelt Counseling also trains and helps pastors so they can be equipped to minister to the “mentally ill.” We have also written two support group manuals. The group is CAMI (Christians Afflicted with Mental Illness) support group.

Do you think seminaries do enough to prepare pastors for dealing with those with mental illness?

As of now they are woefully inadequate. The training of pastors with regard to how to shepherd the mentally ill needs be part of their seminary curriculum. Students and professors need to understand that mental disturbances are common, and believers should not have blame and shame added to their biological agony. If a person has depression and believes it is because they have some incurable spiritual condition, more hopelessness becomes part of an already cloudy diagnostic picture.