Madness and Grace

A Practical Guide for Pastoral Care and Serious Mental Illness

Matthew S. Stanford, PhD

When people suffer from a mental health crises, who do they turn to for help? It's not a physician or a psychiatrist or a social worker. According to research, most people turn to a pastor, a priest, or a minister. In other words, a leader in their church. Since faith and religion are central to the lives of millions of people around the world, this is perfectly natural. Unfortunately, many church leaders have not received the training necessary to recognize the presence of mental illness. As a result, fewer than 10 percent of people who turn to the church for help are referred to a mental health professional, and their suffering persists interminably. Madness and Grace was written to help this situation.

Directed at church ministry, this book is a comprehensive guide for recognizing when someone is suffering from a mental illness and when to make a referral to a mental health professional. It is full of concrete and practical advice, describing skills for detecting a spectrum of mental disorders, such as how to listen for the phraseology of someone considering suicide. It also explodes common and discriminatory myths, like the notion that mentally ill people are more prone to violence than others.

The author, Dr. Matthew Stanford, has treated a variety of mentally ill clients, including those with aggression, personality disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance dependence, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. In Madness and Grace, he brings to bear the full extent of his experience, first by explaining what constitutes a mental illness and how these disorders are classified according to science. He next introduces the skill of detecting the presence of a mental illness through listening carefully to a person's speech, observing their behavior, and asking discerning questions. He goes on to discuss methods of treatment, common religious concerns about mental health, and ways church communities can support people on the road to
recovery.

As a committed Christian, Dr. Stanford wants his fellow believers to know that acknowledging and seeking help for a mental illness is not a sign of weak faith. That's why, in addition to sharing his medical expertise with church leaders, he commends pertinent Biblical passages to them that emphasize God's concern for our mental wellbeing, and provide strength and comfort as a complement to clinically-derived treatment. Dr. Stanford considers this of the utmost importance and underlines the fact that "when working with those in severe psychological distress, compassion and grace are always the first line of pastoral care."