Biblical Counseling and Synaptic Pruning in Schizophrenics

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A friend sent me a copy of an article entitled Genetic Study Provides First-ever Insight into Biological Origin of Schizophrenia. My friend wanted to know what I thought about it as a biblical counselor. Are these findings good? Are they bad? Can a Christian worldview explain these findings? Before answering these questions, let me cast a vision. I need to describe what biblical counseling seeks to accomplish in the big picture. After that, I will summarize the main findings of this article. I will finish with three things we biblical counselors should do in response to this research.

What We are Trying to Do

Biblical counseling means many things to many people. This being so, I want to clarify its meaning by first casting a broad vision of what biblical counseling seeks to do on the macro level. In the big picture, biblical counseling seeks to glorify God. It understands that God created human beings in his image. It argues that God created humans as good. It holds that humanity fell into rebellion against God. It believes that God offers redemption through his Son Jesus Christ. Biblical counseling contends that problems in living flow from our failure to glorify God. We fail to glorify God when we don’t apply the gospel to our hearts and lives. The mission statement of biblical counseling might be the following: Biblical counseling reorients disoriented people to God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Biblical counseling, at least on the macro level, is worldview persuasion.

Francis Schaeffer said that “Christianity offers a unified answer for the whole of life.” In a sense, biblical counseling says the same thing. It is the practical outworking of Schaffer’s proposition. With this in mind, how then can we understand this latest research?

What They Found

First of all, researchers did not find a cure for schizophrenia. Instead, they discovered a correlation. Individuals with schizophrenia tend to have a certain variant of a gene. This gene handles something called “synaptic pruning.” Synaptic pruning is a normal process whereby the brain eliminates unnecessary connections between neurons. In people with schizophrenia, these genes do not work in a correct manner. Schizophrenics experience far more “pruning” than do typical people.

What This Means

This means that we now understand the complexity of a difficult malady better. We now know that there is some type of biological influence in scizophrenia. This does not eliminate a person’s responsibility before a holy God. But it does help biblical counselors focus on certain aspects of the schizophrenic’s experience. Now that we know a little more about the problem, we are in a better position to think theologically about this research.

How Should Biblical Counselors Respond

There are three things that biblical counselors should do in response to this research. First, biblical counselors should praise God for this discovery. These findings confirm what biblical counselors have known for a while. There is something misfiring in the brains of schizophrenics. Those biblical counselors who dismiss schizophrenics as “blame shifters” haven’t worked with them.  True schizophrenics need pastoral ministry. And although they are sinners (as we all are), there is something more than sinful behavior going on in them. As such, this research encourages biblical counselors to minister to schizophrenics in a more holistic way.

Second, biblical counselors should praise God for his common grace. To my knowledge, these researchers are not believers. Yet, by God’s common grace, they have started figuring out something valuable. They have discovered something that has eluded our understanding for well over 100 years. Their efforts will help us develop more effective treatments for schizophrenics. This research should help counselors of all approaches. But it might help biblical counselors the most. Why? Because it will help us select and apply the Bible in a more effective way. We have the most effective therapeutic remedy possible (God’s word). But, it is only as effective as its application. This research teaches us more about the functioning of the schizophrenic. It stimulates our thinking. It points us to more appropriate biblical themes. It helps us bring God’s word to those with this affliction. It helps us balance the spiritual and the physical. We still don’t have all the answers about treating the schizophrenic. But, who knows? Maybe God is about to reveal that to us soon. Regardless, we should praise him for allowing these researchers to discover what they discovered.

Third, biblical counselors should praise God for giving them a robust theology of sin. Despite what our critics say, biblical counseling’s understanding of sin is not superficial. Our theology teaches us that sin is not just a behavior. Sin is also a state of being. In the fall, sin permeated every aspect of creation (Rom 8:18-25). When we fell, our fall was not just moral. It was biological as well (Gen 3:19). As such, death came upon all men (Rom 5:12). Viewed this way, improper synaptic pruning is a direct result of the fall of Adam.

Join the Conversation

How does this research help you better understand a schizophrenic’s experience? What are some ways that you can minister to this person? How might the Bible speak to this experience?

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for the post.

    This news is very interesting and encouraging. Hopefully, we’ll continue to learn more about this complex illness.

    I have a cousin, he’s 22 yrs old, who was diagnosed with paranoid-schizophrenia around 5 years ago.

    His diagnosis came shortly after doing some dangerous mind-altering drugs, namely marjunia laced with pcp. He began experiencing all sorts of disturbing hallucinations, became aggressive and violent, and had a very hard time distinguishing between the real and unreal.

    Pharmaceutical meds have helped tone down the hallucinations somewhat, but he’s still very disturbed and cannot live independently. His state of mind has led to aggression, violence, and jail time.

    The family has no idea how to help him. Everyone that’s taken him in their home has found out that they are incapable of truly providing him the kind of help he needs.

    Our fear is that he’ll contiune to steal (and perhaps commit even more aggressive crimes) and wind up back in jail or dead.

    Is there any hope for such an individual?

    He professed faith in Christ before his diagnosis and still holds to his profession.

    What more can we be doing to help him?

    Are there any (inpatient) Christian programs or even secular ones that offer help for people like my cousin with severe mental illness?

    Any input or advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards in Christ,

    1. Hi Brandon,

      I am so sorry to hear of your cousin’s struggle. I do not know what your (or your cousin’s) church situation is, but one thing that comes to mind is asking folks in your church if they know of any facilities in the area. Also, if you would like for us to help you possibly locate some help, send an email to me at counseling@gracebc.org. Tell me where you guys live and your contact information. I will have the administrator of our counseling center check around for some possible help in your area.

      Until then, please know that I am praying for you, your cousin, and your family as you all go through this difficult time.

      In Christ,

      Todd

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