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Depression, suicide draw focus of counseling conf.

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (BP) — Encouraging those in attendance to adopt a “theology of life,” Frank S. Page delivered the keynote address during a Christian counseling conf. that focused on depression.

Ouachita Baptist University’s Pruet School of Christian Studies hosted the sixth annual Conference on Issues in Christian Counseling at OBU on Feb. 26. Sponsored by Ouachita, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, the one-day conference brought together a total of 160 mental health professionals — counselors, nurses and social workers — and pastors from around the state to examine the issue of depression.

A Christian theology on mental illness, mental health and suicide is needed, said Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “There are many people who are not darkening the doors of your church because of depression,” he said. “Some feel like people in the church don’t understand. Guess what? Many don’t.”

Page shared his family’s personal experience with both depression and suicide. Page is the author of several books, including “Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide” that he wrote after his daughter took her own life in 2009. He also appointed a Mental Health Advisory Group in response to a motion on mental health ministry and a resolution on mental health concerns introduced at the 2013 SBC annual meeting.

“We know suicide is a horrible experience,” he said. “The pain that is left behind for family and friends is a pain that may deaden over time but never heals completely.”

Stating that the Bible deals with depression and suicide, Page referenced depression in Psalm 42 and seven biblical examples of suicide: Abimelek (Judges 9), Samson (Judges 16), King Saul and his armor bearer (1 Samuel 31), Ahithophell (2 Samuel 17), Zimri (1 Kings 16) and Judas (Matthew 27).

Citing 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Page said, “The theology of life begins with a recognition that we do not belong to us. In our culture today, everyone teaches, ‘You belong to you.’ Well, that’s not what we believe. A Christian theology promotes a stewardship of God’s ownership of everything, including our own lives.”

Page also stressed the need to confront negative responses and bad theology and challenged mental health professionals and pastors to “minister the Word of God and God’s comfort to those who are depressed and hurting.”

“Practice the ministry of presence,” Page said. “Our Lord does not leave us, but sometimes that ministry is best performed by those in the helping community — in church and in the medical professions and psychological professions. You are the hands and feet and heart of Jesus reaching out to those around you.”

Following Page’s address, participants had the opportunity to choose from a variety of breakout sessions related to their field or interests. Session topics included ethical considerations with therapy-resistant clients, child sexual abuse, depression and counseling people of faith, pastoral care of the depressed person, cultural and social influences on depression and pharmacotherapeutic management of depression, among others.

The National Board for Certified Counselors approved most of the breakout sessions for Continuing Education credit. Credit was available to licensed alcohol and abuse counselors, professional and marriage and family counselors; national career counselors; nursing professionals; and social work professionals.

During the conference’s lunch session Bill Viser, coordinator for the conference and professor of Christian ministries at Ouachita, reminded counselors of the importance of self-care. Titled “When Helping You Is Killing Me,” Viser’s session distinguished between burnout and depression and provided strategies to combat burnout. Participants were given time to talk about when they were most susceptible to burnout and their personal strategies for preventing it.

“All we want to do is highlight something that can happen to any of us,” Viser said. “If we don’t practice good strategies, if we don’t practice taking care of ourselves, it can and it will happen to us. We need all the good caregivers we can get in the field and don’t want to lose any.”

This was Luther Harris’ third year to attend the Conference on Issues in Christian Counseling. As a pastor and a chaplain for Life Touch Hospice in El Dorado, Ark., Harris encounters depression on a regular basis. Specifically in his role as a chaplain, he ministers to patients and their family members as they approach the end of life.

“It makes it hard if they have not accepted that they are dying, and depression tends to take an overwhelming stake in their lives at that moment,” Harris said. “Through this conference I’ve learned a great deal about how to approach it, what to look for — and not just from the perspective of Life Touch, but from the perspective of a pastor.”

For Tami Montgomery, a licensed professional counselor with Arkansas Counseling and Psychodiagnostics in Arkadelphia, Ark., attending the conference for the first time has given her “a whole different perspective on depression.”

“It’s refreshing for me that this is not a hellfire and brimstone perspective of depression,” she said, “and that as Christians we do recognize that it exists.”

For more information about the conference, contact the Pruet School of Christian Studies at 870-245-5599.

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  • Rachel Gaddis