Pandemic mental-health challenges meet a shortage of professionals

By Sharon Richards, LCSW

The mental-health crisis predicted to follow the pandemic is already here. But the surge in demand over the last year has been met by a shortage of professional therapists.

As experts predicted, many more people are seeking counseling to address symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and depression. Others are desperate to explore overwhelming questions about their identity, God, and the meaning of life.

While traditional therapies are sometimes ill-equipped to address these more existential questions, gospel-centered professional counseling is uniquely suited to bridge this gap. Integrating the gospel within the framework of a professional counseling relationship provides a unique opportunity for people to experience Christ’s transformative healing.

However, counseling centers serving communities on a sliding-scale fee system are more likely than their secular counterparts to collapse due to inadequate resources and funding. Christian-based counseling ministries often do not qualify for federal or corporate grants, which are limited to begin with. Churches which refer clients to these organizations are often not able to subsidize in significant amounts.

And the counselors working at these small ministries often work part time, because the nonprofit cannot afford to provide benefits. So many professional Christian therapists have to choose to serve at a cost to themselves or leave for private practice to make a living wage. For these reasons, local Christian counseling ministries need our care and attention now so they can keep serving and healing people through the power of Jesus.

Exponentially increasing need

Disturbing trends are being closely followed by researchers and governments as well as local community organizations and churches. According to a recent New York Times article, two out of five people in the U.S. are struggling with a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, domestic abuse or substance abuse. And the rate is rising. Experts are pointing to a “‘tsunami of psychiatric illness’ in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The need has increased exponentially in the last year,” says Dr. Judy Cha, director of Redeemer Counseling Services in New York. People have experienced (and are still experiencing) an increased level and duration of distress, threat of physical harm or death, many losses, social isolation, as well as racial and political divides.

“These have destabilized our sense of safety and security in life,” Cha says. “I can’t fully imagine what the impact will be, especially on children. But I do expect that there will be a long-term fallout from the pandemic.”

In a June 2020 episode of NCF’s Hope Cast, Simon Barrington, founder of Forge Leadership, discussed the challenges that accompany the phases of recovery and reconstruction after any crisis. He predicted several re-entry phases, which would start with a honeymoon period full of joy and excitement, followed by more challenging periods of disillusionment and readjusting.

Barrington recommended that community-minded givers keep in mind this critical question: “How can we help people readjust?

The value of supporting Christian counseling

We asked directors of Christian counseling centers for their thoughts on the role of Christian counseling as a pathway toward healing during this uncomfortable time. Dr. Gwen M. White, director of Circle Counseling in Pennsylvania, says she sees the work of psychotherapists as a continuation of Jesus’ ministry of listening and healing those in need. “The truth still sets us free, including the truth we carry unconsciously, related to fears and old patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” White says. “Jesus still sets people free.”

“I feel the urgency to make the gospel relevant in the counseling process,” Cha says. “Although there is value in what secular therapies can offer, I believe that mental health cannot be separated from our spiritual health because we are made in the image of God.”

Quality gospel-focused counseling centers are running on thin resources. And this means another barrier for those seeking help. “Too often, people have to fight through a variety of issues to even get counseling, says Jonathan Holmes, executive director at Fieldstone Counseling in Ohio. “So to encounter a financial hurdle – for some, this is the end of their pursuit.”

Consider the impact counseling had on one individual we spoke with: “When I was in my 20s and living in New York City, I knew I would be helped by counseling, but I couldn’t afford it. Someone wrote a check and handed it to me. They told me my thoughts and wounds were precious to God and to not run from them. That act of generosity launched a great journey of healing in my life.”

Photos: Middle (Photo: George Desipris on Unsplash)

Published in the National Christian Foundation.


Mental Health Exercise:

Facing Hard Moments with God

Julie Reinhold, Psy.D.*

Download as PDF

It is difficult to imagine life as it used to be after more than a year of living in the midst of a global pandemic. As we move toward re-opening, many are feeling uneasy and anxious about returning to school and work, hugs and handshakes, and social gatherings. In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that Americans are experiencing the highest levels of stress since April 2020, and that half of surveyed adults are uneasy about returning to in-person interactions.

Just as we adapted to the sudden changes of distancing at the start of the pandemic, we now have to navigate a re-entry into living life together, which is another hard reality to face. Escaping the hardship of a moment is tempting, but denying reality can lead to more suffering.

Why accept the moment for what it is? Jesus taught this through his actions. In the Lord’s Prayer, he instructed people to pray, “Thy will be done.” Jesus prayed to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion, “Not as I will, but as you will.” He departed the Garden of Gethsemane with clarity, peace, and focus in the midst of violence and chaos. These examples show that acceptance is not only a matter of obedience, but that cultivating a skill, such as the radical acceptance skill can reduce emotional suffering. It also helps us connect to the moment with clarity and greater peace. Instead of feeling abandoned by God, we can look for how he is working in the present moment.

Radical Acceptance is not: approval, passivity, or opposition to change. Even as we accept the current moment as it is, we can seek his help to respond differently. This keeps us from becoming emotionally imbalanced and will help us respond to each new moment effectively.

* Adapted from Redeemer Counseling Toolkit April 2018

Radical acceptance skills can walk us through how to face even our toughest moments so that we do not overwhelm ourselves and can help us stay connected to God and his word.

Radical Acceptance Skills Exercise*

Identify something in your life that you are having trouble accepting. Write it down so you have it in front of you.

What is the intensity of your distress? ______

Rate from 0 (no acceptance) – 100 (complete acceptance)

What is the level of your acceptance? _______

Rate from 0 (no acceptance) – 100 (complete acceptance)

Check the facts to make sure the thing you are trying to accept is actually true.

Look out for judgments, interpretations and opinions. Rewrite if needed. For example: “I’m never going to survive getting on a subway to get to work.” becomes, “I need to wear my mask and keep appropriate distance when I’m taking public transportation.”

Use these strategies to help you get to acceptance:

  • Be Curious about your internal processes:
    • Notice or acknowledge that you are questioning or fighting reality.
  • Allow yourself to feel the painful feelings associated with the reality that is difficult
  • Name and verbalize/express your feelings.
  • Use your imagination to receive comfort from God:
    • Imagine you are before God and tell him about your feelings
  • Imagine God understanding your pain
  • Verbalize what God may be saying in response to you.
  • Be reminded of his presence with you
  • Change your body posture while contemplating the thing you need to accept. Your face and body connect to your brain:
  • Willing hands: Place your hands on your lap or your thighs. With hands unclenched, turn your hands outward, with palms up and fingers relaxed.
  • Half-smile: Relax your face, let the corners of your lips go slightly up, adopt a serene facial expression.
  • Meditate on scripture to receive comfort and gain confidence in his sovereignty and love for you.
    • Psalm 23:4
    • Psalm 139
    • Isaiah 43:1-2
    • Psalm 16:8
    • Psalm 34:18
  • Choose to turn your mind toward acceptance.

After practicing one or more of the above strategies, evaluate again.

What is the intensity of your distress? ______

Rate from 0 (no acceptance) – 100 (complete acceptance)

What is the level of your acceptance? _____

Rate from 0 (no acceptance) – 100 (complete acceptance)

You may need to actively practice acceptance over and over again until your distress is low and your acceptance is high.

*Adapted from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan.


Maria's Story

Hello, my name is Maria. I attend Redeemer East Side. I grew up in Ohio with my parents, my sister and two brothers. I moved to New York City 11 years ago to go to college. My first semester here was great—I was doing well in school, making friends, and exploring the city. I felt confident about what I could do in school and life. It was hard to imagine anything going wrong.

Later that freshman year, I received news that brought everything crashing down—my sister, with whom I was very close, had unexpectedly passed away. My sister was one of the main sources of my identity and stability in my life. My family was irrevocably changed by this loss.

In the months after my sister’s death, I experienced grief and devastation on a scale I never had before. So much of who I was, my experiences and memories, had been shaped by my sister’s presence. We played music, baked cookies, watched movies, and talked together for so many years. Losing her brought a layer of sadness to those previously happy parts of my life. I hated feeling that overwhelming pain, so I did my best to avoid and distract myself from it by focusing on school and other activities.

I hid my sadness as well as my growing guilt and anxiety, because I did not want anyone to worry about me or treat me differently. I assumed no one would understand what I was going through, and that sharing with others would unnecessarily burden them. As a result, I did not reach out to anyone for help. Instead I stopped mentioning her at all to people in order to avoid the pain that talking about my sister always brought up. This strategy worked for several years, but as time went on, it became harder for me to maintain appearances. On the outside, I appeared high functioning and strong, but underneath there was a river of grief threatening to break through the surface.

About six years after my sister’s death, I joined a Redeemer community group. A lady in the group shared with me that her brother had passed away. I was struck by her vulnerability and courage in talking about how difficult it still was for her, and how she was going to Christian counseling. My new friend was so encouraging and empathetic. Seeing her strength made me want to get help too.

Three years ago, I signed up for Redeemer’s Counseling Services. At first, counseling was incredibly difficult for me. I had gone many years without talking about my sister, Anna. The pain was still intense for me. Finally though, I was encountering the grief directly and honestly. My counselor led and prayed with me through it all. She guided me in exploring the emotions that I had shut away for so long, allowing me to say her name again in the presence of friends.

My counselor also helped me confront my fear and guilt, which had kept me from sharing about my sister. Anna had suffered from bipolar disorder and her death was caused by suicide. As a result, I worried about sharing about her with others in case they would judge her or my family for her death. I also felt guilty and wondered if I could have helped her more. Through counseling, I learned to accept my weakness, but also to accept and remember my identity in Christ. I was led to remember to rely on God’s forgiveness and what He had done for me when He sacrificed Himself to heal the world, and to heal me.

The more I focused on God’s love and mercy in my life, the more I could go beyond my brokenness. Counseling helped me discover that I am a person with many emotions, both happy and sad, joyful and fearful, but ultimately created, loved, and cherished by God. The tragedy no longer defined me, rather my identity as God’s child did. I can grieve because Anna’s death will always be a sad memory, but I can simultaneously experience joy in God’s faithfulness and the promise of eternal life through Him.

After God healed my heart through counseling, I decided to become a member here at Redeemer and began co-leading a Community Group. And about two years ago, I joined the Diaconate so that I could walk alongside others who are going through difficult seasons in life. It took 10 years, but I can see how God guided each stage of my journey from brokenness to wholeness.

More Stories of Change


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Redeemer Counseling is committed to making gospel-centered counseling accessible to those who cannot afford mental health care. As more people seek our help, we need your support to continue to offer our care.

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