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Book Review // Descriptions and Prescriptions

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Descriptions and Prescriptions is the latest book from doctor and Biblical counselor, Michael R. Emlet. This book is unique in that author has a background in medicine yet is also a Christian who affirms the sufficiency of Scripture. In college, my major was psychology and I once had someone ask me how I could be a psychology major and a Christian. At the time, I didn’t understand how the two might conflict and was confused and a little hurt by the question. After being introduced to the Biblical counseling movement however, I understood a bit more of why that questions was asked of me. There are indeed, secular aspects of psychology/psychiatry, which are mentioned in this book, but, as Emlet explains, these aspects aren’t always correct and don’t necessarily provide us with the answers behind the “why?” questions when it comes to mental illness.

In this short, but in depth look at the world of mental illness, Emlet reminds readers that, “diagnosis is not destiny,” (pg. 37) and is not the sum of an individual’s identity. He also points out that where secular counseling is lacking, Christians have an opportunity to love people and serve them by pointing them to the hope of Jesus Christ. Rather than writing in a completely negative tone about the secular aspects of psychology and psychiatry, Emlet explains that there could be some useful aspects of those fields. An example of this is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), an industry standard source in psychology/psychiatry that lists symptoms of various mental illnesses. Emlet wrote that the DSM could be useful in that it often helps us understand what is going on with an individual but, it doesn’t often explain the reason behind why they are ill. He also relayed how Christians need to proceed with caution with secular sources, such as the DSM because it tends to excuse sinful patterns and behavior and write them off as mental illnesses. One such example included in Descriptions and Prescriptions is pedophilia.

As one who holds a degree in psychology and who also loves and treasures Jesus more than life itself, I really, deeply appreciate this book. There was a time in my life when I had learned that the common thought in the church is that mental illnesses don’t exist but sin does and I wrongly started to agree. It wasn’t until I experienced postpartum depression that the Lord greatly softened my heart toward those who suffer in the church (often silently) in ways that most cannot and do not understand.

This book was so encouraging as Emlet reminds readers that sin often plays a part in they “why” aspect of mental illness but there are many other aspects that need to be considered before a proper diagnosis can be made. Readers are also reminded that diagnoses need to be made on a case by case basis and it is often helpful for counselors and ministry leaders in the church to first come alongside those with mental illnesses and be a compassionate friend who points them to the compassion and comfort found in Christ. He also encourages counselors and ministry leaders to look at the big picture of what an individual is experiencing when it comes to their mental illness to truly help them walk through it.

In a chapter titled Implications for Ministry, Emlet wrote, “Long before psychiatric categories existed, wise pastors and shepherds took seriously the spiritual, physical, temperamental, relational, and situational factors of especially troubled individuals in their care and saw this approach as congruent with Scripture,” (pg. 40).

Ultimately, this book is an invitation for the believer to fulfill the command of Romans 12:15 and, “. . . weep with those who weep.” Regarding this, Emlet wrote, “Diagnosis or not, we need to listen well to people’s stories. Many counselees I meet with don’t have a ‘diagnosis’ but they rightly expect that I will listen to their problems with compassion, ask good questions, help them understand their struggles from a biblical perspective, and encourage them to take wise steps to address both sin and suffering in their lives,” (pg. 27).

Coming in just shy of 100 pages, this book is a quick yet profitable read for the Christian who is interested in learning about Biblical counseling and how to care for those who suffer from mental illnesses.

Descriptions and Prescriptions is available now at all major booksellers.

I received Descriptions and Prescriptions compliments of Litfuse in exchange for my honest review.

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