Dialogue: Senior Psychotherapist Shares Treatments for the Depressed

A picture of a road in a forest
A picture of a road in a forest (photo: pixabay.com)
By Steve Sun June 1st, 2023

Editor’s note: Since 2000, China’s economy has developed by leaps and bounds, and people’s quality of life has improved significantly. It is said that in the 40 years of reform and opening up, the social economy has developed too fast, but the souls of most people have been left far behind. People who were born between the 1970s and 2000s have enjoyed the dividends and convenience of the development. However, it seems that their inner demands and struggles with diseases rarely receive attention.

Recently, the suicide incident in the Tianmen Mountain Scenic Area has aroused the concern of the whole society about depression and suicidal groups. Chen Boyu (pseudonym), a senior psychotherapist from Southwest China, gave a seminar on “How to Treat Mental Depression.” Chen is a graduate of a medical university in clinical medicine, a national second-tier psychological counselor, a marriage and family psychological counselor, a guidance director, the founder of perspective conversion therapy, and a clinical psychological counseling project manager. He started psychological counseling and training in 2003.

In the conversation, he shared his experience of receiving salvation through grace and how he overcame severe depression in seven different ways, as well as some professional and unusual experiences and insights on depressed people.

Christian Times: Mr. Chen, how did you believe in the Lord?

Chen Boyu: When I was in junior high school, my stepfather’s family was Christian, and he preached the gospel to me. Later, I went to a medical university in 1999, when I met a Christian classmate who took me to the Christmas carol services. After I graduated, I didn’t continue to work in the hospital as I was burdened with counseling. The role of Barnabas in the Bible touched me because my own family of origin was very broken, so I began to work in psychological counseling. When I was in high school, I had severe depression, and my mother was also diagnosed with incipient depressive neurosis. In fact, the pain of the mind was often more painful than the pain of the body. When I was 18 years old, I looked older than a 40-year-old man in my graduation photo. After graduation, I just stayed in the hospital for one year and then left to do psychological counseling. I have been doing counseling for just 20 years, from 2003 until now.

Christian Times: How was your depression treated?

Chen Boyu: I think I can be healed and changed in seven aspects. The first aspect is that the Word of God itself illuminates my heart. At that time, there was a scripture: “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36). In actuality, most people who are depressed have a variety of fears in their hearts, including fears of rejection, losing, others not understanding, not getting all of their wants, and so forth. The fear is not conceptualized in the hearts of people with depression, but it is actually an obvious cage force that makes people shrink back. This is what the Bible says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). This verse illuminates many fears in my heart. At that time, it seemed that I suddenly had the experience of finding light in the dark, finding a door in a dilemma, or using a stone knife to chisel my hardened heart.

The second aspect is that there is a book called The Hour That Changes the World, which says that it takes one hour every day to read the Bible, pray, and meditate on God’s Word to change yourself. Then, I am willing to spend an hour giving my heart constraint and strength.

The third aspect is that the secret to keeping grace is to give it away with love. However, people with depression will still have a problem; that is, they are very self-conscious and feel sorry for themselves, just like the paralytic in the New Testament, who had been paralyzed for 38 years and felt great self-pity and excessive bitterness. After being treated, people with depression need to live a life of sharing grace and blessings and caring for and helping the needs of other broken families. Then grace and positive energy will stay with the person.

The fourth aspect is that we need to constantly look at ourselves from a new perspective. For example, when I grew up for a period of time, I could sometimes go back to my family of origin or my hometown and take a new look, just as I would take a butterfly’s view to see myself in the nest I made during the caterpillar period. You will find that many of your ideas are subjective, and in yourself, there are many narrow and foolish ideas. This process of looking back can help your heart reflect well.

The fifth aspect is that we need to have our own Barnabas. Life is not about penance alone but about being supported in a loving relationship. This part also needs people to have a kind of search, seek to knock on the door actively, and even take the initiative to ask for help. Just as the woman said, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27), which means to have such a gentle and formable mind.

Sixth, we need to learn to apologize to the people we have hurt. It is easy to ignore this piece, but in fact, repentance is necessary, like for Zacchaeus in the Bible. When we are immersed in our own world of righteousness, we will often hurt others. We need to take the initiative to go to some people we have hurt and then communicate with them. At this time, it is a good opportunity to witness their faith and preach the gospel to them, which is a more real opportunity to open your heart and establish relationships.

The seventh aspect is to distinguish two types of reflection: one is Judaism's reflection and the other is Peter’s reflection. Depression easily enters Judaic reflection. People need to let go of their own convictions and trial power. People with depression need to open the world of repentance experienced by the younger son in the prodigal son metaphor: I don’t deserve my father’s love, but my old father still forgives and accepts us, so my life is full of light and gratitude. Depression can’t just rely on medicine; even more psychological counseling is not enough because people are meant to be alive when they have a correct understanding of human spirituality.

Christian Times: What principles and methods will you follow in your specific process of consulting and helping patients?

Chen Boyu: Personally, I care about holistic therapy and perspective conversion therapy. There will be many changes in perspective in a person’s life, just as a caterpillar used to see the world from this place on the ground, but when it becomes a butterfly, the perspective will change, and then the mood will change. Consequently, the views on money, marriage, parenthood, and so on will change.

So in fact, the Bible helps us to have a new perspective and look at our lives and experiences from the perspective of God and truth. Sometimes it is a variety of counseling tools, just like a car, where the most important thing is who will drive it. Therefore, psychotherapy itself is an art, but in the hands of God, there must be a combination of the Word and technique, and these techniques should be used on the basis of the Word.

Christian Times: What do you think of the orientation and relationship between biblical psychotherapy and psychological counseling?

Chen Boyu: Sometimes, I seem to feel desperate and even have a victim mentality, but then I feel innocent. There will also be an unhealthy silence in Psalms, but in fact, there are various emotions in Psalms: anger, sadness, excitement, self-blame, complaint, repentance, and so on. Barnabas' team is needed in society and the church, which is an organ for detoxification. Serving according to the truth and with love can solve the poison in people’s hearts. If the church doesn’t do it, the social counselors will, but it is more like a hemodialysis organ. The “kidney organ” of the church can’t rot. If the church can’t use the “kidney” to detoxify, it will be thrown away, and the detoxification will have to depend on the “peripherals”.

In fact, psychological counseling itself originated from the function of the church, but this only means that this function has not been well built and passed down. When we want to help people with depression, we should have this concept called a multi-pronged approach. The first is to have a support system to promote the establishment of the church; the other is to have a kind of self-knowledge, and the pastor should provide the resources of Barnabas' team. From a social point of view, sometimes it also includes saying that we just need a pair of listening hearts, and sometimes we should not give advice to people with depression.

There is a short story about a man who wanted to commit suicide, but he said to God in his heart, “As long as I walk from here to the place where I am going to commit suicide and someone smiles at me, I will cancel this suicide plan.” If there is more goodness between people in life, sometimes it is worth a thousand words. People are meant to love and be loved, whereas money is meant to be used. The dislocation of the relationship between matter and people is a sin in the Bible, so the standards of social values sometimes need to be considered.

Professionals formed a service known as Stephen's Fellowship. They are professionally trained, but unlike consultants, they can meet the patients in the coffee shop, walk with them, or even exercise with them. Even if someone has a relative who has passed away, they can visit him regularly, but the consultant can’t do so. Being a helper also requires 70 hours of professional helper training, and a psychological counselor may need 600 hours of primary counselor training, with different degrees and settings.

Christian Times: Looking at the four people who jumped off the cliff on Tianmen Mountain, almost all of them had one feature, that is, “sunshine” depression. They are usually outgoing and seem to have no problems. They look normal on the outside, but there are hidden dark forces that lead them to commit suicide. How can we identify and rescue them in ordinary times?

Chen Boyu: The parable of the good Samaritan gives us the following enlightenment: firstly, there needs to be people who are willing to walk in the church; secondly, there needs to be the ability to walk in with love; thirdly, we will walk in, for example, in the past, we would see if the man’s cervical vertebra was injured; if his cervical vertebra was injured, we would go to see the person who was beaten; then we would pull him onto the donkey, and his cervical vertebra would be broken, so this is called walking in. That means that we need to have the knowledge to help others. The fourth is to dare to walk into the valley of the shadow of death for others. The so-called happy depression is actually when the person has many spiritual walls in his heart. Then in the physical aspect, for example, he suffers from insomnia for a long time, and then he has this kind of headache and palpitation, which can be distinguished from this psychological part, as well as inattention, decreased attention, and memory loss.

From an emotional point of view, for example, do you often want to cry? Maybe you will want to cry when you smile, and so on, like Mr. Beans, who also has severe depression. Some comedians can be "sunny", but there is actually depression behind them. There is such a sense of hopelessness in the control area; then there is a sense of uselessness in the truth area; then there is a sense of helplessness in the love area; and then there is that person in the central area who thinks he is nothing and will blame himself. They will feel that there are many wounds in their hearts that have not been healed. However, judging from the people around him, if he talks about suicidal thoughts, he needs to consult relevant people, and then sometimes he can make some referrals and do some crisis intervention and crisis assessment.

Suicide is also divided into several different stages:

The first stage is called standing on the river bank. At that time, the person wants to drift—that is to say, the suicide preparation stage.

The second stage is called the launching stage, meaning the person has already started to implement it, such as buying poison, finding a place, jumping, group chatting, and so on. This is like saying that he has put the paddle and boat into the water by drifting.

The third stage is to fall off the cliff. This is the implementation stage. Implementation does not mean that he will succeed. It's possible that he will hang on to a tree on the cliff or receive assistance from others. This is called suicide which has no success.

The fourth stage is that he has completely fallen.

This requires an event like Tianmen Mountain. Before it, there was actually a stage of standing on the shore, and then there was a stage of launching. Finally, they also had a stage of falling down. Then, in the fourth stage, they were completely unable to help themselves. More people need to have the knowledge and equipment to evaluate suicidal tendencies or popularize them in churches and public places like subway stations, just like if a person has heart problems, everyone will know how to use those golden minutes and how to use a defibrillator.

In fact, this kind of self-examination and evaluation of mental health also needs to be popularized. Then everyone should at least know that brothers and sisters in the church should have some knowledge and take precautions in advance. Of course, this is already firefighting, but it is better to learn to prevent a fire than to fight it. Once, Mother Teresa was asked how one could contribute to world peace. Mother Teresa said that you should go back and love your family. Then we need to reflect, believing that people are not meant to be manipulated and money is not meant to be loved, but not the other way around. People’s minds will naturally become healthy and powerful.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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