In my psychology practice, there are times I’m able to work with members of the Church. They come with the same types of problems that non-LDS clients do: anxiety, depression, relationship challenges, parenting issues, etc. However, because of our shared faith I am often able to use a different approach with the Latter-day Saints than with other clients. I remember one particular client I met with years ago. He was having daily panic attacks and had come in to seek help. Among other things, I inquired regarding his personal spiritual practices, including prayer and scripture study. He said he prayed most days but rarely read from the scriptures. We talked about many other things that day, but I left him with the assignment to study the scriptures daily, focusing on those passages that promised peace.
The following week he came back for another appointment. I inquired how his week had been. He stated there were very few changes. I asked about the assignment to study the scriptures. He responded that he had not done it. He then said something to the effect of, “Look, if I want spiritual advice I can go see my bishop. I came here for psychological advice.” I responded by saying, “I’ve studied human behavior long enough to know what tools of change are most effective. If someone comes to me and wants help digging a large hole and I have the choice of using a spoon or a backhoe, I’m going to choose the backhoe every time.” I told him I believed spiritual remedies can enhance and accelerate psychological healing. I still believe that. Traditional psychological approaches are important and helpful. Yet when they are combined with a spiritual approach, they become more potent. Daily scripture study is one of these approaches. Here are three ways this practice can improve your mental health.
1. You can learn from the examples of others.
The scriptures are full of examples of individuals who have struggled with similar issues to what we all face. Emotional and mental difficulty is common to the human experience and essential for our spiritual growth. As you study the scriptures, you will see life stories from start to finish. This is a significant advantage, for in our own lives we cannot see tomorrow’s outcome today. In the scriptures, you can see what people did and how it worked out for them, thus providing insight into which approaches work and which may not be helpful. The more you study the scriptures, the more you will become familiar with different approaches and coping strategies that will be helpful in your personal experiences.
Are you going through difficult trials? Read the Lord’s counsel to Joseph Smith while he was unjustly incarcerated (see D&C 122). Do you have marital difficulties? Consider how Lehi and Sariah resolved a problem in their marriage (see 1 Nephi 5). If you are concerned about one of your children who has lost his way, study the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15). Are you overwhelmed with feelings of depression? Read about Nephi’s reaction to similar feelings (see 2 Nephi 4). Do you worry a lot about your current circumstances? Study how Alma’s people reacted to an unexpected and significant trial that caused anxiety and fear (see Mosiah 23).
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Each of these people were mortal, had problems just like you, and found solutions to their challenges. They wrote them down, and we are now the beneficiaries of their experiences. Our Father in Heaven rarely shows us our future; he wants us to have faith and learn to trust in Him. But in His mercy, He has provided scriptural examples that we can apply to our own lives. We can see what they experienced, how they reacted, and what outcomes resulted. As you study the scriptures on a daily basis, you will fill your mind and heart with these examples. They will become a rich resource to deal with mental health challenges.
2. You can understand greater truths.
Mental health problems are often caused by inaccurate thinking. For example, feelings of depression tend to be fueled by thoughts such as, “I’ll never succeed at anything,” or “No one will ever accept me for who I am.” Those types of thoughts are quite depressing. Anyone who fills their mind with such ideas on a regular basis is going to find their overall mood turns for the worse. The problem is, those thoughts are not accurate. They are exaggerated and excessively globalized. A more accurate expression of those thoughts could be, “I’ve been unsuccessful of late but could find success in the future if I change my approach,” or “It’s true I’ve had little luck in finding a relationship, but if I keep looking and keep improving myself, you never know what might happen.” That type of thinking still acknowledges current difficulties but leaves room for change and hope. In addition, they are more accurate than the original thoughts.
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The scriptures teach truth. The Spirit of the Lord testifies of the truths we read. Jacob taught: “For the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13, emphasis added). As we are able to better see things “as they really are” we will be able to correct negative thought patterns. We will be able to replace them with accurate and realistic thinking. The more you read and study the scriptures, the more truth you will uncover and be able to incorporate into your life. Inaccurate information is like darkness; it will prevail unless it is exposed to the light. The scriptures contain eternal truths that will dispel the dark and ugly beliefs that often fuel mental health problems. As you immerse yourself in the word of God you will bring more and more light into your mind and heart.
3. You will qualify for promised blessings.
Many years ago, I had a small crack in my car windshield. Being newly married, we did not have the money to repair it, so I learned to live with it. However, the crack grew larger and larger to the point where it became a hazard. I finally arranged for the windshield to be replaced. A few days later, I was driving along the interstate and a car kicked up a large rock. The rock struck my brand-new windshield and cracked it. I remember thinking, “Are you kidding me? Why couldn’t God have moved the rock or inspired me to change lanes?” I then had a distinct thought that said, “Do you have any idea how many rocks He’s moved from your path in the past?” It became clear that I had been the beneficiary of many, many unseen blessings and protections.
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Sometimes we are unaware of how we much we are being blessed. If my commute home is uneventful, perhaps I assume I was not blessed. Yet what if on that same drive home, the Lord prevented an accident, stopped the tire from going flat, and kept the transmission from failing? Regular acts of obedience qualify us for blessings, many of which may go unseen. As we study the scriptures on a daily basis we are entitled to the Lord’s help in whatever way He chooses to bless us. Even if your study happens to be in the Isaiah chapters of second Nephi and you scarcely understood a word, you will still be blessed for having been compliant with the Lord’s command. Remember, He cannot bless us unless we are obedient (see D&C 130:20-21). Daily scripture study will provide protection against evil. It will increase feelings of confidence. It will decrease feelings of fear and worry. If you seek strength to overcome mental health challenges, daily scripture study will qualify you for the Lord’s blessings, according to His judgment and timing.
Daily scripture study will not typically be the only tool you’ll need to improve your mental health. But it is a valuable weapon in your fight against mental and emotional darkness. Don’t hesitate to use all of the resources God has placed at your disposal as you seek to improve your lives and become more like Him.