October 18, 2011

Emotional Health & Wellness Conference Update #2

Spirituality is a Key

More than 60 International emotional health and wellness professionals have converged on the Loma Linda University campus in California, October 12-15, to lead out in presentations and workshops for a multidisciplinary, multicultural conference to advance a biblical framework for achieving emotional wholeness. An escalating number of people in today's fast-paced, high-stress society--both inside and outside the church--are seeking life-coping skills and emotional healing from mental health professionals, and Seventh-day Adventist health organizations, with their emphasis on whole-person care, are recognizing the need for a stronger focus on this issue. The extra edge of Adventist emotional health and wellness practices, however, is a biblically based foundation. The focus of the LLU Emotional Health and Wellness Conference is to explore the role of these Bible principles. Adventist Review features editor Sandra Blackmer is on site covering the four-day event.

Update 1  |  Update 2  |  Update 3

Some 500 attendees from 51 countries again packed the Jetton Pavilion amphitheatre Friday morning for a third day of lectures on emotional health. Some attendees, such as Grace Walsh, Health Ministries director of North England Conference, traveled many miles to participate in the event so she could become better equipped to deal with such issues when she returns home.

“When you look at the statistics, they’re quite frightening,” Walsh said. “The World Health Organization says that by 2020, depression will be the number-one cause of disability. We need to be working with our members and our community to try more preventative measures.”

Miriam Andres, director of Family and Children’s Ministries for the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, has similar reasons for attending.

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A KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Kenneth Pargament of Bowling Green State University addresses some 500 conference attendees. [PHOTO: Sandra Blackmer]

“We need to look at these situations in a whole-person context,” she said. “I’m learning about that here, and if I understand it better, I can share what I learn with my counterparts and other church members back home.”

Not everyone traveled great distances, however. Harvey Elder, a physician and a professor at the LLU School of Medicine, also gives the event high marks and commends it for “emphasizing critical issues of spiritual growth, how to deal with the brokenness we have in our hearts, our mental and emotional needs, and how to cope with life,” he said. “Today’s young people are dealing with guilt, with depression, with sadness, with hopelessness, with despair. . . . We need to have an emphasis on how to know you’re loved by God, how to walk in the reality of God’s presence, to know that God is with you to help you overcome sin day by day. That’s where we need to live, and that’s what they’re talking about here.”

Friday morning’s speakers continued to deliver practical and informative lectures. GC Family Ministries director Willie Oliver, the morning’s first keynote speaker, explored ways local Adventist churches can be effective in healing people’s minds and hastening the coming of Jesus Christ.

“Everything we do in the Adventist Church is for the purpose of hastening Jesus’ second coming,” Oliver said. “There is no other reality more important than this.”

Oliver described Christian therapeutic counseling as one of God’s gifts of the spirit so that we might be healthy and whole, but also pointed out pragmatic ways to enhance emotional health. Citing Proverbs 25:11, Oliver noted that even routine conversations with others, especially family members, can make a difference.

“We need to speak to [our spouse and others] as if we’re giving them apples of gold in settings of silver,” he said. “Good emotional health is necessary within the family, because the family impacts the community, the church, and the world.” He added that following biblical principles of caring for others helps us maintain healthy relationships and improve emotional health.

Kenneth Pargament, distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Institute for Spirituality and Health, and a Psychology professor  at Bowling Green State University, followed Oliver with a presentation that again highlighted the opposing worldviews of naturalism and theism. Pargament explained that the naturalistic worldview of psychiatry was cultivated because of the desire to establish the field as a reputable science. Studies indicate that “90 percent of the general U.S. population say religion is important, but only 56 percent of psychiatrists believe that,” he said.

Pargament believes therapists have an ethical obligation to be sensitive to a patient’s religious beliefs.

“Sixty-five percent of people with serious mental illness would like to discuss spiritual or religious issues during counseling,” he said. “Spirituality is a key dimension of what it means to be human and a vital dimension of wholistic care.”

Harold Koenig, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and an associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center concurred.

“When you remove God from the picture, you lose the source of good health benefits,” he said during his presentation. Koenig also analyzed the term “spirituality,” describing it as a “popular expression today” and generally preferred over the term “religion.”

“Spirituality” appears to mean that a person is “free from rules, regulations, and responsibilities,” he said. “It’s difficult to measure in research because it’s nebulous. Researchers are trying to fill its meaning with anything but God.”

Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of Neurosurgery, Integrative Biology, and Physiology at the University of California Los Angeles, concluded the morning lectures with his presentation titled “Diet and Exercise Influence on Mental Function.”

Exercise and healthful eating “reduce cognitive decay in aging, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and depression, and incidence of addictive behaviors,” Gomez-Pinilla said. “Exercise may be the most effective strategy to combat depression.”

Learn more about the Emotional Health and Wellness Conference—A Biblical Worldview in Practice.