Mental health: A new view

You might say that Paula Jensen-Moulton has always been invested in helping people see themselves differently. During her graduate work in counseling and human development, one of her professors turned his glasses upside down and told the class, “Remember, there’s always a different view.” For Paula, a practicing Christian Scientist, that “different view” began with her understanding of God as good, and goodness as innate in every individual as God’s image. And this view consistently informed her work in a variety of positions throughout her career—from a psychiatric center to a prison. The Sentinel’s Jenny Sawyer talked with Paula, who is now a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Canton, New York, about how seeing differently—seeing spiritually—can help all of us more effectively address and heal mental health issues. 

Between your work in a psychiatric center and your later work with prisoner education, you’ve spent a lot of your career with populations in which mental health issues are in the foreground. How did your understanding of Christian Science inform that work?

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Christian Science offers a unique and helpful lens through which to view any issue—including those related to mental health.

One simple way of understanding this lens is that it helps us see beneath the surface of things. It helps us see beneath the agitation, the imbalance, the pain, to the true identity of the individual, separate from all of that. What’s unique about using the lens of Christian Science, though, is that we’re not just looking for the best human qualities in someone and trying to appreciate those, although that can certainly be helpful. We’re seeing the individual in relation to God. God is the starting point, the source, and each individual is the image of God, as it says in the Bible. So if we think of God as Spirit, as the very source and expression of harmony, then the image has to be like that—spiritual, harmonious. Completely separate from any diagnosis or behavior is this wonderful, pure individual whose real, spiritual nature as the image of God is actually untouched by all this “surface” stuff.

We talked about her spiritual identity. “Bipolar” wasn’t her identity.

So you could say the lens of Christian Science both reveals and magnifies what’s good. And I think that’s a big thing with mental health issues: to magnify what’s good. 

In my work at the Community Resource Center for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, I consistently saw how magnifying the good—which comes from God, of course—brought out that good. Holding to the recognition of what is good in someone and knowing that good is present helped many of the individuals I worked with become aware of their goodness.

The goal of our work was to help the people at the psych center gain more independence and make the transition to living out in the community. I always felt that, in addition to participating in care teams and teaching classes to aid each person’s transition, a large part of my work was listening to God, rather than accepting a surface view of either an individual’s limitations or their potential. Listening for what was going to help each person the most revealed practical solutions. And these solutions were always specific to the individual’s needs, because God in His infinite love and intelligence gives us the mastery over every detail of our lives. 

Could you share an example of a time when taking this kind of approach brought a change for someone you were working with?

One experience I’m thinking of didn’t take place at the psych center but involved a woman who came to my office when I was advertising as a Christian Science practitioner. My office sign says, “Changing thought,” because I love Mary Baker Eddy’s statement in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind” (p. 162). And for all of us that means seeing things in a new way—yielding to what God, divine Mind, is communicating. For some it might even mean recognizing for the first time that they have the ability—the God-given ability—to do that. And as they yield to the magnification of God’s goodness in their consciousness, fear just naturally diminishes until it disappears.

This woman wanted to have a baby, but she’d been diagnosed as bipolar and was on medication for that, and she needed and wanted to be off the medication before becoming pregnant. She’d tried going off the medication previously and hadn’t been successful at doing so. She happened to see my sign about changing thought and walked in.

Any hint of mental limitation or disorder can be challenged and overturned.

I told her I was a Christian Science practitioner, and I asked if she was willing to see herself in a new light that would enable her to have a change of thought—to think differently. She readily agreed; she wanted to see herself in a new way but said she needed ideas about how to do that. 

We talked about what her identity truly is. “Bipolar” wasn’t her identity; she didn’t own this problem. We talked a lot about oneness—that there weren’t two of her, because God is One, and as God’s image, she could have only one self, one identity. And this identity must be completely good, balanced, whole. Our work together was based on the understanding, as explained in Christian Science, that each individual’s real nature is not chemical but spiritual—always pure and untouched by any appearance of disease. 

I gave the woman a copy of Science and Health with a few passages highlighted, and later, as we continued to work together, I also wrote down Bible verses as well as other passages from Mrs. Eddy’s writings—we called them “pocket prayers.” The idea was to mentally “change the channel” when disordered or dark thoughts came, turning instead to God for inspiration so she could “yield to the harmony of the divine Mind.”

One of the things she was learning was to “step away” from the diagnosis and see herself in a new way. And as we prayed together, her thought about herself changed—improved—to the point where she was able to go off the medication, and she became pregnant. Although our work together was done, I heard from her after she had the baby, and all was well.

That’s at the core of Christian Science healing, isn’t it—that we’re always dealing with thought? Can you talk about how this framework can help us pray more effectively about the mental health issues we might be encountering in our lives or the world around us?

I have a friend who’s a medical doctor who also teaches a course at St. Lawrence University on cultural perspectives on healing. He’s aware of the healing work done in Christian Science and has commented, “You take it one step further.” Meaning that scientific communities have seen the connection between the body and thought; they recognize that thought does play a role. But Christian Science takes it further and says everything is thought. 

Christ Jesus encouraged people to “repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Repent means change your mind or think differently. That’s the essence of healing. Let God change your thoughts from material misconceptions to spiritual truths, and then surrender to the superior power that’s all good. Then you’re able to perceive what’s real and true: All of God’s goodness is present here and now in each of us, and that’s all that’s present.

So when we encounter these mental health issues, whether they’re called anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, or dementia, what do we do? We can pray by actively seeing any situation the way God sees it. 

I often talk about giving something “the truth test”: Is it something that is always going to be true? Always? A human concept is not always going to be true. What God reveals to us is spiritual Truth. Spiritual fact. Power. Always. And it can be proved. 

Challenging human concepts of mental health is important. My mom was sharp as a tack, and I watched her in her mid-80s challenge what some might label senior moments. “No, Violet,” she would say to herself. “There is one Mind.” She was so clear that any hint of mental limitation or disorder could be challenged and overturned because it had no reality to it. 

Mental health issues arise from perceptions of reality as material instead of spiritual—from a misunderstanding of one’s true nature, which is the eternal, spiritual reflection of the one Mind, or divine Truth. And we can always gain this true understanding—this new view. Mrs. Eddy writes, “For right reasoning there should be but one fact before the thought, namely, spiritual existence” (Science and Health, p. 492). Understanding ourselves and others in the light of God’s supreme goodness means glimpsing the reality of spiritual existence, which enables us to reason from this sound basis. And that new view heals.

Support for teens’ mental health
October 21, 2019

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