Each year, students in my Mental Health Nursing class begin their clinical rotation with a certain level of fear and anxiety. Their apprehension centers around concern that the mentally ill might harm them, or they might inadvertently say something that could exacerbate the situation.
This class enables students to understand mental illness differently than how the world views these conditions. We want APU students to look beyond the illness and connect with the patients in a way that demonstrates compassion, care, and recognition of them as children of God.
Most individuals in behavioral health hospitals feel alone. People tend to shy away from those grappling with mental illness and feel ill-equipped to engage with them, but God did not mean for any of us to be alone. He meets us where we are and shows us His love.
Thomas Lee saw how God connects with those with a mental illness. His reflections demonstrate how our Almighty God overcomes even the most significant barriers to forge a relationship with Him and exemplifies the power of His love.
–Ellen Serrano, RN, BSN, M.A., is a clinical instructor at APU, nurse, and marital and family therapist.
I had an experience with a group of patients one morning on Unit 3 that had an impact on my faith. Prior to the first process group meeting of the day, a pastor announced that he would be holding a Bible study. Out of curiosity, I decided to attend this meeting because I was curious to see how these patients would behave in such an environment. What I expected to see was a room full of patients who acted the way they usually act in the process group: unfocused, in their own world, and dysfunctional for the most part. What I encountered was something completely different.
The pastor opened the meeting with prayer, which every member of the group participated in without question. Nobody made a sound as the pastor spoke. I must admit that during the prayer, I took a look around to see how each patient stood. Every single person stood with his or her eyes closed, head bowed, and hands clasped in front of them. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, this won’t last long,” and was prepared for pandemonium to strike within the next 10 minutes. Pandemonium never struck.
The rest of the meeting went without a hitch, save one or two outbursts that were completely in line with the subject matter. I was amazed and realized that my perspective on mental illnesses (especially the lower-functioning unit) was quite skewed. I was expecting to see a group of unfocused individuals. I was expecting to see the pastor have to fight to maintain control of the group. I was expecting the complete opposite of what I saw. I suppose my view on the mentally ill did not factor in religion/spirituality. There was no connection between the two, and it was my guess that God had all but disappeared from the minds of these patients. The experience did not cause the patients or me any distress, and it showed me how much peace God offers those who have found Him.
After the meeting was over, I attended a process group. Here I encountered what I had expected to see at the Bible study. True, there wasn’t pure pandemonium, but the therapist did struggle to get full participation from the patients. During the Bible study, the patients were incredibly eager to participate. Perhaps their relationship with God is the only thing that makes sense in their lives, or perhaps their relationship with God is the only constant in their lives. Whatever the case may be, it seemed as if God was the only firm ground they had beneath their feet. In that half-hour Bible study, it was as if God silenced all the uncertainty in the patients’ lives and gave them a brief moment of clarity.
My faith is not the strongest. I falter at times, and I’ve been known to curse God when I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel. This experience strengthened my faith because it shows me just how far God’s reach is. This may sound naïve of me to write, but I always thought that it took a sound mind to find God. The Bible study taught me that God isn’t about logic, rationalization, or intellect. God is simply about receiving a gift. I am encouraged by this realization, and my perspective on humanity has changed. I once thought that if one were to take logic, rationalization, and intellect away, all that would be left would be a primitive being who knows nothing more than violence and destruction because it is easier to destroy than to create. The morning of this Bible study revealed to me just how wrong I can be, and in this case, I am grateful to be wrong.
Thomas Lee ’12 is a student in the Entry-level Master’s (ELM) program. This faith integration paper captures his reflections on a clinical rotation at a hospital for the mentally ill as part of the Mental Health Nursing course. firstname.lastname@example.org