We both love how Matthew has taken the concept of sin and given a breath of fresh air to the topic. You must read this book because in its pages you will finally gain a biblical perspective on sin and what it takes to free yourself from the bonds that so easily entangle!

Gary and Michael Smalley
Smalley Relationship Center
When mental illness afflicts a loved one, how can we understand what is happening and respond appropriately? This biblically-literate and scientifically-informed book offers helpful insight, encouragement, and practical advice. For pastors and for those who hurt for those who hurt, Matthew Stanford offers sensitive and welcome guidance.

David G. Myers, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Hope College and author of Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Addicted to Love

If you have ever been in a serious relationship, you know the symptoms: light headedness, upset stomach, loss of appetite, confusion, insomnia, obsessive thoughts and abnormally elevated mood. It’s not a new psychiatric disorder, its love! While the sexual motivation system drives us towards the opposite sex, the romantic attraction system enables us to focus our mating efforts on a preferred individual, Mr. or Ms. Right. Many factors such as timing, health, finances, childhood experiences and cultural forces play a role in triggering to whom one becomes attracted. Once all these factors are realized in a particular individual, the romantic attraction system takes over.

The primary neurochemicals in this system are dopamine, norepinepherine and serotonin. Dopamine could be referred to as the “pleasure chemical”. When released in the brain, it produces a feeling of ecstasy and bliss. It is most active in the areas of the brain related to reward and pleasure. These are the same areas involved in addiction, and that is why high levels of dopamine bring about a chemical rush similar to the effects of amphetamines. Norepinepherine is chemically related to adrenalin, and when released in the brain, causes a state of heightened excitement and focused attention. Serotonin is predominately an inhibitory neurochemical and is suppressed by dopamine activity. This means that when dopamine levels are high, serotonin levels are low. Low levels of serotonin in the brain bring about feelings of euphoria and obsessional thinking.

This is how the romantic attraction system works. When a potential mate that meets all the necessary attraction criteria is found, the romantic attraction system causes dopamine and norpinepherine to be released in the brain. This flood of neurochemicals brings about a pleasurable feeling, heightened excitement and focused attention. Increasing dopamine activity causes serotonin levels in the brain to drop resulting in feelings of euphoria and obessional thoughts (not able to stop thinking about the person). This type of neural activation is perceived as very pleasurable and causes the individual to want to be near this special person again and again. In fact the mere thought of them brings about a similar rush of pleasurable neurochemicals. Your brain has you hooked. You simply can’t get enough of them because in a very real sense, you’re addicted.

Two recent brain imaging studies of people deeply in love found that when viewing a picture of their beloved, blood flow significantly increased in areas of the brain known to be involved in reward and craving and decreased in areas related to negative emotions such as sadness and fear. In other words the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions or sexual arousal but instead like those of people using cocaine.

Biologically, this makes sense since the romantic attraction system uses the same neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction. Given this extreme change in brain chemistry during the initial phases of romantic attraction what happens if the relationship doesn’t work out? Much like a drug addict unable to get a fix, the romantic who is deprived of the lover goes into neurochemical withdrawal as dopamine and norepinepherine levels plummet in the brain and serotonin levels rise. This can lead to sluggishness, dejection and depression. So the poet was correct, "Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Schizophrenia and the Demonic

Schizophrenia is the most chronic and disabling of the severe mental disorders. It interferes with a person’s ability to perceive reality, think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. This disorder is not only frightening for the one afflicted but also for their family and friends. The disorder takes on an even more bizarre and frightening twist when the hallucinations and delusions are of a religious nature.

A friend of mine is a local pastor and recently shared that during a regular Wednesday night service he was leading, he spontaneously decided to have a time of sharing. He asked those in attendance if anyone would like to share and a young man near the back got up and moved forward. My pastor friend did not recognize the young man as one of his church members. The young man said that he knew the church was a “Bible believing church” and that they were “praying for Christ’s second coming”. He just wanted to let everyone know that he had returned. This young man was schizophrenic and believed himself to be Jesus. He was having what is called a delusion of grandeur, believing himself to be a famous or powerful person. Now this incident ended well, my pastor friend took the young man to a local psychiatric facility where he received treatment. Several of his congregants initially thought that this might be the work of demons.

It is easy to understand how people of faith, who believe in fallen spirits, could mistake the bizarre behaviors of schizophrenics or psychotics as demonic, especially when religious delusions or hallucinations take a violent turn. Recently in Florida, a man with paranoid schizophrenia shot and killed a retired policeman. At his murder trial, the man testified that he had to kill the victim believing the retired policeman was the Antichrist because of the University of Alabama “A” on the victim’s baseball cap. We all know the Texas case of Andrea Yates, who in a delusional state, drowned her five young children saying that God had told her to do it to protect them from going to hell. These are tragic events, but is this the work of demons?

In demonic possession, as described in the scriptures, a human is inhabited or taken over by an evil spirit and consequently cannot exercise his or her own will. At a surface level, that doesn’t sound like schizophrenia. If we look at the examples of demonic possession in the Bible and compare their behavior with that of schizophrenics we see significant differences. Unlike schizophrenics, the demonically possessed in the scriptures are rational in their interactions (Matthew 8:28,31; Mark 1:34; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28,31). When the demons speak to Jesus they are easily understood and have precise knowledge that He is the Messiah. Schizophrenics on the other hand are difficult to understand, their thoughts are very loosely associated and they often speaking in a stream of incoherent words or sentences based on delusional beliefs or misconceptions. A second difference is that the demonically possessed in the scriptures often manifest or are associated with supernatural phenomena such as supernatural knowledge or super human strength (Matthew 8:32; Mark 5:3-4,13; Luke 4:41; 8:33). This type of phenomenon is not generally associated schizophrenia. In addition, the scriptures teach us that illness and demon possession are separate things (Matthew 4:24; 8:16: Mark 1:32-34; Luke 9:1). So I would say that the scriptures show us that demonic possession and schizophrenia are two different phenomena.