I come from Kenya, where we have a rich spirituality. But sometimes that spirituality has kept us from understanding mental illness. When someone is depressed, we say you need to pray, have more faith! If someone is hearing voices, we say it’s evil spirits; you need deliverance!
Yes, prayer is good, deliverance is good, but maybe psychotherapy, too, could work. Maybe medication, too, could work. Even after I came to Fuller, I didn’t think I needed therapy for myself. But God was nudging me—like when I went to China on a School of Psychology trip, and I saw one lady talk about her therapy experience with such a light in her eyes! The Lord gave me the image of a window with a lot of mud on it, and therapy cleared the mud so the light could shine through. I thought, “That is so powerful!” Eventually, I was convinced to try it myself, not necessarily because of a mental condition, but for my own self-growth. I was surprised at how much I loved the experience and what a sacred and growth space therapy became. I met God in ways that changed me, and as I saw myself anew, aspects of my self-identity were healed—I thought, “This is so beautiful! Why didn’t I start this process much earlier?” It was hard internal work that helped me embrace my humanity and be in touch with the parts of myself that I wanted to hide. This journey of becoming a therapist has meant embracing my imperfections, and that has allowed me to actually sit better with people, especially clients whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness.
The School of Psychology’s integration of theology and psychology has been a place of disruption and formation for me, and my call now is to take that message back to Kenya—and Africa. I want to be present when people are navigating disruptions related to their mental health and use what I learned to make a difference. My life was disrupted in a good way through therapy and journeying through the program. Now I want to take the lessons from that disruption back to my continent.
+ Sheila Muchemi is a PhD in Clinical Psychology alum