The Best Kept Secret in the Church

This pamphlet contains advice about adjusting to missionary life. And while I am sure it would be particularly helpful for missionaries, it covers things everyone needs to know. It is humane and gentle, based in gospel principles, and reflects sound thinking about mental health.

19 comments for “The Best Kept Secret in the Church

  1. I noticed several items that seem to be based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), especially the material on handling negative emotions. Good stuff! I recommend this material.

  2. thanks, I’ve never run across this before but sent it to my college daughter since it’s great advice in general.

  3. I received this booklet when I was a missionary. I think it was late 2013. I loved it because it helped me to stop being so hard on myself and enjoy the mission experience more. My sister left for a mission about 8 months ago and she received the booklet almost immediately. Great booklet, a must read for all missionaries.

  4. It’s a start. Lots of things in there we never had a vocabulary for in the late 80s. Lots of corrections to things I remember being appallingly oppressive.

    But, it is nothing more than a start, unless mission leaders have been trained to watch for signs of mental illness, and therapists hired, called, or engaged to treat it in-field, or release (with honor) those who cannot be treated.

    Is there a professionally trained support structure behind this? My daughters’ experience with this sort of thing on Church campuses revealed a need for far more than what was on offer.

  5. I think the pamphlet is great. Now, if only the church could stop subtly blaming the missionaries when someone doesn’t wish to join. Maybe they could stop with the covenant theory (where the missionary promises to do certain things and then expects the Lord to bypass the investigator’s free agency, forcing conversion). This never worked anyway except for those with extreme cognitive bias. Also, the zone conferences could lighten up on the guilt for not obeying the endless hyper technical rules.

  6. P99, it’s a difficult balancing act. It’s probably impossible to get the balance just right. If you ease up too much then you have the class of missionaries who push things too much and become far less effective or affect others. If you push it too much you stress out missionaries and often lead to less effectiveness. I think that with all my criticisms of my mission president it was recognizing that balance and the difficulty that kept me from expressing them that often. It’s a hard job and he undoubtedly did a far superior job than I would. Having been in a mission where prior mission presidents had the balance off and the huge havoc wrought by missionaries taking advantage of it I think it’s more complex than it first appears.

    As to the covenant theory, I think the idea is not infringing on free will, but that the Lord will direct you to where people are prepared and open. I’ve seen that in my mission for sure. Of course there are counterfeits of this and people (especially missionaries) can misunderstand the principle. That’s not to say there aren’t people including leaders who should know better that push this idea that enough faith will generate conversions. It’s simply not true as the lack of baptisms over decades in post war Europe shows.

  7. Never heard of the “covenant theory.” I guess I’m too old to have run into it on my mission.

  8. There was a common talk by Elder Ballard used by many missionaries in member missionary work that was more or less the same idea. The idea was pray for a date to find an investigator and commit yourself to God that you’ll do it by that date. I think in theory it’s a great idea. In practice I think it often got abused. I don’t know if missionaries are still using it.

    Even on my mission, this same talk was then applied to missionaries and missionary work in terms of finding investigators. So the APs or ZLs would try and get missionaries to make a commitment, sometimes after showing parts of the video of Elder Ballard’s talk, to commit to finding an investigator. When done right I actually think it was beneficial. It helped break people out of “route practices” and turn to God in a more serious way for guidance in finding people. However that was no guarantee of getting a conversion of course.

    I may be blurring memories of years ago but I seem to remember following that guidance in an area where we were having zero luck. We literally tracked out the entire town, had zero luck with members (who were a mixed bag for various reasons), and were pretty depressed. With the commitment we went out and found a golden investigator. We managed to guide her through the ward (it was very small with lots of bigoted members and our investigator was black). We got her committed to baptism and three days before the baptism she came to the door said she couldn’t talk and gave the Book of Mormon back to us. In the front she’d written her testimony that she knew it was true but that her children were going to throw her out penniless to the street if she joined a white church. It was pretty devastating emotionally. It really took months to recover from. But it stuck with me as both a great example of the principle working as well as the dangers of the abuse of the principle.

  9. I think Clark is correct. But that is nothing like Grant Von Harrison’s “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven.” I can’t begin to describe the negative experiences I Witnessed in missionaries who attempted to follow the teachings of that book.

  10. I never read that and so have no opinion on it. I’ve met people who hate it and think it ignores free will and attempts to constrain God in illegitimate ways. I’ve also met people who claim it positively affected their spirituality. I had him for a class in the education department. But it was on how to teach kids to read (for one of my GE requirements) so it didn’t really address his theological notions.

  11. I remember when I first arrived at the mission headquarters, and the initial meeting with the mission president. He asked me to set a baptism goal for the rest of my mission – i.e., how many baptisms I wanted to have by the time my mission ended. I was caught off guard, because I had no idea what to say, so I gave him a number. He asked me if I thought that number was realistic for the mission I was in, and I had absolutely no clue whether it was or not. I didn’t make the goal, but I knew I had done my best, so I told myself I had done alright. By the end of my mission, there was a new mission president, so on my parting interview, the goal was never mentioned. I was OK with that.

  12. Which Church campuses are you referring to? I found the mental health resources at BYU – Provo to be pretty useful myself. They helped me quite a bit as I was dealing with depression near to the point of a suicide attempt. Sure, my therapist wasn’t perfect, but I would say he was up to the same standards I’ve experienced dealing with therapists after my graduation and away from the Mormon belt.

  13. FWIW, on my mission (stateside 2006-2008) I had two companions with mental illness that severely impacted their missionary work. Both of them met with a professional counselor once a week. The companion with the more severe mental illness was given special permission to do certain activities that other missionaries weren’t allowed to do because they were recommended by the counselor. That companion ended up being released with honor after only 9 months in the field.

  14. Dave from T&S here — yes I suppose there are some good suggestions here and there. The booklet seems to regard “tell your mission president” as sufficient counsel for even quite serious matters. You would think a simple directive to seek professional help immediately if you are feeling suicidal would be in there. But the highest stress level on their chart (symptoms: persistent depression, panic, overwhelmed; inability to continue, feel as though you have been abandoned by God) provides this advice to the missionary: ask for a priesthood blessing, write in your journal, take a break, contact your mission president for help.

    I worry that mission presidents, who would likely *say* they care about the health and welfare of their missionaries, actually balance several priorities as well as the mental and physical health of their missionaries. I just don’t think Mission Presidents are (1) trained to recognize mental or physical problems in their severely stressed missionaries; (2) inclined to give referrals to medical professionals; or (3) encouraged by their leaders to refer missionaries to professional help when appropriate. It’s luck of the draw whether a troubled missionary gets taken seriously or is allowed/encouraged/required to seek professional help. The enforced isolation of young missionaries — not allowed to consult with family members back home about difficulties or stress and get advice for when to seek help — only exacerbates the problem Only because missionaries are young, healthy, and generally resilient do we not hear about more problems.

  15. In most areas of the world, any healthcare issues, including mental health, simply must be channeled through the mission president because the health coverage is provided by the Church, and the mission president is its representative. Even when I was in Argentina over 40 years ago, any doctor visits were arranged through the mission office. I did see an ophthalmologist on my own, but it was only for a routine eye examination and a prescription change for my glasses. I saw a dentist once, but only the one recommended by the mission home. Most medical oversight was carried out by the mission president’s wife, and I think that is still largely the case today. I also believe that mission presidents today are far better prepared to recognize mental illness, and take appropriate action, than they were in my generation. Having a missionary seek mental health care on his own, without the intervention of the mission president/wife/office, could be very risky. Argentina, for example, still abounds with quack “psychoanalysts”.

  16. on my mission (2012-2014), I suffered from mild depression and was given this booklet at one point, but what helped me more was when my mission president noticed I was struggling and signed me up for counseling. The person I talked to weekly was a retired mental health professional, called as a service missionary to give counseling for the missionaries in the Europe East area. So in my experience at least, yes, there is infrastructure provided by the church for this. How much each mission president chooses to take advantage of these tools, though, I’m sure depends on the mission president.

  17. I will second Old Man’s criticism of that book. I served in one of those low-baptizing European missions in the mid-90’s. That book made the rounds at one point while I was serving. Pretty soon, overzealous missionaries were coming up with increasingly demanding, self-made “covenants” with the Lord and expecting certain #’s of baptisms to follow. When it got bad enough that two missionaries were hospitalized for exhaustion (b/c the covenants that they had come up with involved things like excess fasting and being outside for 18 hour days), the MP finally had to put a hold on all of it.

  18. But the more pervasive problem, I thought, wasn’t the extreme covenanting. It was the guilt it introduced for the rest of us, the idea that if we weren’t baptizing, it was because of something *we* were doing wrong (or perhaps something extra that we weren’t doing…either way, though, guilt). Never mind the fact that we weren’t baptizing b/c, you know, there were 2000 years of history and culture working against us in that particular country. Nope, it had to be our fault, b/c if we were just righteous enough, the spirit would take over, and the person on the other side of the door literally wouldn’t be able to shut it on us. It took me years and years to get past feeling that guilt. That’s a real problem, I think, and one I’ve heard expressed a lot by a lot of friends who served in European missions.

    To be fair, it’s not fair to attribute that completely to Harrison’s book. General notions like that were pervasive in the missionary culture in the mid-90’s (at least in my experience). I remember being taught things like that in the MTC and hearing it at times from visiting GA’s.

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