Introduction to the Review Series: "How to Win Over Depression"

The poll I put up last week had Francine River’s Redeeming Love and Tim LaHaye’s How to Win Over Depression neck-and-neck almost the entire time. At the very end Redeeming Love won out by a few votes, but I’d already decided to work on Tim’s book instead. Also, I’m reading through Why Does He Do That? by Bancroft in preparation for another series I’ll be doing sometime soon, and I don’t think I can handle reading about Michael Hosea being both an abuser and a rapist in the context of a book that glorifies it.

The copy of Tim’s book that I have is the original edition published in 1974. There’s an updated and revised edition he put out in 1996, but I’ve seen a copy of the book and the changes seem to be unsubstantial– for example, in the opening illustration the woman is “attractive” and in her mid-thirties in the 1974 version, but both descriptors are removed in the 1996 edition. For this reason I’m going to be paying less attention to the specific language he uses (which he may have changed) and focus more on the big-picture problems.

How to Win Over Depression has been an extremely influential book in conservative Christian circles– in some cases, this book or books like it are the only education a pastor receives about depression, and since it echoes the common cultural myths about mental illness it’s received as reliable information.

For a glimpse of how people typically respond:

I read this book years ago and it was the key to winning over depression. Excellent book. Since then I have bought several to give to others to help them learn how to manage depression and conquer it. It’s an awesome teaching and I recommend it to everyone. [from Christian Book, September 2008]

When I picked this book up at a library, I figured it would be like all the other unhelpful books on depression I had read. However, the book was amazing! This book literally changed my life! I had been suffering from depression for 6 years and tried therapy, hypnosis, anti-depressants and had a struggling relationship with the Lord … The book opened my eyes to that fact that my self-pity was a sin and the root of my depression. The book showed me how to beat the depression by giving me details on how to change my thinking. I have been relatively depression free since reading this book. Try reading this book, it might change your life too! [from Amazon, February 2000]

This book really ministered to me when I was in the depths of my depression. I even bought a few to give away. Looking through the book now, I really wish I had taken it more seriously and heeded the advice in it sooner. My only complaint is I didn’t really care for the chapter that lists common cures for depression, such as antidepressants because it needs to be updated and reiterated that abiding in Christ and walking in the Spirit is the only true cure for depression. [from Goodreads, March 2008]

After experiencing depression for over 20 years, I was given a copy of this book by my pastor. One reading is all it took to cure me of depression. I’ve gone through many tough times since reading it and though I have been down at times, I have never experienced depression. Faith in God and the Bible were the keys for me as well as the great writing skills and wisdom of Tim LaHaye. If you believe it, you’ll live it. [from Barnes & Noble, July 2003]

Negative reviews exist, although I think it’s important to note that most of those reviews seem to come from non-Christians who are primarily reacting to the “Christian” views– it was unusual for someone to criticize the ideas he presents, shrugging them off as being “not for them.” This is one of the reasons why I think it’s important for someone like me to critique this book– I’m a Christian, and capable of separating out the parts of this book that are truly Christlike and the things that are a result of Tim’s … misunderstandings.

It’s about 240 pages long and split into 20 segments, so I’m going to do my best to cover two chapters each week, since I’m not super interested in spending half of this year on it. We’ll see how it goes, though. I might need to step away from it some weeks, and I’ll do my best to put up a review of a book I think y’all should read (for example, Rachel Held Evans’ new book, Searching for Sunday, comes out next Tuesday and it’s definitely her best book yet– and I’m going to put of a review of it next week so you know exactly how awesome it is).

Anyway, so why did I pick Tim’s book over some of the others I could have chosen? Well, first … I already owned it (it was one of the “oh, you should totally review this on your blog!” gifts) so I didn’t need to give anyone more money. Second, Tim LaHaye is an important figure in conservative Christian culture. He co-wrote the Left Behind books which made so much money Nicolas Cage himself starred in a film adaptation of them (in my opinion, he should have just stuck with Knowing as his apocalyptic movie). Tim’s also written a bunch of other self-help and Christian-life-advice style books which were also successful in Christian circles.

Here’s to wishing us all luck and endurance. As always, if you’d like to read along and have a book-club-style discussion in the comments, that would be fantastic. Multiple points of view always help.

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  • I’m pretty sure this one is going to make me angry. I hold out no hope for an evangelical perspective on this topic. I have been told too many times to pray away my depression. To pray away my anxiety. If this is actually useful, I will be shocked.

  • I think this is a great choice. One quick thought before we begin –

    There are going to be a subset of people who suffer from depression for whom the mind-over-matter method is the most effective treatment. Those people will be legitimately helped by a book like this, and I am happy for them. Unfortunately, it will be some of those people who extrapolate their experience onto everyone else and chime in with, “I tried all of these things that work wonders for other people but I discovered it’s all a lie. It was this one thing that worked for me that of course is a better option for everyone out there.”

    So it’s good to continue to say that no two people are alike and there is no one treatment that will work for everyone.

  • I’m looking forward to your ideas on this book.

  • Crystal

    I’m glad you’re talking about this. I have never had depression in my life so this should be interesting. I had another type, but it’s too personal to get into over the web at this time for me. So thanks a bunch for picking that one 🙂

  • Karen K

    Knit, I have experienced the same thing.

    • My mom used to threaten me with therapy. ” I’m going to take you to a therapist. You don’t want people to think you’re crazy, do you?” She would pray loudly for me where I could hear her, Then, she’d tell me that I should pray harder and if I showed more faith, my “bad feelings” would go away. They didn’t and I tried for years. My mom loves Tim LeHaye. I’m so glad that I grew up before the internet.

      • Crystal


  • Aibird

    Argh. Reading the reviews is depressing and anger-inducing all at once. I remember it being recommended to me once, and I remember reading the introduction and some random bits from chapters near the middle of the book, and I felt so incredibly upset and angry.

    I’ve fought through depression through most of my adult life, and have been slowly healing from PTSD. I am so sick of people acting like mental illness of any sort is some sort of self-esteem issue or something that can be “prayed away” if I prayed hard enough. Mental illness is just as critical as physical illness. I suspect that reading your thoughts on this book will be both good and frustrating — frustrating that the book exists and we are reading through it, and good in that you are tackling what’s wrong with it.

  • Should be interesting to hear what you have to say. Based on the review excerpts you have in this post, it’s not going on my “to-read” list anytime soon. As I recall, praying and working through some emotional/spiritual issues did mitigate a little of the depression/anxiety, but medication was what made the real difference. Dealing with some of the spiritual crap helped me realize that I needed medication. I currently function well without it, but have to pay attention to how I’m doing in case things get worse and I need to go back on the meds, which I think may well be something I will have to keep in mind for the rest of my life.

  • OMG! Redeeming Love was my all time favorite book ever when I was in my early 20s. I’m so not surprised you said that Hosea was a rapist, and I’m so so sad that my life was shaped by this crap…so much of my life is coming undone. =(

  • Remember, y’all, this is the man whose author avatar in Sinister Buttocks (shoutout to my fellow Slacktivist lurkers) was RayRay Steele of the Fully Loaded 747, one of the most serious contenders in the nontest of Most Full of Himself, And Also Too Shit.

  • Do you plan to review all the books eventually? I voted for Redeeming Love, but honestly, they were all great choices, and all worthy of discussion (and criticism).

    • A friend of mine is going to take on Redeeming Love, actually, and she gave me permission to cross post.

  • Melody

    Looking forward to it! I’ve certainly enjoyed (not the best word perhaps) your deconstruction of various books so far.

    I stopped reading Christian self-help books a few years ago when I figured out that instead of being helpful they made me feel sadder and angry instead. Most of all frustrated though as every problem is rooted in sin and so repentence then becomes the sole answer to everything… Completely unhelpful and for the longest time I hoped that the new buzz book would provide me with answers…

    • Melody

      Given the contexts of the books you discussed, I mean…. Enjoyed doesn’t seem the best word for it, as they are rage-inducing at best 🙂 But the books certainly make for interesting debate material.

  • Sarah S

    Oh man. Just the comments are triggering. I guess I’m not far enough on the other side of this yet.

    I have been ill with depression since I was thirteen years old (22 years — geez), and only in the past year been introduced to the idea that therapy (other than the charismatic christian kind), or god forbid, medication, might actually be of help to me.

    I don’t know if “looking forward to” is the right phrase for this series, but I’m certainly interested to read your critiques and insights.

  • Alyson

    I don’t think my mom read this book, but I’m sure it has many of the same hurtful teachings that she parroted from famous Christian writers. I was making a list, and I did not realize how long the list is.

    One that especially bugs me is that depression comes from being self-absorbed, and the cure is to focus on other people and help them more. There is a small kernel of truth because social interaction and accomplishing something can release feel-good chemicals in your brain. BUT I’ve noticed that a number of people with depression, including myself, are the type who take care of others until we’re completely burned out, but have a hard time taking care of ourselves. Evangelical culture teaches you to feel guilty for setting boundaries and taking care of yourself.

  • Just reading this post gives me horrid flashbacks.
    IFB history. Mike and Debi Pearl, the whole bit.
    I knew there was “something wrong” with me AND with things that were going on at home, especially where the kids were concerned.
    My ex-pastor called my depression and suicide attempts “a twisted manifestation of pride.” This only made it worse. The prescription for my depression and other symptoms was prayer, Bible reading and repenting of my sins. And focusing constantly on Christ. And being a good wife.

    I ended up divorcing my husband. I was later diagnosed with Autism, PTSD and depression/anxiety.

  • rmkorama

    On the same day I read your announcement, I also read this:

    Sharing because I thought you might find it interesting, since it’s in the same topic though I’d guess presenting a diametrically different view.

  • Sha

    Very minor quibble, but I am positive that being a Christian is not necessary for separating the harmful from the okay here. I would say a strong understanding of depression, ableism, and humanity will be far more important tools.

  • I’ve been given copies of this book no less than three times in the past 15 years, and have never read it. I’m looking forward to your series! In starting my own a week from today, on Wounded By Words.

    So, you totally the me with your brief comment on Redeeming Love. Rapist and abuser??! I haven’t read it in years, and apparently need to again. Maybe I’ll have to write about it with you, on my own blog?

  • Sarah

    Oh, man, could you talk about Redeeming Love sometime? Maybe just a ranting post where you don’t even have to reread the book–I don’t need total coherence, just some insights from your perspective. I have a… complicated relationship with that book.

    (I’ve been going through your blog backwards here so if it comes up somewhere else then I just haven’t gotten to it yet.)