John MacArthur says there are no such things as mental illness or PTSD: “Noble lies”

“Citing the arguments presented by clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine in his book A Profession Without Reason and The Myth of Mental Illness by the now-deceased Hungarian-American psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, MacArthur urged parents not to believe in ‘noble lies’ he alleges are being supported by the pharmaceutical industry so they can sell medication” - CPost

  • A portion of the comments on YouTube with one YouTuber’s perspective.
  • Gavin Ortlund’s analysis: YouTube
  • Beth Moore and Abby Johnson Push Back on John MacArthur for Mental Health Comments - Church Leaders


There is a little bit of truth in JMac’s observations on this, but not much.

  • There are almost certainly some psychiatrists and other MDs who are too quick to prescribe drugs for mental health.
  • In the absence of a complete view of human nature, a lot of sin problems, bad character problems, and various sin-aggravated problems are handled purely as mental health or behavioral health.

But three things on that:

  • Overuse of meds: The same could be said of treatment for pain, or sinus infections, or any number of other “purely physical” (if there is such a thing) ailments
  • I have yet to find, in writing or in person, any mental health practitioner who things medication is the solution to any mental health disorder. If these people exist, they are a small minority.
  • Lots of mental health professionals do their work with Christian views on human nature informing and shaping their practice. A much larger number are supportive of whatever the individual’s faith might be.

Consider some facts…

  • There are way more psychologists than psychiatrists in the US (see psychologists and psychiatrists)
  • Very few psychologists can prescribe medications.
  • To get a prescription to mitigate a mental health disorder, you need the OK of a medical doctor. Usually, your primary care MD—who is not even in the mental health “industry”—has to be on board.
  • Most people who receive mental health treatment do not take any medication (as of 2019 data, it was less than 20% overall who do).

My beef with JMac’s handling of the topic (and the many like him):

  • The sloppiness: JMac is opining on a topic but clearly hasn’t done his homework. Sometimes intellectual laziness borders on intellectual dishonesty. But like so many topics these days, leaders/influencers echo claims aimed at people who already agree with them. And we tend to give people a pass on facts, sound reasoning, or even reasonably accurate language, if we see them as one of Us rather than one of Them. But truth doesn’t work that way. Reality doesn’t care which “side” of a perceived fight is making a claim.
  • The dehumanizing: The narrative that psychiatrists are all just tools of big pharma to get people addicted to drugs dehumanizes psychiatrists. The narrative requires psychologists to be mostly very weird humans who don’t have the normal mix of human motivations.
    I wonder of those who talk this way have ever actually met a psychiatrist. I’ve had conversations with several. (One at a conference event last month—for over an hour.)
    They are just normal humans who mostly want to help people. They are not comic book or action movie characters who want create drug addicts.
    (I might add that quite a few psychiatrists are not involved in therapeutic work at all. They are researchers or administrators or consultants… and have never recommended or prescribed a drug in their lives.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I agree with Aaron's comments. And while there is some truth in what MacArthur talks about, he is flat out wrong when it comes to PTSD and trauma. He has no clue what he is talking about at all in this arena. He falls into the same trap that many biblical counselors fall into, and that is that PTSD is something that can be controlled by us. And their is absolutely no truth to that, anymore than cancer can be controlled if we just prayed more about it. Fortunately MacArthur has not experienced PTSD, so some forgiveness can be given to his ignorance. His comment is so incredibly damaging to those who suffer from PTSD. Most PTSD is not resolved by drugs, but some extreme cases can be. It is not the first approach to resolving it.

Is mental illness something that is over prescribed, and something is overdiagnosed? Yes. But you don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

I can't say that there is no such thing as mental illness, but I do think that our treatment system is all too often a mess, and I know a fair number of people who have had their lives turned over by apparently well-meaning counselors (social work, masters' in psychology, PhD psychologists, psychiatrists) who gave them the "diagnosis of the month" instead of actually figuring out what makes a person tick. Noteworthy is that this pattern goes all the way back to Sigmund Freud and is hilariously mocked in the movie Miracle on 34th Street, not to mention the obvious What About Bob?.

My favorite example is that in my pre-pubescent years, my brother and I were having trouble dealing with the fact that our parents' marriage was going south in a hurry. The diagnosis after a few weeks of therapy? We were (despite never having self-pleasured) obviously feeling guilty about masturbation.

That was the diagnosis that was popular for teens in those days, and suffice it to say that I'm very happy that the diagnosis of the month wasn't gender disphoria!

Granted; this stuff is hard, there are going to be forgiveable mistakes, but at the same time, there are some terrifying realities going on these days.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

My wife happens to be a licensed therapist. Her training emphasized taking your time in giving a diagnosis to clients and to making sure that meds were to be a more of a last resort except for severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia. I think many in the counseling community have attempted to correct the mistakes from earlier generations. However, I still see school teachers, social workers from the poverty industry complex, health care workers, parents, and some therapists that want the quick fixes. Also, what's difficult is that health insurance companies that cover therapy costs pressure counselors to give the diagnostic labels and won't release the funds without one.

JMac should consider retirement. If not, I fear he will continue to embarrass himself.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

I agree, he needs to retire. I just watched the clip. He equates PTSD with grief. And that is not at all what it is. Grief can be an element of the trauma, but it is not what PTSD is at all. PTSD is when an overwhelming set of thoughts come out of nowhere, flood your mind and overwhelm your emotional capability and ability to operate within the moment. The thoughts aren’t the problem, as you can think the thoughts normally and you can talk about them without getting a PTSD episode. You can’t control it, because it comes out of thin air and hits you. It is so overwhelming in the moment that you can’t function. This is 100% something that you cannot just “control” and it is not something you can or should just pray about or read Scripture. Yes you should do those things, but it will not just magically solve a real physical condition that is happening to you, anymore than it these things curing cancer, or a stroke. Sometimes it just goes away, but if it doesn’t and it isn’t addressed, your mind will literally shutdown unbeknownst to you to protect you from it when it thinks it can happen. I came out of an episode at one point and had no idea where I was or how I got somewhere really. Had to call my wife. Trust me, no biblical counseling will fix this issue. Of course, I don’t think drugs is the answer, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek the right help and treatment.

This is really no different than going to doctors. If you are having a blood pressure problem, you can go to a doctor and get a pill, or you can work with a doctor in helping you change your diet and exercise. And for many people that is better than blood pressure medication. But even then, there are some who have genetic issues and blood pressure can’t be solved by lifestyle changes, and so they need to take medication. You don’t just say that the medical profession is just a bunch of quacks, or that blood pressure is not really a medical condition, since you can just make a lifestyle change. That just shouts ignorance.