Watchtower offers two conflicting approaches to dealing with mental health
Watchtower offers two conflicting approaches to dealing with mental health

In 2011, Watchtower published a study article in which God was referred to as “the Great Physician.” The magazine gave advice to avoid contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses who had peacefully defected from their faith.

These protestors were “diagnosed” (by a magazine claiming God’s backing), with a contagious mental disease called “apostasy.” To this day Jehovah’s Witnesses are instructed ad nauseam to avoid such people and their supposed mental pathogens.

Knowing all this, I was surprised when I encountered the December 2014 Awake! which is entitled, “What You Should Know About Mental Disorders.” I opened it up and was quite startled by what I found inside the magazine: “According to WHO [World Health Organization], many people with mental illness refrain from seeking treatment because of the stigma associated with it.”

It is a truly twisted irony for the Awake!, a sister publication of the Watchtower, to be raising awareness of the stigma attached to mental illness. Their “apostasy” label, which they correlate to mental illness, attaches an extremely damaging stigma to ex members. It costs them their family, their friends, and often even their employment and housing.

Tens of thousands of refugees, many struggling with mental illness that is often connected with their Witness experience, have been fleeing Watchtower since its inception.

Oddly enough, the Awake! magazine then goes on to heavily promote the use of professional treatment for mental health problems. This advice flies in the face of what is taught behind the closed doors of Watchtower kingdom halls. The 2011 article on apostates, for example, did not direct them to professional assistance – instead ordering their quarantine.

Additionally, a recent Watchtower elder training video was leaked. It featured a dramatization showing two elders being approached by a distressed woman. The woman told them of her plan to commit suicide and, shockingly, the fictional elders never even mention the idea of professional assistance.

Lastly, the Awake! article has a section on spirituality which states:

“The Bible does not indicate that spirituality cures medical problems.” – Awake!, December 2014

In the above training video (which I highly recommend watching) the woman in a mental health emergency is given a type of spiritual counseling in which the Bible, specifically the Book of Job, is the primary tool used. The video trains elders to use the Bible to cure medical problems, in total contradiction of the advice found in the Awake! article.

Speaking from both sides of the mouth

While the elders in the training video were in fictional situations, their behavior and actions are based on a confidential handbook called “Shepherd the Flock of God.” Under the section “Assisting Those Who are Weak” and the subheading “Encouraging Those Who Were Abused in Their Childhood,” the psychological and psychiatric communities are mentioned in two paragraphs:

“…It must be recognized that elders as such are not mental-health professionals or therapists but are spiritual shepherds. (1 Pet. 5: 2) Consequently, you should not conduct what some may view as group therapy.It is not necessary to spend time reading secular publications dealing with worldly psychology or psychiatry. You should not take on a role similar to that of a professional therapist. Someone who has serious mental or emotional illness may need professional help. – w88 10/15 p. 27”

At first glance, this paragraph seems like sensible advice for elders to avoid taking on the role of therapists. They are not qualified professionals and are rightly told to steer clear of that role. However, nothing is said about recommending the proper treatment. Rather, the text somewhat ambiguously confesses to the need for professional help for some people.

Four paragraphs on, the handbook elaborates on just what Watchtower wants to see from their elder bodies on the subject of professional assistance (emphasis mine):

“…There are times when an emotionally distressed Christian may seek professional help. Whether a Christian or his family pursues treatment from psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists is a personal decision. An elder should not assume the responsibility of recommending a specific practitioner or facility. He may draw attention to or discuss material in the publications that provides cautions regarding therapies that may conflict with Bible principles. (w8B 10/15 pp. 28-29; w82 6/15 pp. 25-29; w75 pp. 255-256) While participating in group therapy by a professional therapist is a matter for personal decision, there could be a revealing of confidential facts about other members of the Christian congregation during such sessions if a Christian does not exercise discretion.”

They want seeking professional treatment to be the decision of the “distressed Christian,” without recommendation from the elders. This is precisely why, in the training video, professional assistance was never mentioned to the suicidal woman. The fictional elders’ behavior is just as prescribed in the handbook, which is to be enforced in the same way as a constitution would be adhered to by a board of directors.

The above paragraph even discourages therapy if it conflicts with “Bible principles” and speaks negatively of the potential for confidential facts to be revealed to a professional.

Awake! paints a positive, progressive public image, while the secret elders handbook is mired in concerns for protecting the corporation legally.

Watchtower wants to be seen making statements such as, “Mental-health disorders are not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw.” Yet, in their elder’s training material the only mention of professional help is in a section called “Assisting those who are weak.” Clearly, there are two religions present here: the real one that operates behind closed doors, and that which is shown to the public.

Unethical Recruitment

The December 2014 Awake! serves as a perfect example of the unethical recruitment tactics deployed by Watchtower as part of its arsenal of undue influence.

The Awake! is given to the public, so it portrays the image Watchtower wishes to project rather than the unpleasant reality. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as their potential recruits, will likely believe what the Awake! says. The article is intended to make people view the religion as reasonable when, in fact, it is anything but.

Watchtower has historically been at odds with the medical community on issues such as blood transfusions, vaccines and organ transplants. The psychiatric community, at least in my experience, was always been viewed as more of a competitor than an ally.

Yet, out of nowhere, Watchtower through this Awake! is heavily hinting at a sudden alliance with mental health professionals, all the while secretly training its elders to apply “spiritual” cures to these kinds of emergencies.

They want to have their cake, and eat it too.

The “Great Physician” outsources for aid

I have noticed a trend in how Watchtower and the medical community has interacted historically. To begin with, Watchtower boldly moves ahead with issuing medical advice, usually in the form of a divine prohibition on some treatment using ‘biblical’ reasoning.

Once the scientific community has gathered overwhelming evidence for the new technology’s overall viability, the ban is lifted (or diluted), with God lauded as wise, merciful and gracious for dispensing his “new light” at the proper time. Everything is engineered so that, whatever happens, Watchtower can always absolve itself of responsibility as needed.

For as long as I can remember, Watchtower has been condemning any sort of individual achievement in this world. Such a stigma against investing in one’s future beyond the confines of the religion naturally produces a population low in skilled expertise.

Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses, allegedly lead by “the Great Physician” who diagnoses “mentally diseased” apostates, are ironically low on competent healers and advised by the Awake! to seek aid from the educated world – the very world they’ve always condemned as deserving of nothing but a fiery and humiliating destruction.

I was always taught that Christianity was the solution for the broken of heart (Luke 4:18). Yet, according to the information presented in the December 2014 Awake!, healing the downtrodden is now being outsourced.

Good advice is good advice

Apart from the final section of the Awake! article (where Watchtower’s idea of “spiritual health” is deemed “vital”), it must be noted that it presents good advice. It is very wise for people with mental health problems to seek professional medical care in addition to any holistic approaches.

However, I feel it is important to point out that such advice runs contrary to actual Watchtower dogma and the secret instructions, both written and recorded, that are received by congregation elders from their Governing Body.

In spite of the double standards, I hope that many people will receive the care they require as a result of this Awake! article. Any direction to proper medical treatment is a positive thing. I just wish Watchtower would clean up its backstage mess rather than simply polishing its brand.









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54 thoughts on “Watchtower’s advice on mental health: A tale of two religions

  • October 27, 2014 at 4:36 am

    How could a “Property Development Company” like the WT be of any help regarding the mental health of their members? Just for the mere reason that their elders have been ranked recently as “princes and dukes” by their GB members ? Come on ! Let us be serious. Every well informed person knows that some competences can be acquired only after long and sustained studies, instead of by repeated manipulation.

  • October 27, 2014 at 5:29 am

    A really good video to listen to on Youtube is “Stop Being Food for the Reptilian Complex” by Thomas Sheridan. Just knowing what we are up against, helps us to wake up to how we were being controlled when we were in the Org.

  • October 28, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Thanks rob I appreciate that comment. I really can say i feel so much better now, my life today is alot more healthier than when I was an active JW it really has done me alot of good to get away from this religion. I too see JW’s every saturday morning all over I think they are just fully convinced it must be the one true religion and must follow it blinldy, even when the elders tell them to read more articles or publications and dedicate more time to Jehovah. That’s their answer to everything “are you keeping up with your personal study? has your service hours/meeting attendance dropped? etc. must be the reason you are going through so and so, or this happened to you….it really makes my jaw drop nowadays I know they perhaps meant well but they too are “captives of the concept” and not mental/behavioral health specialist.


  • October 28, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Thank You Rob. I must say that my life today is alot more healthier in more ways than one than when I was an active JW. I think that the JW’s we see out in service are just completely convinced they are part of the one true religion and must follow and do as they say without questioning it, it’s the way it’s been set up and engrained into their minds. I think the elders too are “captives of the concept” they are not mental/behavioural health specialists and so forth have absolutely no business telling people to “read watchtower/awake articles” or other “publications” for help and asking questions such as “how’s your personal study?have your service hours/meeting attendances dropped? etc.” saying that is the reason we feel a certain way or that something happened to us. I laugh now when i look back at these statements. But trust me little by little many more are seeing the religion for what it is. Thanks to people like you working to expose the religion.

    C M

  • October 28, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I remember very clearly how those who suffered from any sort of depression were told they ‘lacked faith’. “If you just had enough Faith, you wouldn’t BE depressed!” I was told. Really?? Wow, who Knew that Bi-Polar Depression could be HEALED BY FAITH ALONE?? WOW! Yeah, how I suffered under their judgments, it was HEAVILY DISCOURAGED to go to therapists, or psychiatrists during the 1970’s and 1980’s, I remember it VERY Well. The Watchtower LOVES to portray itself as foward thinking in its magazines, but behind closed doors a totally different picture emerges. I doubt very much if this attitude has really changed very much. Sounds pretty in the Awake magazine, but how will the elders treat the depressed souls? And how will the members judge those who suffer from this affliction? Remains to be seen.

  • October 29, 2014 at 8:07 am

    I believe we all know how witnesses who suffer from depression are viewed by other witnesses – “spiritually weak”. In my opinion nothing has changed and nothing ever will change, because from my perspective, this religion is all about appearances and putting on a show of how spiritual you are and how many hours you get and how many meetings you attend. What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t matter. Very very plastic.

  • October 29, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    A high level of control, meddling in every aspect of their
    followers lives,- employment, marital relations, medical
    treatment, entertainment, beards,etc.

    Elders in each country parroting the current party line, that
    frequently changes.. Changes which would be unnecessary
    were they originally based on truth and sound reasoning.

    Some may think they have been set free, but let them start
    using their own conscience, their own freedom to think,to
    question. It’s then that one feels the weight of authority and
    control applied against them. Made to feel like a pariah, an
    untouchable, even by their own family something that
    probably no other power could accomplish.

  • October 30, 2014 at 11:19 am

    You hit the nail on the head! This Libidinal control suppresses people. I have seen it so many times in the congregations where people just snap and act out sexually. It is a dysfunctional pattern that keeps repeating itself. Not to mention the poor brothers and sisters who have to relay all of the details in a judicial hearing. They are not getting healed at all, and the problem recycles. They are confused and shamed why the acted out in the first place. Maybe this is one of the reasons there are so many pedofiles. I am sure the experts could write volumes on the JWs.

  • October 30, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I completely agree!

  • October 30, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    My replies are not posting under others comments…Anyway I completely agree with Johnathan’s appraisal on the general JWs view with it is “ok to get therapy just to cope and not to explore what is really wrong.” If JWs did it would breakdown the cult.

  • October 31, 2014 at 6:40 am

    Jehovah’s Witnesses qualify 100% to be today’s Pharisees. (Matthew 23:3) . . .Therefore, all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but they do not practice what they say.

    CAUTION: Do not do and observe ALL the things today’s Pharisees tell you: Abstinence from Blood Transfusion, Avoidance of Vaccines made from serum like the vaccine against hepatitis, Shunning family members, Etc.

  • November 16, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Great to see you on here James. I really enjoyed all of your videos and have been hoping you would make more.

    Glad to see others of note have taken notice and you found a home at JWsurvey. Great article too.

  • December 7, 2014 at 12:22 am

    Thank you for posting this article really shows how two faced the organizations leaders can be. I remember a talk Anthony Morris gave at a circuit assembly where he said those with depression just lack faith and they just aren’t praying enough. He also said depression was no excuse for missing meetings. As someone who suffers from bouts of depressive disorder it was extremely offensive and somewhat of a wakeup call for me to see the insensitivity of this member of the GB. It’s disappointing that I spent so much time listening and trying to lead my life based on a small group of men’s ever changing opinions and doctrines.

  • February 2, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    A really good video to listen to on Youtube is “Stop Being Food for the Reptilian Complex” by Thomas Sheridan. Just knowing what we are up against, helps us to wake up to how we were being controlled when we were in the Org.

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