A mentally ill man’s attempted suicide under the aegis of a Christian “faith-based treatment program” that replaces medication with bible study has raised tough questions about the proliferation of unregulated spiritual recovery programs throughout the country. The man, 26 year-old Alan Jacobsen of Spencer, Iowa, checked himself into the program, known as the Spencer Dream Center, at the behest of Rev. Nick Hanges, one of two Assembly of God pastors who run the program and a long-time acquaintance of Jacobsen’s. He began his “treatment” at the beginning of the year, but the details of his ordeal have only recently garnered widespread attention.
Jacobsen had been suffered from depression and anxiety for years and was taking several prescription drugs to control his condition. After bouncing between several different treatment programs over the past few years, Jacobsen decided to check himself into the Dream Center after Christmas, despite his family’s worries about the program’s requirement of ending all prescription drug treatment. According to Dream Center’s promotional materials, the program “heals” patients “by using prayer, scripture memorization, and developing a closer relationship with God.” Because the pastors in charge believe that God will inevitably heal the sick and view medications as a usurpation of divine power, patients in the Dream Center’s program are forbidden from using any medication, prescribed or otherwise, and are required to quit cold turkey upon entering.
Jacobsen was reportedly worried about entering the program and texted Rev. Hanges expressing his concerns. Hanges, who has no medical certification but is “certified online as a faith-based Christian counselor by the International Institute of Faith-Based Counseling in Texas,” assured him that everything would be fine and he needed to wean himself off of his medication to connect with God. The Dream Center’s regimen of bible study, scripture, and communion with God unsurprisingly failed to cure Jacobsen’s illness, and quitting his medication so abruptly had devastating effects on his mental state, which of course anyone with medical certification would have known would be the case. So, on January 15, a mere ten days after starting the program, Jacobson was found unconscious in a pool of blood in his room after attempting to slit his neck with a box cutter.
He was rushed to the hospital and, thankfully, survived, but the experience has left him and his family wary of religious “faith-based treatment.” While in the hospital Jacobsen reportedly scrawled on a napkin “maybe now Grimes will see that faith doesn’t heal everything,” referring to Rev. Kevin Grimes, the other pastor in charge of the Dream Center. The pastors have apparently provided no support for Jacobsen since his suicide attempt and have cut off contact with him and his family, while the Dream Center was absolved of “any liability whatsoever arising as a result of death, injury or illness” by the agreement he signed upon beginning treatment.
The case has brought significant attention to the recent proliferation of similar faith-based treatment programs, which often have little or no oversight and regulation and are run by people with no formal medical training or certification. While numerous patients and religious leaders have testified to the effectiveness of these faith-based programs, countless others have had experiences like Jacobsen’s. In the wake of Jacobsen’s headline-grabbing ordeal there have been some attempts in Iowa to begin regulating faith-based treatment programs but they have made relatively little leeway, and throughout most of the country these initiatives are continuing with essentially no oversight.
H/T to Raw Story
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.