Wrestling with Our Inner Angels, by Nancy Kehoe

Wrestling with Our Inner Angels:
Faith, Mental Illness and the Journey to Wholeness
A Book by Nancy Kehoe

By The Bookworm

kehoeSurprise! They invited me back to write another review. Either I did okay with Elie Wiesel’s Night or they’re hard up for contributions. Either way this review is about a book a survivor gave me to read a long time ago. I didn’t read it. I said I was too busy. I wish I read it earlier in therapy. It would have saved me some anguish. It might have given my therapist food for thought too, because he really kept a wall up between my being Catholic and our sessions.

Book reviewers often start with the author. Even though this is only my second book review, I will too. But the author’s website does a better job: “Dr. Nancy Kehoe. Director of Expanding Connections, is a licensed psychologist. She is an Instructor in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the Cambridge Health Alliance, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She is a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart and has held various leadership positions in her religious congregation. Nancy has worked with staff members in mental health, geriatric and medical settings both locally in Massachusetts and nationally…. Until recently, healthcare providers have not been trained to ask patients about their religious and spiritual beliefs. Nancy recognized this defect in health care and developed a comprehensive Religious History Assessment tool. With this instrument, she has educated professionals in private practice, enabling them to explore the client’s religious and spiritual history with greater ease.”

The fact the author is a nun is really why I avoided reading this book. I was not a fan of the Catholic Church for a long time, and nuns are Catholic. Not a good mix. Now I regret waiting, because Nancy Kehoe’s approach to all the “hats” she wears put me at ease. She was real.

Now, to the book, Wrestling with our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness and the Journey to Wholeness. This book is a mix of Oliver Saks, Bernie Siegel and Kathleen Norris. I’ll leave you to figure that out, or read the book, or at least reviews on amazon. I just want to explain what mattered the most when I finally got around to reading the book. What mattered most to me was that Nancy Kehoe talked about the spiritual need inside mental illness. She asked questions I needed to ask but hadn’t been able to figure out. It was like having a mute button turned off inside me.

For one thing, it is really hard for patients in mental-health wards to get spiritual counsel. For one reason, there’s the idea of separating church and state. Seriously, some public institutions are not permitted to include faith talk. For another reason there are not a lot of people who get there’s a need. I’m not going to tell you why that matters so much to me, but it does. I can think of a schizophrenic friend who has to learn not to heed inner voices but use them as a signal to turn to medical care for a review of medicines. That turns out to be a really good strategy, but then how does my friend cope with listening for God within? Who takes that need seriously if you are mentally ill?

That’s how Nancy Kehoe nails it. What you’ll read if you read this book is that Nancy Kehoe is all about therapy that respects people believing, even pretty seriously mentally ill people. There’s dignity in that. It’s dignity that even well-meaning experts miss. Nancy Kehoe is a champion for those who suffer with chronic mental illness. We are children of God too. Where’s the ministry for that? Reviews that are way better than mine talk about how Nancy Kehoe helps therapy no longer be stuck in the “shadow of Freud” and no longer “pathologize the sacred.” I agree.

I’m really glad I read this book. I wish more therapists would—and check out the assessment tool. I would have really liked using that in therapy with my therapist.

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