Faith Shouldn't Stop You From Going to Therapy, and Other Lessons From TikTok's Christian Trauma Therapist
Licensed trauma therapist Kobe Campbell knows what it's like to feel at odds with one's faith. She grew up going to church with her parents and as a young adult considered herself a distant but "good" Christian — always staying connected to communities of faith by attending Bible study and church. But she also experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression, and she struggled to reconcile these issues with her belief systems.
In 2013, after years of pushing her own trauma under the rug, she attempted to end her life. "Many of us have been taught by the church and the world at large, both explicitly and implicitly, that the mental and emotional pain that comes from trauma are character problems and moral failings," Campbell writes in "Why Am I Like This?: How to Break Cycles, Heal From Trauma, and Restore Your Faith," her debut book. "They are seen as personal flaws marked by laziness, ignorance, immaturity, and a lack of gratitude. We're taught that we can outrun, outlearn, and out-earn the anguish." But Campbell learned that what she'd been taught was wrong — and that in seeking out a personal relationship with God, rather than one guided by religion alone, she didn't have to live a life of anguish.
In her healing journey, Campbell learned that even "good Christians" have bad days — and that God loves you anyway. In doing so, she restored both her faith and mental health, and now, as a licensed trauma therapist, she has some advice for other Christians hoping to do the same.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
POPSUGAR: You said in a now-viral video, "Healing is not becoming the best version of yourself, but it's letting the worst version of yourself be loved." How did that mantra come about, and did you expect the message to resonate with so many people?
Kobe Campbell: No, not at all. I was actually getting ready for dinner and just had the thought after having a couple of sessions with clients, and I had shared with them that we cannot hate ourselves into healing. I discovered that every version of myself, even the versions that people rejected, the versions that I rejected, had a wisdom that I am now utilizing in the present — a wisdom from the past that now enriches my everyday life. I cannot hate myself into healing. I cannot hate myself into freedom. I cannot hate myself into liberation or joy. And so that video was just my thoughts on reminding people that, you know, healing is not killing off parts of yourself. It's bringing in parts of yourself that were pushed away for so long.
PS: What has it been like learning to love even the worst versions of yourself? I know in your new book "Why Am I Like This?" you mention a suicide attempt in which a text message from a friend encouraged you to hold on. But what did it feel like in that moment to choose you?
KC: It felt embarrassing to be seen. But at the same time, it felt so good to be seen. It was like my worst nightmare and my greatest dream at the same time. Like, I just wanted to be seen and accepted. But I was also terrified of being seen for fear that I wouldn't be accepted. And so in that moment, it was fear, and euphoria, and excitement, and hope. And it was a moment where I was like, I can try one more time because someone sees me in this state and they're not rejecting me. They're not pushing me away. They're not telling me it's my fault. They're not making fun of me. They're being kind to me. So maybe there is more of this out there in life. And if there is, I want to find out.
PS: What led you to that moment to begin with?
KC: The buildup was really quiet. I think sometimes we think about suicidal ideation and suicidal attempt, and we think that there's going to be a big moment that pointed to this literally life-altering moment. But for me, it was just the cycle of feeling like my life was about working for approval, only to experience rejection. I didn't feel at home with myself. I didn't feel at home with anyone. I felt a sense of just underlying restlessness and fatigue constantly.
I think a common misconception is we think people get to the place of wanting to take their lives from being sad, and I found with my own experience and with my clients that it's not always sadness. Sometimes it's just being tired. Sometimes it's saying I cannot do today again.
"I think some of the faith experiences that really put me off initially were blaming and shaming, really: You're depressed because this is your fault. You're depressed because you didn't go to Bible study. You're depressed because you missed church. You're depressed because you need to pray more."
PS: One thing that you mention was taxing on your mental health was your relationship with God and religion. So often for people in the church, they separate religion and mental health and it seems like it's one or the other, right? You can go to God or you can go to therapy. So how did you sort of find your way back to both?
KC: I had to wrestle with the reality that I experience God and His love and His goodness, in a way that was completely other than what was taught to me in religion. I think some of the faith experiences that really put me off initially were blaming and shaming, really: You're depressed because this is your fault. You're depressed because you didn't go to Bible study. You're depressed because you missed church. You're depressed because you need to pray more.
But in exploring a personal relationship with God I came to realize that I was the way I was because of what I experienced. Not because I had a moral failure, not because I was a bad person, but because I was wounded and I wasn't addressing the ways that my past wounds were affecting my present. And I had to come to grips with the fact that a lot of people who loved God did not have the resources or the schooling or the understanding of what that looks like.
PS: Who did you write this book for?
KC: The very specific people I had in mind are Black women who are Christians, women who are going and doing and serving and showing up, who are faithful to their communities of faith, but then go home exhausted and empty and wondering: "Who loves me? Who shows up for me? Who cares for me? Who protects me?" This book is a book that I hope begins their journey of healing from the past, so that they can begin to live lives that they love, instead of lives that they tolerate — to heal for themselves, and for no one else. But this book is good for anyone who's trying to understand how to heal from the past in light of their faith.
Kobe Campbell's debut book, "Why Am I Like This?: How to Break Cycles, Heal From Trauma, and Restore Your Faith," is out now.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has resources available, including a helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6424). You can also dial 988, the nation's new mental health crisis hotline.