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An Interview with Rob Waller – how do mental health and spirituality intersect?

13 August 2012

My next interview is with someone who has had a huge impact on my life because during my last 2 years at university we met fortnightly, normally early in the morning over breakfast, to study the book of Romans. Those 2 years were hugely significant and I copied that ‘model of ministry’ as I have discipled other guys. Before we proceed with the interview I should give you a health warning because Rob is someone that will make you feel ill…he got a first from Cambridge, he is a psychiatrist, he has a rowing blue (winning the varsity boat race, he also won a student world games gold medal) and to top it all off he is a really nice guy with a very balanced life and in his spare time has set up an national network called Mind&Soul which is hitting a vital niche in looking at how mental health and spirituality intersect. I remember around 8 years ago when he first mentioned the idea to me and he started to gather about a dozen Christian health professional to pray – it is quite amazing how it has grown.
Anyway, here is what he said

(1) Hi Rob tell us who you are, your history, what you do & your most favourite thing about Dublin?

I’m married to my gorgeous wife Susanna and live in the wonderful city of Edinburgh with two very active small boys. I work for the NHS full time as a Consultant Psychiatrist, mainly with people who are psychotic and suicidal. I am also one of the directors of a national network called Mind and Soul – http://www.mindandsoul.info. I know very little about Dublin, other than that it is the only College outside Oxbridge whose degrees they recognise – and I am not sure if this is quaint, archaic or just plain pretentious on the part of my alma mater.

(2) Who have been your inspirations growing up and who do you enjoying reading (and why)?

I have always been inspired by people who have been both thinkers and activists. An example would be the Earl of Shaftesbury who was a politician, Christian, president of the Bible Society, reformer of factory working conditions and writer of the first modern Mental Health Act [in his spare time]. I have lots of books on lots of shelves and especially enjoy autobiographies [just tucking into Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer at the moment] and also books slightly off-the-radar/controversial/heretical as these keep my mind sharp.

(3) You started Mind and Soul around 5 years ago, tell us a bit about how this came about, what are its aims and how are things going?

Mind and Soul was born out of the fact that I ended up with two bits in my life – being both a psychiatrist and church elder – and needed to join them up. I started blogging, then reading, then networking. The website is the main product, with hundreds of freely available articles and audio/video messages by the best thinkers and practitioners in the overlap of Christianity and mental health. We have also put on some major conferences and written a couple of books. Its aims are to equip, encourage and network – and the thing that gives me most joy is seeing people better able to work and love and believe because of what we do.

(4) What are some of the key challenges facing Christian doctors today?

The key thing is how we can be both distinctively Christian and also good doctors. I do this mainly by being 110% open about my faith – all my patients find me on Google before we meet which means I don’t have to decide whether to tell them what I believe as they know already! I don’t think the way to be a good Christian doctor is to get overly involved in some of the ethical dilemmas of today like euthanasia or sexuality. These are important issues, and we can support a Christian position, but for most of us it will not be our main witness or where we should put our energy. Instead, we need to love God and in doing so live out true to our own self. For me this is to be a Christian who thinks about mental health and a psychiatrist who thinks as a Christian. Both are me and I need to be both – 100% of both – not one on sunday and one on monday, or a 50/50 lukewarm patchy mix.

(5) How do you balance being a full time doctor, a full time father and husband and also running a large national network in your spare time?

I am blessed with a job that pays well and is largely 9-5 – and I know many people who have golden handcuffs with jobs that they have grown to meet seemingly important demands. My family is a full time role, and one choice we have made is that at the moment Susanna is not working. This does not however mean I am at liberty to do what I want and I am typically to be found at home. I say no to most requests for me to travel, work on the web / virtually when I can and prioritise a few key friends and the gym.

(6) Tell us, what are your hopes for Mind and Soul in the next few years?

The longer term aims of Mind and Soul are to see a church that understands mental illness, and a health service that understands faith and the contribution churches can make. We have got to the place where many people will have heard of what we do, but I want to strategically join this up within the church so what we do is exponentially combined. The main challenge is to impact the secular world – especially to see the NHS and other health care providers – partnering well with churches and taking matters of faith seriously. After all, when you care for your soul, then care for your mind and body should follow…

If you would like to follow what Rob Waller is doing check out http://www.mindandsoul.info or @robwaller. Before we finish, I just wanted to re-quote something Rob said which I think is worth a second read

For me this is to be a Christian who thinks about mental health and a psychiatrist who thinks as a Christian. Both are me and I need to be both – 100% of both – not one on sunday and one on monday, or a 50/50 lukewarm patchy mix.

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