Conversation: Linda Mintle
Helping America get healthier
Dr. Linda Mintle is a therapist, magazine columnist,
resident health expert on ABC Family's Living the Life, author, Web adviser
(www.drlindahelps.com), wife and mother of two teenagers.
With a Ph.D. in urban health and clinical psychology, Mintle
specializes in the treatment of food, weight and body image issues. She is the
author of 13 books, including Overweight Kids and Making Peace With Your
Thighs. Press Pause É Before You Eat is scheduled for release in January.
Her husband of 33 years, Norm, an Evangel University
graduate, is associate dean at Regent University as well as a TV producer. She
is the daughter-in-law of retired Assemblies of God world missionaries Harold
and Bea Mintle.
Mintle, 53, chatted recently with TPE News Editor John W.
Kennedy from her Chesapeake, Va., home.
tpe: What is the biggest change you've seen since starting
work as a therapist?
MINTLE: The values of the culture were not that different
from my values as a Christian when I started doing therapy nearly 30 years ago.
There was much more support in communities for influencing people in the right
direction. The breakdown from absolutes into relativism has made holding people
more accountable for their behavior more difficult. And people feel more
entitled and victimized than in the past.
On the other hand, social networking sites have made it
easier to evangelize and disciple people. We can affect culture by joining the
conversation and asking questions. Our stories of personal triumph can't be
argued with. When I talk about seven years of infertility, my brother Gary
being killed and a mother healed of cancer, it's a powerful opportunity to
explain to others what brings me peace.
tpe: How is Scripture useful in your counseling?
MINTLE: There is never an incompatibility with what works
with people and the principles of the Bible. For example, psychology has
recently discovered that forgiveness is a good thing. Well, look at what the
Bible says. The Lord proclaimed that long ago.
tpe: Are Christians more willing to seek a therapist's help
MINTLE: When I first started as a therapist there was a huge
stigma for Christians to go to counseling. There was the belief that all you
need is Jesus. While this is true, sometimes Jesus' help comes from
professionals. He uses our talents and training to move people forward in their
Christian walk. Christians go to doctors for physical problems, why not for
psychological and emotional health? I've treated many Christians for marriage
therapy, depression and eating disorders.
tpe: Are issues we hear about today, such as cutting and
bulimia, recent phenomena or have they always been around?
MINTLE: They have always been around, but we haven't talked
about them. Now there is more awareness and more treatment programs. However,
the numbers of men and women involved in self-injury have risen dramatically.
And a new trend in eating disorders involves women in mid-life, as well as
tpe: Are churches more open to helping people with
life-controlling issues than 20 years ago?
MINTLE: They're much more open. And because pastors feel
totally overwhelmed — my brother Dennis Marquardt was a pastor for 26
years before he became Northern New England district superintendent —
they know they need to refer people to professionals. Pastors could spend their
whole week just counseling people in their churches because the need is so
tpe: Early in your practice you saw the need for entire
families to be involved in the healing process.
MINTLE: When I worked in Chicago public schools and at a
residential treatment facility at the University of South Florida, I was
frustrated because kids would do well in treatment, go home and quickly fall
back into old patterns. Problems like eating disorders can't be treated without
the family being involved. As in a church, you have to deal with people in the
context of relationships.
tpe: Are Americans making any progress on the obesity front?
MINTLE: The progress is slow but steadily gaining ground.
It's like where the anti-smoking movement was 40 years ago. It took time to
expose the dangers of smoking. It may take 40 years for people to make progress
in the obesity epidemic.
tpe: Are Christians likelier to be overweight than the general
MINTLE: I've never seen statistics on that, but Christians
turn to food as a form of addiction. We won't go down to the corner to score
cocaine, but nobody's going to yell at us for having a second doughnut at the
With so much food at church gatherings, can we have
healthier choices? Do we need to give candy to kids at Sunday School all the
time? Do we have to have doughnuts available before church?
I've heard one sermon on gluttony in my entire life. The
pastor sensitively called people up for prayer if they struggled with this
issue. Nobody moved. In the narthex afterwards, people wouldn't make eye
contact or talk about it. They were offended.
tpe: Why does our culture produce people who are compulsive
overeaters as well as others who are anorexic?
MINTLE: We live in a media-driven society where there are
unrealistic ideals and pressure to be thin and to be beautiful. When you
consider that there were never eating disorders on the Fiji Islands until MTV
came in about 15 years ago it shows the power of the media.
Then there is the mixed message of abundance, choice and
indulgence, whether it's food or any other kind of addiction. With so much
pressure to be thin, people are confused about where their identity is found. The
more people look for ways to numb the stresses in everyday life, apart from
God, the more likely they are to turn to food.
tpe: How else do the media play a role in keeping people in
bondage to eating disorders?
MINTLE: On any given day, the number of repeated images we
see of unrealistic body types plays on our minds. And the amount of time we
spend consuming media leads to a more sedentary lifestyle.
tpe: What is your greatest passion?
MINTLE: I love interacting with people, especially speaking
and doing television. Writing is tedious, disciplined work. I never had an
ambition to be a writer. But I can reach more people with books than I can
counseling them one at a time. I write every day so that I don't get out of the
tpe: Does dealing with all these problems get you down?
MINTLE: I learned early on in my career that I wouldn't
survive if I didn't leave my work at the office when I went home for the day.
My husband is supportive. Because I see people with serious issues like
infidelity, pornography and abuse, I am aware of the need to stay strong
spiritually and live the advice I give to others.
Without the hope of God's transforming power, it would be
difficult to do what I do. I often remind myself that it is not my job to heal
people. My job is to bring them to the One who can heal and transform —
TPExtra: The family meal doesn't have to be a thing of the past and
can play an important role in improving the overall health of your family.
Read "The Family Meal," excerpted with permission from
Overweight Kids, by Dr. Linda Mintle.
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