Well, cat’s out of the bag now. I’m in counseling, folks. I’ve considered blogging about this, and about my experience in particular, but for now I think I want to just offer some basic thoughts on why counseling is a really good thing — even for Christians.
Time and Intentionality
There’s never enough time for all we need to get accomplished. Trust me, I know this on a very personal level. I’m a full time student, I work three part time jobs to make ends meet, I serve in a youth group, I’m dating someone and I manage a fairly decent social life. I think in our activity obsessed culture (which is a standard mark of our Protestant roots) we are often bereft of deep, authentic relationships. Please don’t misread this. I don’t mean to say that everyone in our culture is “fake” and putting on a show (though certainly true for many). It’s that we simply can’t manage to sit down and have coffee with someone for four hours to discuss our marriages, our struggles with our jobs and our victories that are coupled with defeat. There’s a struggle to find the ability to invest in each other, not because we don’t want to, but because we simply “can’t” make the time.* Our kids play sports, we have small group, Awanas, work parties, gym memberships, work that we bring home with us and — oh yeah– sleep which takes up half of our lifetime. But when we don’t have time for each other to be real, honest and raw, we need to find that elsewhere.
Sometimes, more intentionality can fill this vacancy. I plan my life about a month at a time — not because I like planning but because I have so much to get done and I want to preserve down time with God, with friends and with Ethan. We intentionally pursue certain people who we seek advice from and are honest with. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t seem feasible and one feels like they are drowning amidst obligations and shallow relationships that aren’t providing the ability to seek wisdom and discernment. It takes time to get to that point with someone and then time to maintain it. So, counseling can provide a place where those needs (for discernment, processing, correction, etc) are met. That has certainly been the case in my life.
Also problematic for finding someone to invest in you (and hopefully you investing in others) is that many of our churches are generationally segregated. Now, I’m going out on a limb here but I’d say this is not only a problem in churches via preference issues (music, clothing, etc) but is a standard issue across American culture where generations since the Boomers have decreasingly seen the importance of the wisdom of the elders. It’s something that needs to be combatted because there is a lack of wisdom for mentoring young folks if everyone is the same age! There’s no difference in life experience if everyone is on the same stage of life (young marrieds, new kids, teenage kids, etc).
I experienced the importance of having older folks in my life when Ethan and I recently snowshoed with a couple from our church who have kids older than the two of us. We took along their hunting dog and their little lap dog. Mathilda (lap dog) was slowing down about half way through so the other couple wrapped her up in a shirt and dropped her into the husband’s backpack with her head and two paws sticking out. Midway through the process, Cindy looked at me and said “this is what you do when you have kids, okay? Your life doesn’t stop. You adjust.” I need that. I need my married friends to wipe away the rose coloured glasses and assure me that arguments are normal, that marriage is compromise, that kids are cute but hard. Ethan and I are blessed to have many older couples around us who have been willing to take time out of their schedules and mentor us in a variety of ways (whether through snowshoeing or working on a house project with E). Unfortunately this isn’t always available to people in churches were the population is primarily made up of a single demographic. In this instance, I think counseling can again fill in a gap by providing wisdom both cerebral and hands on as people work through their issues (and this is especially true in marriages).
Spiritual Depth v Self Help
Finally, I think that as a Christian one ought to seek a Christian counselor. There’s this tendency in America to be obsessively oriented towards “self-help.” We can see this in our sermons, which are three points and commonly directed towards life change/behavioural modification. There’s a difference between self help and spiritual wisdom because self help, frankly, isn’t spiritual at all. It plays at the thought that one can change themselves to be better, healthier, more whole. While I believe one must cooperate with the Holy Spirit, I strongly believe that it is God who changes hearts. I think Christian counselors can make a huge difference here. They are trained to helping people unearth belief systems that cause behavioural issues — rather than putting someone on a diet, they help the person work through why they cope with life through food. A story might suffice here. My counselor and I have often talked about God and how my warped view of the Father has severely impacted my view of myself, E, and all of life (including my inability to rest and say no to people). My counselor and I recently discussed that I have terrible thought patterns (see previous post) and at some point I simply have to stop those thoughts right as they begin. What I didn’t say on Monday was that my counselor has also pointed out my need to memorize Scripture so I can speak truth in those moments of self loathing and doubt. You see? It isn’t self help, though that is what’s offered rather commonly in our churches and bookstores and relationships (a la, have you tried X, or tried Z?). What we need instead is a call to accountability and spiritual direction.
Should everyone be in counseling? Well, at some point, yes. Not because we’re all horribly broken in a melodramatic way. No. But we all have pasts, we are products of the way people have treated us, the way we were picked on as children, manipulated by siblings, hurt by parents who didn’t love perfectly because they aren’t perfect. There’s sin in this world and we’ve all experienced it. I think, at some point, whether it is found in a mentoring relationship or a paid counselor, we’ve all got some ish to work through and we should do that as we pursue becoming who we already are in Christ and who we are constantly being transformed into.
Have you ever been in counseling? What are your thoughts on it — useful, necessary, etc?
*I will say that sometimes the time excuse is just that, an excuse. I don’t have time for everyone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time for some people.