As a professional counselor, I find it interesting how some people view therapy. Often clients will say something about what a hard time they had actually coming in. They explain that coming to therapy felt like it meant they didn’t have it all together or that they were broken in some way. A common way people put it is that they feel like it means they’re crazy. Remarkably, it seems like most therapists—by far most of the ones I know—go to therapy themselves. So are crazies helping other crazies?
Allow me to shed a little bit of light on this. Here are three common categories of issues people have with therapy, and my response to them.
1. I’m not crazy—so why would I see a professional counselor? By crazy, I guess most people are thinking about a few mental disorders that cause people to have various pathologies like hallucinations or delusions. Or people have an image in their minds of live-in mental facilities where people are in straitjackets. While those do (kind of) exist, this is not an accurate picture of modern therapy by a long shot. At most outpatient counseling centers, clients come once a week for about an hour and sit and talk to a therapist. The majority are normal functioning people who are just having a hard time in life for whatever reason. In counseling we call these V Codes, which in essence stands for what the average person might consider to be day-to-day problems. Examples of this would include people going through divorce, parenting issues, occupational problems, past abuse, grief, etc. These are all very common reasons someone will come in for counseling. Probably the most common two issues people come in for are anxiety and depression. Normal people experience these issues and continue to lead very functioning lives, but want help in how to best deal with them.
2. I have friends to give me advice—so why do I need a professional counselor? I often have very well meaning friends who know that I am a counselor say some form of the following to me: “So I have this friend with ___ problem. (Fill in the blank with anything from an eating disorder to feeling suicidal.) What would you say to them?” Then they just look at me and wait for the magic piece of advice to solve the issue. The problem with that is that professional counseling is not about some wonderful, wise advice that is only known to therapists and once given solves problems. Therapists are not really advice givers at all. You have friends for that. What we do offer is a chance for self-discovery. Helping you see you from a different perspective and see what it’s like to be in a relationship with you. This in turn then leads to change. There is also the opportunity to be fully known—meaning you can share absolutely anything knowing it is confidential; and be fully accepted—meaning you will not be shamed for anything you share. A Christian therapist will help you see these things from a biblical perspective that you might not have had and help you align them closer to how God desires you to live. These are things truly everyone can benefit from.
3. As a Christian, isn’t God supposed to be enough? We were created to be relational from the beginning; it is God’s design that we need people in our life. Understanding what therapy is from the above paragraph, it is absolutely biblical for someone to come along side you, listen to you and help you gain perspective to live more in line with how you were created to live. Just because you still have anxiety or depression after you have prayed and attempted to give it to God does not mean you do not have enough faith. If you have things from your past that are affecting your present, it doesn’t mean you are sinful because you are having trouble getting over them. I have heard about times when God miraculously heals emotional pain. Wonderful! But sometimes he chooses not to do a miracle for purposes that are holy. He often uses our worst pain to bring us closest to Him in ways that would not happen if it were simply erased. Therefore, someone walking that road with you for a time helping you to gain a different perspective, and pointing you toward the Lord, is a Godly model. Not with the intention of remaining in the past or “living life looking in the rear view mirror,” but in order for your mind to reorganize the experience so you can move forward.
Therapy is very often a life-changing experience for those who take part in it. I hope this helps answer some concerns you’ve had that might have kept you from seeking professional counseling. If you have other questions or concerns about therapy, email me. I’d love to hear from you!
By: Laurel Boyd, MA, LMFTA
Summit Counseling of First Baptist Church Jackson