Q. If I go to counseling, does that make me crazy?
A. What does crazy really mean? It is definitely not a term used by professionals. If anything, crazy is that old quote, “Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.” When you are stuck in a problem, suffering from an unhappy marriage, or experiencing symptoms such as anxiety or depression, doing nothing new is likely to make things worse. Seeking help is a sign of maturity, a sign that you value yourself enough to move out of pain and into a place of peace. There is nothing “crazy” about that.
Q. How do I know I need therapy?
A. Most people have networks of support they rely on. If you are in a relationship that ends, you can cry with your friends. If you are a mother needing parenting advice, you may ask your mother or other parents. If you are sick, you can ask your family members to bring you chicken soup or you can see your doctor. These days, Google can also be a helpful support for information about problems in life.
A sign you may need counseling is that you have consulted your usual support system and likely tried what they recommended, but you are still struggling with the same problem. And, sometimes, a problem is so personal or seems so big, that you are uncomfortable asking your friends and family. A wonderful benefit of therapy is that it is confidential. No one but your therapist ever has to know you went to therapy, unless you choose to tell.
If you are married, it can be time to seek therapy when you feel alone in your marriage, are unable to resolve conflicts and agree to disagree respectfully, when there is a breakdown of trust in your partner for any reason, and when anger, substances, and stressors are stealing your relationship intimacy. Pre-marital counseling is also recommended for couples to help start a marriage on solid ground.
Q. I feel embarrassed to go to therapy. I fear that the therapist will judge me.
A. Think about how you feel when someone you care about is hurting and asks you for help. Do you shame them and blame them, or do you feel compassion and flattered that they trust you?
While there are many responses to people in need, some not positive, therapists generally care deeply about people. They spend years in training in graduate school and after graduation to receive the licenses and certifications they need to help people ethically, confidentially, and professionally. People who do not truly care for others rarely make it through this grueling process. And, many graduate schools require therapists in training to go to therapy themselves.
Personally, I respect my clients for seeking the help they need to grow. I feel proud when my clients commit to change and honored that they trust me with their stories.
Q. I thought prayer and faith was supposed to bring the healing I need. Why isn’t faith solving my problems?
A. Prayer and faith are huge assets to emotional and mental health. However, the Bible is also full of passages about caring for one another. Change happens most in relationship with others, as we try new ways of being. God Himself exists in relationship, with the Father, Son, and Spirit. If God needs community, how much more do we?
There are such a myriad of problems people can face that sometimes the people we know do not have the experience or information we need. That doesn’t mean God is failing you, it means it may be time to form a relationship with someone who does have the insight that will help you.
Q, My church frowns on counseling. Isn’t it a secular idea?
A. Many counselors, myself included, are Christians who are trained to integrate their faith with counseling. And, truth is truth. All truth comes from God. All fields of study have some truth in them, from psychology to mathematics to medicine. The truth in the world can help anyone who chooses to apply it to his or life, with or without faith.
In my work with Christians, I use the truth that exists from the field of psychology and apply it. Any ideas from psychology that are not in line with the principles of God’s Word I simply avoid.
There is no way one Christian church can have someone with every experience known to mankind or someone trained in every need. Seeking help of any sort, whether in your church community or not, is a sign of humility, an important character trait of a Godly person. “God resist the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
Q. How long does counseling take?
A. Counseling is a process. Most people meet for forty-five to fifty minutes a week, possibly an hour and a half for couples. It usually takes two to three of these meetings, called sessions, to build trust in your therapist, for your therapist to get to know you, and to have a plan for how to best bring about the changes you want. However, relief often begins after the first meeting from being able to confide in someone who is helping you carry your burden.
Counseling is complete when your symptoms are gone or you have resolved the problems that brought you into counseling. For many people, this is about three months, though some people can be helped in less time and others stay in therapy much longer. Therapy is totally tailored to your needs, so you can work with your therapist as much or as little as seems right for you.