I saved this part of my series for last for two reasons–one, it’s probably the most surprising to people (surprising to those that know me when they find out that I need a counselor and surprising to people in general when they realize they need a counselor). Two, my counselor has had an immeasurable impact on my life.
The Counselor: I thought about going to counseling off and on throughout college, but never acted on it. But the time came, after college, when I realized that I needed help beyond what “self-help-esque” books and friends’ conversations could provide. This point happened to coalesce with the fact that someone had given me a counselor’s information a few months before. So, I acted on it. I know that I am very, very blessed in that my first experience with a counselor has been fruitful. Some people start counseling and don’t “click” with their counselor and have to look around (kind of like what I mentioned about doctors) and some people go and find that they simply aren’t ready to delve into issues the way that counseling requires.
I truly believe that everyone can benefit from professional counsel (i.e. therapy). However, like I explained, I have had a very positive experience… and I can’t know where you are right now. What I would recommend is that, if you find yourself contemplating counseling–or even just find yourself overwhelmed and have seemingly nowhere to turn–look for a counselor and see what happens. Once you’ve started, and you get up the nerve to share with someone that you’re in counseling, you’ll be surprised how often that other person will mention a time that either they or someone they loved were helped by it.
I know that, for some people, the stigma associated with therapy keeps them from considering it. But let me ask you, honestly–do you really care? The stigma probably kept me from telling people for awhile (heaven forbid their image of me be tarnished!)… but especially at my darkest points, it really, really didn’t matter what other people thought… what mattered was that I needed help (and, in many ways, continue to need it). Now, I actually kind of enjoy telling people about it, because my experience has been life-changing (if not life-saving).
Before I tell you a bit about it, I do need to stop for a moment and caution you that counseling is not going to solve all of your problems. Nothing will (on this earth, anyway). That’s not the point. I tend to get exuberant when talking about my counseling experience because it is so important to me, but don’t take that to mean that having a counselor means the world is rosy and I’m happy-go-lucky. Some of my friends and family probably have to keep from rolling their eyes a bit when I start yet another sentence with, “My counselor said…” I know that my false impression that he always knows what to do/say is similar to my students’ equally false impression that I know everything. Once, I told my counselor that he was usually right. He responded, “I should give you some of my kids’ phone numbers!”
So, when I first started going to counseling, I thought I might need to go for a month. A month passed, and I thought, “Six months, maybe.” Down the road a bit… “perhaps a year?” Eventually I’ve just stopped thinking in those terms and settled for, “Who knows? Not me.” Which brings me to the first of an endless list of benefits of counseling that I’ve realized…
- Being free to not know everything. It’s one of the great tensions of life–our curiosity to always know more against the fact that there’s so much we simply can’t know. Once, during a session, my counselor and I both thought we heard a knock on the door. When he checked, however, no one was there. My counselor joked it was God, and asked if he should have let Him (God) in. I said, yes–I had some questions I’d like to ask God. He laughed, then said more seriously, “I have some questions I’d like to ask Him, too.” Having a safe place to voice doubts and ask questions has been incredibly important, but even more important is being able to voice those thoughts to a person who has lived a lot more life, but readily acknowledges that he doesn’t have all of the answers, either… and that’s ok.
- Having an outside perspective… This benefit seems obvious, but I don’t think I would have realized how many ways this could play out. The “easy” ones are guidance in making decisions and pointing out flaws in my reasoning… but then there’s also the way that he can say things that friends and family are too close to be able to say–like how certain parts of a past relationship were unhealthy… or how I’m taking on too much and should cut some things out… or how I’m not superwoman and need to partake of rest that God commands… or how important it is to make the time and emotional space to truly “be” with people. He also has the perspective to challenge my assumptions about how *I* think my “story” is supposed to go–and how I try to measure my progress against legalistic boundaries instead of living in God’s grace.
- …but eventually, a perspective that, while objective, knows me really well. There have been seasons of my life during counseling that were “lighter”–when I wasn’t something particularly hard I was dealing with–and we just talked about my goals or ways to engage more with life or discussed something that happened at school. While I appreciated those sessions for what they were, they built a foundation I’ve been so grateful for when life has taken heavier turns. I can’t really describe what it’s like to know that you have someone outside of your situation whose job (quite literally) is to support you.
- A compassionate ear. When I first started going to counseling, I think this is what I needed–and valued–most. Someone to just listen and care… whether that’s being shocked at the way a person has treated me to help me realize that I can (and need to) be angry or simply sympathize during a hard time to help me cry.
- Someone to move me forward. Someone who, when I half-jokingly mention my idea for an article, quite seriously asks when I’m going to have the draft written and where I’m going to submit it to be published. (Or asks when I’m going to start publishing my blog posts :-P). Someone who encourages me to take risks, to do things differently… and isn’t afraid to help pick up the pieces afterwards.
I could (and do) go on and on about each of these three men–and it seems a little disjointed to stop here–but there isn’t really an ending point, as I will never stop needing physical, spiritual, and emotional care–and neither will you. So, I’ll stop here for now. Hopefully I’ve at least planted a thought in your mind about the help that is available to you when you need it.