This is part one of a series on how I manage my anxiety. Read the introductory post here
I remember his office. He had a beautiful wooden shelf covering the left wall and a sunken couch with pillows to hide behind. Every visit, he asked me to grade my relationships with my four parents. He was kind and asked the right amount of questions.
If I think harder, I can remember even earlier, at the age of 7, speaking to a woman in a playroom. I remember the color yellow. I can't recall her voice, but I remember answering questions while playing with plastic toys.
These are my earliest memories of counseling. My parents divorced when I was young, and I remember the wooden-shelf-counselor emphasizing how much my parents loved me. Even at that young age, I thankfully always knew that.
After the age of 18, I’ve sought professional counseling three separate times; I’m actually in counseling right now.
There are many healthy avenues to manage anxiety. Biblical counseling has been one of those avenues and has proved to be an immense blessing. Here are some principles that guide my experience.
Before we even start, I directly tell my would-be-counselors that they will not be able to help me if they don't use a Biblical framework and content to help me. Especially at the height of my anxiety, I need that anchor for my answers because I know it lasts.
A lot of my anxiety is theologically and thought based; i.e. I'm anxious because I have a faulty view of God, salvation, forgiveness, peers, family, etc. Therefore, I need a correct view taken from the Source. Telling me God loves me no matter what doesn't help me. But breaking down the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15 certainly does.
Discuss with a Close Friend
When my friend M found out I was going to start up counseling, she was a bit concerned. Rightfully so--counseling can be dangerous, especially as a Christian. She just wanted to make sure I wasn't being manipulated in my vulnerable state, and I felt the love.
After each session, I decided to call her and give a summary of what we talked about (clearly, she’s a close friend). My own mind needed the confirmation--was what the counselor said true? Was it okay? Was this healthy healing? My dear friend provided a safe place to process my sessions. Furthermore, it helped me remember what I had even learned because I was sharing it with someone else.
Stay for a Reason
Some people need to be in counseling to work through certain events, others need it for a span of a few years, and others need it all of the time. Figure out why you want to go to counseling, and then stay for that reason or as others arise.
I've started and stopped counseling a few times. And that's okay. Some need consistent weekly, monthly, or just "sometimes.” Make sure your counseling is benefiting you, moving in a direction that is good for you, and is what you need. This doesn’t mean that you need a crazy life-altering epiphany every time you go to counseling, but you should feel like it’s worth your time.
Know That Every Counselor is Human
Counselors are inherently imperfect because they are inherently human. Though it’s rare (because I’ve had phenomenal counselors), I’ve directly disagreed with advice a counselor has given me. I’ve found it straight up unBiblical, impractical, illogical, or just….off. Thankfully, my level of anxiety makes it fairly easy to wait until my mind is clear, think through the advice, and decide if I want to take it or not.
Still, there has been a time where what they told me caused a tailspin into panic. I say this not cause fear, but because I want to be honest: counseling is not perfect. It is helpful, it is healing, and it can be a precious gift of God. But we have to remember who the Master Healer is, and it is no person with a degree or decades of experience.
Don’t Fear the (fading) Stigma
I have a few friends who have told me that they wanted to go to counseling, but they were too ashamed. Don’t crazy people go to counseling? Isn’t it admitting that you’re like mentally ill? Besides, loved ones told them it wasn’t a good idea, because aren’t they just having issues because they don’t have enough faith? They need to get over it themselves.
There is nothing. wrong. with admitting that you need help. I’d wager that shows immensely more strength than saying you’re fine when you know that you’re not. Can you heal outside of counseling? Perhaps. There are dozens of ways to grow as a person and a Christian. Yet, Jesus is able to use others to speak truth into our chaotic thoughts and heartache. If He can use friends, church members, and family members, why not counselors?
It is true that there is still a stigma, but it is fading (and that thrills me). People are learning that it is okay to ask for the help that they need; don’t let pride get in the way of your healing (or in the way of anyone else’s).
What about you? What has your experience been with counseling? What do you think about the whole thing…should Christians spend their time and money on it? How do you know if a counselor is helping you?
Part II coming 'atcha next week! It's about that irritating thing that well-meaning people suggest, but maybe works sometimes...?