Why Pay for Counselling?

Why do I always wait until I’m coming out of my dark place before I talk to you? I need to be encouraged to engage sooner; my dark place and my internal monologue is not a good place for me to hang out.”

That’s what someone mentioned earlier this week. It’s a common refrain as we so easily perceive ‘Counselling’ as a sign of weakness and for ‘needy’ people. Ask anyone who does Marriage Counselling and they’ll tell you that if couples asked for help earlier many more marriages would be salvaged. By the time they ring the bell for help both are usually exhausted, demoralized, and just want out. Individuals fall into the same trap – all the time (maybe there’s a link to pride coming before a fall).

This short article is not suggesting that Counselling is the magic bullet with an answer for everything. It’s merely encouraging us to possibly re-frame and reconsider it as a helpful option that might prevent a crash landing if taken hold of; sooner rather than later. And it’s not just about solutions and fixing people. It is about listening, hearing, and walking alongside – with someone else – as we figure things out.

Counselling really is about finding a safe place to ‘be yourself’ in the worst of times. An opportunity where we can express everything that we’re feeling, thinking, and experiencing without fear of rejection or judgement. The issues may arise from marital conflict, disillusionment, depression, abuse, gender identity, work (or lack thereof), and a multitude of combinations of the above. Safety, acceptance, and confidentiality are key; and when they are present hope arises.

In such a politically correct climate many people walk wounded, confused, and quiet. Shame is an ugly enemy attaching itself to our struggles, our failures, and our awkward identities. We know that no-one is perfect and yet in a culture where Facebook and Instagram portray ‘others’ as having such success and fun, we can so easily conclude that we are not keeping up, not measuring up, and not as accomplished. “If people really knew what is going on inside me……”

Many of these hidden thoughts and conclusions arising from our internal conversations are exaggerated, distorted, inaccurate, and often downright lies. But how are we to know? People live for years under dark shadows of false perceptions while their confidence and identity shrivels to a skeleton of a self that supports precious little joy, hope, or healthy self esteem. We haven’t YET learned that such self esteem is never rooted in success, wealth, or perfection. Rather, it’s the product of acceptance and transparency. It’s an embracing of the journey we’re on that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly that inevitably arises along the way.

And that’s where Counselling can be so helpful. It provides space and time for talking and listening in the presence of another human being. “That makes sense, but why do I have to pay for it?” Because it takes time for those who Counsel to learn how to listen well, how to discern what is perhaps the meaning behind the words. It takes time for the one who listens to know themselves well enough that they do not project, over advise, try to fix, be shocked or judge. Those attributes don’t magically appear. They emerge within many conversations, some research, and most importantly, life experience.

It is helpful and hopeful to learn that my thoughts, struggles, fears, and feelings, are not unusual or cause for undue alarm. It’s encouraging to be told that someone else has found hope and victory in the same area I’m presently experiencing overwhelming defeat.

To save money one can self-medicate, build the house, fix the car, make the clothes, grow the food, and educate the children. The reality is that we cannot be good at everything and neither do we have the time to be trustworthy and reliable in every aspect of life. Therefore, we depend on one another to complement our interests and skills.

There is no shame in having my car serviced by another, visiting the doctor for a medical check up, or having the electrician fix a water heater etc. Likewise, there need be no shame or apology for placing enough value and importance on our emotional, psychological, and spiritual well being to invest in time out for personal Counselling. In fact it may be long overdue.

Don’t walk alone, don’t talk to yourself (too much), or be deluded into thinking no-one will understand you. The truth is you’re not the first to struggle, there are usually good reasons why you’re where you are, it’s not always your fault, and there is hope and a way forward.

Therapists aren’t people you pay to care for you. They are people you pay to help you care for yourself. 🙂

A Rock ‘n Rope Marriage

Last weekend I was honored to conduct a marriage where I used the illustration of a rock and rope. No. not warning of conflict and a noose; it’s better than that.

When Jesus taught the disciples and crowds that gathered to listen he attracted them precisely because He was never boring or religious. One day He spoke about building life on sand or rock. Shifting sands make for a lousy foundation that will succumb to erosion and sinkholes as soon as the storms arise and the rain falls. Foundations embedded in rock are secure and can withstand all manner of stormy weather and testing.

Those are obvious principles for building houses but sometimes when we’re constructing our lives we can neglect such wisdom. Building on sand means allowing emotions, feelings, and circumstances to rule and determine our responses. That’s where the rock is much more reliable. Which is a metaphor for the love, promises, and faithfulness of God.

And, that’s where the rope comes in.

The rope is a reference to Ecclesiastes 4:12 (a book in the Old Testament) where the writer talks about the virtues of ‘two being better than one’. God never intended for any individual to live isolated and alone. Marriage, friendship, community, and sharing the journey is always healthier and more fulfilling. In this instance marriage is the focus where he says that a chord of three strands in not easily broken.

In my illustration I wanted to encourage the couple (and all of us) to understand that the ‘third strand’ holding their relationship together was the relationship with God in Jesus. The rock is a relationship where God is unchanging. He’s always for you, will never abandon or shame you, believes in you, is for you not against you, and is available to help encourage, restore, heal, and much more.

When you get “to the end of your rope” consider the black bands of tape that are in place to lock those strands together. They are the covenant made during the wedding vows…. in sickness and in health, rich or poor….. with God being the One to help accomplish what we cannot guarantee in our own strength. God’s help often comes through others.

Look at the end of the rope with many tiny strands making up the whole. Each person has many ‘strands’ or components to who they are. Sometimes we get stuck on one or two negatives and lose perspective and can end up destroying one another rather than taking a step back to consider other qualities. Certainly issues need to be addressed; but it’s easier if we hold onto the bigger context at the same time. God also has many strands which we will spend a lifetime discovering – Jesus is ‘big country’ as they say.

The key is staying close to God and to one another. Another lifelong journey for sure. We do that by communicating, talking about what is going on inside us, and listening. The death of many relationships both with partners and with God is when we withdraw, expect them to mind-read, and wait to be known rather than risk stepping out of ‘hiding’ ourselves.

Most of us need encouragement and people to talk to and listen in our journey though life and marriage. It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out for help or insight from others. In fact it’s a wise and courageous initiative.

At the end of my talk I told them that I’d found the rope in my workshop the previous week and I was going to toss it in the dump. Then I remembered my talk and thought it would make the ideal illustration. “Last week this rope thought it was useless and heading for the dump, but this week it is being used as a wedding illustration and will remain with this couple as a memento for the rest of their lives”.

“And this rock is no ordinary rock. I picked it up twenty years ago when visiting Israel. It s from the Valley of Elah where the young shepherd David, picked up five smooth stones, and killed Goliath with one of them. The point made with both rope and rock is that they are so common and ordinary – as we are. But when God gets His hand on us there is a transformation that changes everything. It’s called ‘identity’. In any relationship the identity we carry with us into that relationship significantly impacts how it unfolds”.

No-one can make up ‘our identity’ from the outside… that would be like shifting sand living. It’s never too late to create new foundations, renew a covenant, and repair a frayed and frazzled rope.


Appearances, Words, and Meaning

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“I know your mother!” I exclaimed, remembering fifteen years back. “What a sweet old lady, white hair like cotton wool,and a lovely smile.”

“She wasn’t sweet, that I can assure you,” he muttered. “She was my adopted mother, mean, and always telling me I was stupid.”

Larry sat across from me in a couch that almost swallowed him – like his circumstances had for most of his life. He was a small balding man, mid-sixties, and not swift with words. He lived alone in the country after retiring from the mill where he’d worked all his life. He’d given up after two failed marriages and was wondering whether to move to the mainland to join his aging father whose wife he hardly knew.

He told me the story of an abandoned infant, and an awkward childhood. My ‘sweet old lady’ was his ‘abusive stepmother’…… An inferiority complex imprisoned under the label of ‘stupid’. “She even called me ‘retarded’ many times,” Larry interjected.

One never knows at first glance…..

 

She sat in my office – as most do, initially. Awkward, slightly embarrassed; not quite sure what to say.

“Tell me about your family,” I suggested. “How was your childhood? Were you happy? Did you get on with your father?

We gently passed words back and forth and everything was cautiously fine. Until I returned to the question about her father and tears fell slowly over her cheeks. “He abused me for five years,” she whispered, clutching her bag with a faraway look at the floor. She worked as a teller in a local store.

“After he abused me he made me kneel at the foot of my bed and ask Jesus to forgive me for tempting him.” The she looked at me and said, “So when you talk about God loving me like a father, that’s what I think of.”

What I meant when speaking my words was not even close to what she heard. And when she explained it made complete sense. Thus we arrived at the bedrock of counseling, or listening in any conversation. Making sure we understand what is being said and what is heard.

From that ‘clearing in the forest’ we can more easily move forward together and often things begin to become ‘unstuck’.

Everyone Lives by Faith

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I suppose one could read “Pastoral Counselling” as at least considering or including issues of faith.

Is life secular or is it sacred?

Maybe we’re distracted by words and are too pedantic.

After all every worldview is a step of faith. Believing in a Higher Power/God demands faith and questions about evidence, experience, proof, and ? The same questions lie at the threshold of one who rejects a Higher Power/God.

So why do we insist on creating these false lines in the sands of understanding regarding our life and existence?

We can’t help it. Questions, purpose, and meaning erupt uninvited from the core of our DNA. It’s what distinguishes us from animals and plants… the ability to reflect and to explore meaning.

Everyone lives by faith. What we believe (even when saying we don’t believe) colours our world when it comes to how we navigate life, understand identity, and plan our present and future.

For instance, what do you understand about life and what questions are you pondering, concerning faith and the beliefs of others? How do you see yourself? Are you a victim of circumstances or is your identity from within? Perhaps we don’t think enough? Instead we tend to muddle through without testing or defining in a way that we can commit to and experience the impact upon our lives in helpful ways.

Do you have questions? I hope so. It’s  like grabbing the handle on a door you’ve discovered that’s always been closed. Turn it by asking, open it by learning, and step through it by responding…. it could lead to your next great adventure, revelation, or breakthrough!

 

Open Door