Melissa and I visited with a friend recently at lunch. She is a fellow Christian Counselor (visit her page by clicking here) in the Dunn area. In our discussion, we shared some with each other about the stigma that we often see being attached to counseling. It made me think back to my personal experience with counseling, when I was a client myself.
I avoided counseling as long as I could.
Back in 2004, I was having multiple panic attacks a day. These attacks were coupled with constant anxiety that robbed me of my ability to enjoy just about everything. I tried everything to cope and/or fix my problem. I tried prescription drugs, a lot of willpower, avoiding triggers, and other remedies. Nothing worked for me. I was determined to deal with it my way…on my own. I was told to seek counsel multiple times, but I rolled my eyes. At times, I would get desperate and actually consider looking into finding a counselor. When I did, I got very scared of what it would mean for me to go down that path. Was I so messed up that I actually needed a “shrink”? Would I be labeled crazy by others? WAS I crazy? Would I be wasting my time and money? Shouldn’t there be a better, less vulnerable way to fix this mess I was in? I put off the decision as long as I could…until one day I gave in. I was miserable and did not see a way out. I made contact with a counselor and set up an appointment.
Counseling was not what I expected.
I had expected this counselor to direct me to lay on a couch and whine as he jotted notes and discretely ate a sandwich behind me…occasionally saying, “Uh huh, and how does that make you feel?” However, it was nothing like that at all. My counselor was personable. As I began to trust him (which is a slow process for me), I shared more and more about what I was experiencing. He was great listener, and did not rush to give me pat answers. I had no idea at the time how badly I needed to be heard. Really heard. I realized a need to open up and share about me and what was going on inside and out. When he did speak, it was genuinely in response to what he was hearing me say. He did not treat me or my circumstances as “weird” or unacceptable.
Counseling taps into something natural and healing.
When our hair is messed up, we need a mirror to fix it back (well, not me…I’m bald, but I need a mirror to shave my head and not miss any spots!). Counseling serves many purposes, and one of them is acting like a mirror for us. When I shared with my counselor, he was able to offer reflections about me and my situation that I could not see myself. Without him, it was like I was trying to fix a cow-lick in the back of my head without a mirror. Reflections from a caring, trained counselor were foundational in the resolving of issues that I didn’t even know I had. Those issues were playing out in the physical and psychological manifestation of anxiety and panic attacks. My counselor was able to help me piece all of it together.
Counseling is not for the cowardly and weak.
One of my hesitancies about seeking counsel was that it meant I was weak and pitiful…like less of a man. I realized fairly quickly in the process that I was mistaken. And after nine years of counseling others, my thoughts are even more emphatic: PEOPLE WHO SEEK COUNSELING ARE MUCH BRAVER AND STRONGER THAN THEY REALIZE. It takes courage to be vulnerable with someone and to face the unknown or perhaps things we’ve been avoiding. It takes bravery to remove the “I’m okay” mask and say, “You know what, I’m NOT okay!” It’s a healing process, but it is not effortless. I have an immense respect for all people that seek counsel.
The counseling experience can be both comfortable and life-changing.
I hope to help others hurdle over the stigma that has been associated with counseling. For me, counseling is very relational. I am committed to real, authentic interactions with people I meet with every day. Yes, I’m trained in my profession, but I minister out of a foundation of trust in the healing power of God’s grace that we get to experience together in a safe counseling setting. I realize it can be scary and uncomfortable, especially at first, but I also know how it can become an experience in which God brings marvelous outcomes of hope, healing, and freedom.
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