As a Christian counselor, I have one solid and very rigid conviction about the people who come to see me: Every human being is capable of changing. I believe that no person is beyond hope and healing and that each and every person can flourish and become the future-glorified-self that God wants them to be. But too often I see people come to me hungry for change, only to drop out of therapy way too early. Let’s be honest: It is often easier to go to the doctor or dentist and endure physical pain than it is to talk about our emotional pain.
I remember when I sought therapy long ago. It was scary answering the questions on the intake, let alone sharing with the therapist. Although I could not fully articulate why, I can now see that sharing my painful experiences was a bit terrifying, to say the least. I had so many concerns, such as: Will this person judge me? Will they even understand what I am going through? Am I so messed up that nothing will work anyway? As I reflect on my personal and professional experiences, I want to share some wisdom about what helps in therapy. I am sharing this with you today because it is advice I wish I had received long ago. So, here is some very hard-earned wisdom that I hope will impact you in a positive way.
Give Therapy an Honest Chance to Work
We want to see results right away – I get that completely. When I take my car to the mechanic to be fixed, they diagnose the problem, install the new parts, and send me on my way. I think that folks often see therapy in the same way. Of course, no one really sees having your car fixed as being the same thing as going to a therapist. But I submit that we often have the same expectations about this process. However, therapy is usually a mystery, or at least it seems that way. The questions we are asked may seem random and without direction. But the therapist typically has a purpose and a direction even when it doesn’t seem like it.
Trust Your Therapist
This may be the toughest part. You go to a complete stranger and tell them things that you would most likely not tell many others, if anyone. I still find this a little strange even though I do it for a living. But I find that it is the nature of the relationship that builds trust. Unlike any other type of relationship, everything you say is 100% confidential (with a few exceptions). Your counselor will not show up at church and share your issues. In fact, they cannot even disclose that they know you, let alone that they have a relationship with you. They cannot speak with your employer or even your family (unless you are under 13 years of age). When clients realize this it often makes them feel much safer.
Be Willing to Re-Prioritize Your Life
I wrote an article this past summer about my back injury and not being able to run anymore. The pain had become too intense due to a herniated disk. Even after I stopped running the pain did not go away. I had to make some very large life-altering decisions in order to live with less pain. I needed to make accommodations and changes so that I could start riding my bike to work. I was driving up to four hours a day, plus sitting in the therapist’s chair during the workday. I also had to commit to swimming four times per, which really helps.
For life to get better might mean prioritizing and making some sacrifices. It might mean that we work less hours, put our kids’ soccer practice on hold for a season, and adjust our finances in order to go to therapy. All of us need to ask the question: “What is the most important thing in my life right now?” If we say, “My marriage is above all else,” will we actually do things that help keep it there? Most of the time, when we want something we have to sacrifice something else in order to get it.
Realize that Change Can Be Slow
Unfortunately, there are no known ways to instantly cure people of their relational and behavioral issues. We might be set free from something, but there will probably be unresolved stuff that will need to be worked through. To be cured of something is one thing, but to be healed is quite another. Someone can be cured of being verbally abusive by realizing that it hurts someone else. But to be healed might mean learning how to see that person and others as valuable and not to be violated by harsh words. That is a process that often takes time and intentional work. Changing can certainly be slow, but it is rewarding if we put in the time and effort.
Beware of False Stories
The most troubling phrase that I hear from clients is: “I am worried things will never get better.” Or, “My mother went to therapy for years and she is no better than when she started.” You need to realize that things can get better if you put in a lot of effort – and that you are you and not someone else. Often these “negative-dominant-stories” keep us stuck. Believing that nothing is possible tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that we will never get better, we probably won’t. This type of thinking forces us to spend more of our time ruminating on what won’t work, rather than trying to change.
Christian Counseling Can Change Your Life
In this article, I have presented one Christian counselor’s perspective on what helps in therapy. If you are considering therapy, I would be pleased to discuss your concerns with you so that together we can work out how you can get the best out of this process.
“Girl laugh face,” courtesy of Greyerbaby, public domain license, All-free-download.com; Author, Michael Lillie’s photo of Puget Sound Beach at Sunrise