Why I Returned to Counseling
Why I Returned to Counseling
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Joy Beth Smith
My first day in counseling I plopped on the couch and told a spunky looking 30-something my whole spiel: how my adolescence as a series of traumatic transitions, how I struggled with suicidal thoughts and depression as young as ten, and how negative self-esteem plagued my middle and high school years. I knew I probably had a handful of other issues, including abandonment, neglect, rejection, and loneliness, that I needed to work through at some point as well. I offered all of this in almost a bullet-point list of the things I wanted to cover in our time together. I was eager for her to dive in and start rooting out unhealthy thought patterns, lies that I’d been believing, or subtle, destructive behaviors. So I poured out my heart, and then I waited for her to fix me.
After hearing my whole story and asking a serious of questions, my counselor laughed a little and remarked at how healthy and well-adjusted I was. It was a “miracle,” and God in His goodness clearly had redeemed my life. We spent the rest of that session (and the six sessions to follow) discussing the ever-present trouble with boys in my life and academic stress, leaving my relationship with my mother, my absent father, and my tumultuous childhood for another day. It seems that as long as I appeared to have dealt with my issues and turned out half-way normal, it wasn’t worth digging in too deep.
This, however, is not my only exposure to counseling. I have several friends and mentors who claim counseling radically changed their lives—it gave them the tools they needed to introspectively examine their thoughts and behaviors, to replace unhealthy thoughts, and to build relationships that wouldn’t fall into the same damaging cycles as their previous ones. Counseling, when done well, speaks for itself, and the life-change I witnessed in my friends acted as an “amen” to the verbal praise they offered of the practice.
So I knew I needed more. I needed a counselor who would press me for more than just my boy drama. I needed a counselor who would journey with me into the parts that looked healed and dig beneath that scar tissue to see what’s underneath. I needed a counselor who wouldn’t accept my health at face value and instead would look for ways that my life spoke of the trauma of my past. And luckily, I found just that.
After a few false-starts with counselors with whom I didn’t feel very connected, I finally found a woman who was wise and a little wily. She wouldn’t let me get away with the “I’ve come so far, so let’s talk about how great I am” routine I was used to. It was a much more painful, productive process, and I’m so grateful she decided to peel back the surface, layer by layer, and identify even the tiniest of cracks that could eventually make their way to my very core.
I’m thankful for my own ongoing experience with counseling, but I’m also grateful for friends who were willing to be brave, and in the face of shame or ridicule, discuss their own counseling journeys and share how far they’d come. While the stigma surrounding counseling still exists, and not everyone feels comfortable admitting their involvement in it, something as simple as word of mouth and the quiet, quality work of devoted counselors that resulted in serious life change brought me back into the counseling office. And now, of course, I have to share my own experience with anyone who will listen—counseling is invaluable, for all of us, and if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
Joy Beth Smith is the editor of Boundless.org. Her upcoming book (out in 2018 with Nelson Books) discusses the trials of being single in the church. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram: @JBsTwoCents.