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On Navigating Heartache: Is it Ever Time to See a Counselor?

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I had this light-bulb moment the other day as I was thinking through the advice I give to hurting people who contact me.  Actually, I was thinking through the advice I don’t give.  At least, not typically.  I rarely say: you should see a counselor.  And I rarely refer to it in my blog posts.

 

This is a pretty significant omission and the reason for it might surprise you.  I am familiar, and have a lot of experience with, the school of Christian thought that says counseling is bad.  All you need is Jesus and your B-I-B-L-E (you stand alone on that thing, for goodness’ sake!)  I am not of that school of thought; not by a long shot.  The primary reason I rarely mention seeing a counselor is because I pretty much assume that someone going through deep levels of grief has already heard that advice.  I take it for granted, I think, and that’s dumb of me.  The secondary reason I don’t mention it, is because I don’t want to offend an already-overwhelmed person by implying that they may need professional help – this is also dumb of me.  On some level, we probably all need a little professional help.  I know I do.

 

l started seeing a counselor just before my husband was diagnosed with ALS.  Shelley helped me process my thoughts and deal with the overwhelming sorrow and anxiety in healthy ways.  When I felt like I was drowning, she helped me learn to breathe underwater.  I don’t see her regularly now, but I do when I run into a roadblock in my thinking. That happened last week.  I hit an issue I could not resolve on my own.  I was getting some conflicting advice from people who love me and I knew it was time to bring in the big guns.  I sat on her couch yesterday and spilled a million jumbled thoughts.  She helped me pick them up, one-by-one, really look at them and decide which could stay and which should go.  She helped me adjust my self-talk.  And, more than anything, she reassured me that – nine months in – I’m doing okay.  I left her office feeling sort of wrung out and exhausted from the process, but I also felt ordered, clear and hopeful about the future.  You know what I didn’t feel?  Ashamed.  I am not embarrassed that I can’t figure everything out on my own.   In fact, I am proud of myself for being willing to ask for help when I need it and I think I’ve avoided a lot of time in emotional ditches because I know when to call the tow truck (that’s a weird analogy, but I’m sticking with it.)

 

As a pastor, people come to me for counseling often.  They tell me their issue and I listen and offer biblical perspective.  But if the thing they are facing is not primarily spiritual, then I often refer them to a counselor.  I don’t have the training to deal with emotional or mental crises and I also don’t have the time that is required to give it the attention it deserves.  I’m very particular about who I refer them to because – just like dentists, doctors and hair stylists – there are those I would trust and those I would not.   And just like those other professions, sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right one, but the search is worth it for those who are truly committed to building healthy, happy lives.

 

I don’t know why it’s taken so long to address this on my blog, let’s blame widow-brain, shall we?  The conclusion of the matter is this: If you are in a season of deep heartache – for any reason – or if you just need help getting your thoughts to come together and work for you rather than against you, please would you consider making one appointment with someone who can help?  The days of the counseling stigma are over, or at least they sure should be, so go ahead and ask your friends for references.  Try someone out.  Give it a chance.  It just might be the very thing that helps you escape (or avoid!) the ditch.

 

Comments are open – feel free to leave questions you might have and I will answer them if I can.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

PS:  Hospice offers free grief counseling for their clients and families as do many life insurance companies.  If you feel you can’t afford counseling, there are resources out there for those who are willing to do a little digging.

 

 

 

April 20, 2016 - 12:32 pm

Kathy - Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.
For sharing your heart in your journey.
Your courage to speak openly about
grief.
sorrow.
loss.
has blessed and encouraged me more than I can express.

April 20, 2016 - 6:22 pm

jacquelyn strayer - Would you mind giving out the name of the person you see?….Or someone else that you could recommend? … Particularly grief counseling?

April 20, 2016 - 6:59 pm

Marci Floski - Bo, thank you for this! I think this message is much needed, especially among Christians.
I am not ashamed to say that, fairly early in life, I realized that what was being dished out was more than I could navigate alone. So I sought help and I’ve never regretted it. It hurts me to remember the numerous times when I have shared this among believers, I have come away feeling shamed, like I am somehow less-than; not good enough, lacking in faith, not praying enough or in the right way. I soon learned to be very careful who I said anything to about my journey in therapy. Now, a bit further down the road, I am intentionally less careful and more forthcoming. I believe, someone may hear my story and, because of it, feel they have permission to seek help. I also live with the sorrow that my sister, who suffered greatly in life and now lives with dementia, never gave herself the permission to seek help. She bought the LIE that to ask for help is weakness, rather than, as you so correctly pointed out, strength.

Peace to you Bo,
Marci

April 20, 2016 - 7:57 pm

Lori - I remember coming to see you for the first time. You said some unexpected things that set me free from helping someone that was bringing harm to our family. When I think back on our story as a family, your brief counsel was a turning point and your words of encouragement often replay. You are the one blogger I always read, and never regret the time. I still learn so much from you, friend.Thank you.

April 21, 2016 - 10:21 pm

Julie Kennedy - It has been a year since my Steve was diagnosed with ALS and your honest, often raw, writings have been of great comfort to me. My family spent a good portion of last week watching this dear man fight for his life after suffering a pulmonary embolism. He is home now and we feel so blessed and grateful. We were buoyed by the many prayers of friends and family. I more clearly understand the title of your book, Beautiful Battlefields. We feel like our circle of love and prayer has only grown out of this terrifying experience. Thank you for your latest post. Seeking out help from others is not a sign of weakness but a prayer in itself. Wishing you peace.

April 21, 2016 - 11:55 pm

Victoria - Since our teenage daughter died two years ago, my husband and I have separately attended counselling and have found this enormously helpful. I have learned that a good counsellor, irrespective of their own personal beliefs, is there to support, not to advise and will always affirm a client’s core values.