Why counseling? To be fixed or found?

Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde have written a post that some might find helpful when considering therapy or counseling (I use these words interchangeably). At some point in our lives, we all feel like life is getting out of control. We need help. We begin to wonder if there isn’t someone out there who can help us. But, even as we think these thoughts, we may also think, “what is the point? How can therapy fix this problem?”

Well, to give a partial answer, check out this first post over at Q Ideas. The authors argue that we should all be in therapy. However, they suggest that the purpose of such counseling is not so much to fix our problems but to understand ourselves, to admit our weaknesses, to be “found” or known. Now, these may sound like things that only wealthy people have the time to do. And yet, I would argue that in our isolated, individualized society, the normal communal means of being understood, supported, known, etc. are not often present in our lives.

Three paragraphs in this first post jump out for attention:

Don’t I go to therapy to get fixed? Believe it or not, I don’t advocate therapy because it fixes people. Now, while some forms of therapy help people get past difficulties that stifle them (e.g. panic attacks, major depression, bipolar symptoms), Christians should recognize there is always a deeper and more transformative purpose to counsel and care.

This was the ancient art called curam animarum—the care of souls. And the wisest therapists will foster this process. Now, the vast majority of clinicians practicing today have been trained in fix-it strategies—cognitive and behavioral solution-based processes which are aimed at quick, painless fixes. This is what sells. This is what insurance tends to pay for. But there is a profound difference here—fix-it strategies try to remove pain while deep soul care attempts to learn from it. Sometimes in the process we are afforded the mercy of pain relief. But it is not the goal. And so I counsel people to search carefully, to interview therapists, to ask many good questions.

And then this reflection:

But at the same time, I’m not convinced Christian therapists do this as well as secular therapists at times. Let me explain. Many settle for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” a quick fix approach which stands in stark contrast to the “costly grace” of searching and knowing ourselves, through exploring our stories and examining our motives. This kind of care is, indeed, much more rare. Christian counseling which is reduced to mere Bible memorization, or repentance or a behavioral regimen misses the point.

Fixed and found?

I imagine that the authors would agree that both are possible. Therapy can lead to being fixed and found, to find relief and care for the soul. Therapies that ignore the need for immediate mercy and relief are of little value. I once talked to someone who had just completed a decade of psychoanalysis (3 sessions per week!). His therapist, a well-known analyst had just released him as having completed analysis. My new friend was looking for a therapist to deal with his longstanding panic disorder. I have also seen Christian counselors who have so emphasized discipleship that they paid little attention to easy helps for their addict clients. On the flip side, simple behavior change (now that is an oxymoron!) may provide some relief but miss insight into self and what God is up to in the world. In seeking only relief, we miss out on deepening our relationships with God and others. A superficial life lived may hurt lest, but is it worth living? 

Note at the bottom of the post there is a link to another post about how to choose a counselor. If you are looking for one, consider one who can have difficult conversations with you, one who does not over-simplify the problem, one who cares about your growing relationship with Christ, one who can provide ideas to bring immediate relief, and best of all, one who listens more than talks.

1 Comment

Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Psychology

One response to “Why counseling? To be fixed or found?

  1. I’m not completely sure what being “found” means to Johnny and Chuck (both great counselors, instrumental in my education), but as a Christian therapist, I think of it like this. If God handed you a violin and asked you to use it to glorify Him, you probably wouldn’t tie it to your belt and drag it behind you down the street. Yet, that’s what many of us do by ignoring our own identities. Unless we look at the instrument we’ve been given, touch it, learn it, clean it, play it, we aren’t making the music we are really capable of producing in worship — and all of life is worship. Thanks for that reminder.

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