I left counseling feeling good. Like it’s Friday and I have no responsibilities kinda good.
As I left, I started to recollect my journey in counseling. How did I become a person who smiles after seeing a counselor?
I heard recently that between the time a person FIRST thinks they should see a counselor and when they walk into a counselor’s office in on average 10 years! 10 years of frustration with feelings. 10 years of underperforming relationships. 10 years of blah. 10 years of can’t get out of bed, stop spending, eat right, make friends, or any host of bad habits. 10 years!
So here is my journey: I was fortunate enough that counselors found me. My first run in was when I was 22 years old with a mentor. I had just suffered a humiliating public debacle and need help. We met at Starbucks and slowly and systematically started talking through the wounds, fears and dreads that had been following me. This lasted for over a year. Discoveries were made and wounds were healed- but the most powerful part was being heard.
We moved to Dallas, shortly after getting married (two events that often require counseling). It was here that I really began to feel the need for help. The pressures of Seminary, working in a church, being married, and a life time of baggage were building up. But I was reluctant. My previous experience hadn’t been “real counseling.” He was my pastor and friend. So, we didn’t call it counseling instead we called it – discipleship. No one my friends, peers or colleagues went to counseling. So why should I?
Again, I was fortunate. God had a plan and my supervisor – happened to be a counselor. Soon my meeting with him began to turn. They went from ministry and business to processing and learning emotional intelligence. Even though I refused to call it counseling – it was, and it was glorious. Life just seemed easier with someone listen, reflecting, and guiding me.
Despite two incredible experiences- I still refused to admit I had been in counseling or needed it. My pride, the stigma, a culture that preferred artificial happiness all shooed me away from it. Things got bad. Like really bad. They got so bad that I started to look for ways out. Mind you, I was a successful pastor. But blind spots, unhealthy coping strategies, festering wounds, unrealistic expectations added to more than I could bear.
On a whim, I filled out a form at a counseling center online. I didn’t say much- just that I was in ministry and needed a counselor. I got a phone call the next day. Dave was sweet and understanding. We made plans for the next day. I showed up like a rock. There was no piercing my armor. So, we just sat there and waited for it to fall off. Weeks went by and I started to feel free again. There were several moments when the clouds parted- but the best part was processing my emotions real time. I got healthy- at least healthy enough and stepped away. (Mistake)
Life was easier, some of my biggest heartaches and pains were behind me. I had new skills and perspectives to handle life. By all accounts- I didn’t need therapy anymore. But this is when therapy is at its best (IMHO).
About a year ago, I started thinking, “you know what would really help? Counseling.” Not someone to make me well, but someone to make me better. My first experiences with counseling were hurt and crisis based. (I still hurt and have crises.) But now, my life is full of things I enjoy and treasure. I just don’t treasure them as much as I could. So, I found someone to help me do that. We meet a couple times a month and sort through the “stuff” that keeps me from being fully me. And it’s incredible. I mean, it hurts, and we talk about stuff that I don’t want to- but that’s the point. As Marcus Aurelius said, “what stands in our way, become the way.”
If nothing else, we need to eliminate the stigma that keeps people from finding the help they need. I applaud Mental Health Awareness Month (May) and the brave people who share publicly their journeys of healing. But real change happens when you and I embark on the journey ourselves. Don’t let it be ten years go by, before making your life better.