One Year of Weekly Counseling: The Battles, Victories, and Lessons Learned
One year ago today, I called a counseling practice and left a message explaining (rambling) why I thought I needed to come to counseling. I got a voicemail back from the only male counselor at the practice (the very one I thought I wouldn't want, simply because he was the only guy and I thought I'd like a woman more...) and I replied with this email:
That's where it all began.
The therapist I emailed became my counselor, and I can't express to you how grateful I am for that. Even though he was the one person I thought I didn't want to meet with, he's been the very best counselor for me. I'm so glad God has better plans than my own.
For a whole year now, I have been showing up to sit on a blue couch week after week and talk about my life. I have spent more than 50 hours sitting across from a counselor who is wise and kind and gracious. I have shown up even when that office was the last place I wanted to be, and I have shown up even when I felt like things were going well and I didn't need to be there. I have committed to coming, week in and week out, and I have been (and am still being) completely transformed because of it.
I am not ashamed that I need counseling.
I am not embarrassed that I have to take an hour out of each week to do this hard work with the help of someone wiser than I.
I am deeply grateful for my counselor, and incredibly thankful I have a safe space where I can get vulnerable and see Jesus at work in my life so clearly.
Counseling is a gift.
I've become convinced that every single human should see a counselor at some point in their lives, even if they don't think they need it. There is something so powerful about showing up, getting real, letting somebody see our messes, and asking for help in navigating the hard things in life. Never once have I left feeling ashamed for having so many feelings and needing someone to help me work through them, but every time, I have left feeling glad I went, glad I spoke, glad I opened up, and glad to have someone in my corner for it all.
The past year I have spent in weekly counseling has changed nearly every part of my life. I don't say that just to heap praises on my counselor himself (although goodness, that man is a saint for wanting to sit with me, coach me through this crazy life, and pray over me each and every time). I say that because I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord uses counselors and counseling sessions to do really good, hard work in hearts like mine.
Could I have found healing and freedom on my own? Sure, eventually. But having someone with me on that journey? Having someone share wisdom, point me to Scripture, read me passages of relevant books, ask me questions, pray over me, sit with me in the uncomfortable silence, make me laugh, give me homework, walk alongside me every step of the way? It's been more life-changing and transformative and freeing than I ever could have predicted.
I have left sessions weeping, feeling angry, laughing, wrestling even more, doubting, celebrating, rejoicing, mourning. I have left feeling better at times, and worse at others. But I have always left knowing it's worth it. I can't say that enough.
What probably would have taken me years to work through (if I fully committed) on my own has happened more intentionally, meaningfully, and quickly because of dedicated time spent in counseling and working through homework each week.
Here are just a few things I have learned in my year of counseling:
It will always be hard, but it will always be worth it.
I don't think I have ever not felt some sort of nervousness, anxiety, or stress leading up to a session. But I don't think I have ever left a session not fully believing it was 100% worth it to go.
I cannot live this life alone.
I need people. I need my counselor, my friends, my parents, my coworkers, my church family, my mentors, my blogging buddies, even the strangers who share encouraging words on Instagram. I am better when I am connected with others, and I am strengthened by their love and support.
Freedom is mine to step into.
This little phrase came out of one week's homework assignment to write a mantra for myself that I would say to my reflection in the mirror for two straight minutes a day. It was SO MUCH HARDER than it sounds. Telling myself every single day that freedom was for me? Goodness, it wrecked me daily. What a beautiful truth. It is for freedom that Christ came to set me free. He did not come and go to the cross so that I would stay bound by sin and shame. He did so to set me free.
investing in self-care is important.
Sure, I could spend my money differently, but the payoff of weekly counseling is something I can't even put into words. Worth every sacrifice, and every single penny.
christ works through people and professionals in our lives.
This has never been more clear to me. I fully believe God is at work in every single session I show up for, and that He is speaking to me through my counselor, through the Scripture we read, through the books we read, through the prayers spoken and shared. I do not think for a second my counselor is perfect or that he is my savior at all, but I'm so grateful he also shows up and lets God use him in my life.
We push back the dark when we show up and speak truth.
It doesn't instantly solve anything or everything when I start talking in that blue room, but it does start pushing back the darkness and fighting back against the lies that threaten to creep in. There is so much freedom to be had in sharing our stories and preaching truth to ourselves and letting others see us and help us and asking for help and prayer... there's so much light and hope in those moments of connection and community, especially in the safe space of counseling.
We must till the soil for new growth to bloom.
I think about this imagery a lot-- this idea that my heart and soul are this garden I must tend to. There are dead things all over the place, and tangled roots that have been there for ages, and the soil is poor quality, and I'm not getting the nutrients I need... so I must become a gardener for my own soul. I must start doing the painful and worthwhile work of digging up the old, dead, tangled things. I must start raking through all the mess. I must add nutrients back into my soul, must fill all the space up with what is life-giving and healthy and beneficial for growth. I must plant new seeds, must nurture the new shoots of life, must celebrate the beauty bursting forth from the old ground. I know that Christ is resurrecting all that was dead within me, and I want to pay attention and rejoice when I see it happening, and faithfully work hard as more and more blossoming happens. (And it is happening!)
Here are some of the questions I've been asked about counseling, and the best answers I've got:
What type of counseling did you do and for what reason?
I battle anxiety and depression (my main reasons for going) and also wanted a safe space to work through different key relationships in my life, past and present, that affect so much of who I am and how I live.
What type of counselor did you see?
I see a male Christian counselor at a Christian counseling practice (with about 7 therapists).
How do you find a good counselor who aligns with your values + beliefs?
I did a little research when it came to finding a practice and a counselor, and I had a LOT of faith in the process. I asked trusted friends and people at my church where and who they recommended, I read up on the therapists online, I read reviews, etc, and then I sent off that above email and let the process play out however God was orchestrating it.
How do you justify the cost to yourself if there's not a specific reason you're going (like a particular event or issue you want to work through)?
I gratefully found a counseling practice that has a sliding pay scale based on income, so it was more affordable for me than other practices in my area. (Do your research and see what options you have where you live! Also-- churches can often help assist in paying for counseling, so be sure to reach out and see if that's an option as well.) I felt like counseling was the single best investment I could make in my life, because it helps me emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, and on and on. Spending that money each week was something I cared about deeply, so I worked it into my budget, made sacrifices other places (like buying less books and shopping less) and I've never for a second regretted it. I'm sure that if most people took a good, hard look at where their money is going, they would realize they have some buffer and can be putting their income to better use, and counseling just might be an affordable option after all!
what made you realize that counselling was something you wanted // needed to pursue?
I got to a point in my life where I realized all of my best efforts on my own weren't getting me where I wanted to be. I was plugged into life-giving community at my church (serving on ministry teams, plugged into a mentorship group, leading a small group, etc) and still felt like I needed help to get out of my rut and find freedom and just a better way to live my life. I felt like I was at a breaking point, and I knew that I could either crash and burn, or I could do the scary thing and reach out for help. So, counseling it was.
what’s one strategy that your counsellor taught you that you use day to day?
I think the biggest thing that comes to mind came from a session a few months ago, where I had spent many minutes rambling about all the things wrong in my life and all the stress and anxiety I was feeling, and my counselor did something a little silly-feeling that really stuck with me. He repeated back to me all the fears I was expressing, and then asked me to reach my hands up to my eyes as if I was removing a pair of glasses, and set the imaginary glasses aside. He then had me act as though I was picking up a new pair of glasses and putting them on, and he asked me to try to explain my feelings and the situation in a new lens. That simple (although silly) act helped me realize that so often, I get bogged down by my feelings, and it's helpful to remember to take off those lenses and pick up a new lens to see my situation through. It's amazing how often just thinking about things from a new angle helps me find clarity, freedom, and hope again.
How did you get up the courage to go, and how has it helped you on a daily basis?
I'm scared every single time I go. I always feel a little anxiety (and sometimes a lot of anxiety) leading up to my sessions, and I have just come to be okay with that. It's hard work to show up and get vulnerable and let somebody in, and it's okay to feel some nervousness about that. I just know that every time I leave, I'm grateful I went, and I know God is at work through those sessions and conversations, so I believe it's worth it despite the fear.
I have better strategies for coping with stress, anxiety, and depression now. I have resources in my arsenal to help me push back the dark. I have a safe space where I know I can share freely. I have stories and Scriptures and books and websites and homework assignments that have helped point me in a better, truer direction. I have mantras to repeat to myself in the mirror, and I have imaginary glasses to take on and off to help me find new perspectives, and I have new questions to ask myself in the middle of panic, and I have tools I didn't have before. I have somebody willing to come alongside all my mess and point me back to Jesus, somebody willing to pray over me and sit in the hard stuff with me, somebody who has wisdom I don't have... and that is a gift that helps me daily.
Was it difficult to admit you needed it?
I can't wait to see where I'll be in a year. I have no idea if it will keep making sense for me to go weekly, or if we'll scale back to twice or even once a month. I don't know if I'll still be seeing this same counselor next year, or if I'll be in a new place (literally or inwardly!) or what life will look like in the future.
What I know is this: I want to continue to be faithful in doing this good, hard work of growth.
I know it will be hard, but I also know how wildly beautiful it is.
I will till this soil, I will dig up old, gnarly roots, I will cultivate the ground, I will plant seeds, I will nourish and water and feed my soul, and I will see new life springing up from old ground. I will see hope and beauty abound. I will see blooming and blossoming, and I will celebrate resurrection life and the Savior who makes it possible.