Do I Need Counseling?
Frequently friends ask me this question: “How do I know if I need counseling?” The truth is, we receive counseling every day as we interact in relationships; however, it can be difficult to know when to seek formal counseling.
For some people counseling is viewed in the same way as going to a doctor; the final step toward getting help for a problem. These are the people who avoid going to the doctor until there is something seriously wrong. They’ve tried the home remedies and over-the-counter treatments. Things do not seem to be getting better. More than likely things are actually getting worse. Seeking counseling can feel similar to this. There can even be a sense of failure attached to it—a line of thinking that says, “Something is wrong with you.”
Perhaps a better way to approach counseling would be to view it like the “well-checks” that children go through while growing, or the routine physical, or maybe even the yearly recommended flu shot. While raising my children, I found they went to the doctor more often when they were healthy than when they were sick. They had to receive check-ups and immunizations to insure their proper development and prevent harmful illnesses. I never thought there was reason for concern in attending these appointments. They were considered precautionary measures.
Counseling can be viewed this way also. It’s true; most people don’t seek counsel when things are going trouble-free in their lives. However, looking for counseling doesn’t have to only be an option when in the middle of a major crisis.
Our circumstances, big or small, often are so up close and personal that we can be either overwhelmed or blinded by them. Counseling allows a new set of eyes to look in on what’s happening in your life; eyes that are not biased to parties involved, or emotionally connected to the situation. Counseling provides eyes that can objectively observe with better clarity.
What Should I Expect from Counseling?
Once you have decided to seek counseling, the next question you need to wrestle with, both privately and with your counselor, is what to expect. People bring expectations to nearly every situation and counseling is no exception.
While there are some aspects of counseling that can be clearly defined; cost, length of session, appointment regularity, etc., there are others that need clarification. If you are seeking formal counseling, you should have at least a general idea of the areas on which you want to focus. When you seek counsel, be ready to discuss the presenting issue. What is bringing you in for counseling? With that said, don’t be surprised if that changes. Often what seems to be the “big issue” is only masking other things that are left untouched or tucked away. Often we need the insight of others to carefully take us to things we may otherwise avoid.
What do you expect from your counselor? Perhaps taking the question from a different angle would be more helpful. How about what not to expect? One thing you should definitely not expect is for your counselor to fix things for you. Personal struggles and relational issues are not something to be fixed like an appliance, nor are they problems to solve like a word puzzle.
Always remember, you are dealing with a person (whether it is yourself or another person you are struggling with). We are not called to fix people; we are called to love them. Counseling always deals with people and relationships. A good counselor will help you see that people are not problems to be solved.
When Does Counseling End?
While regular counseling can taper down and even have a closing to it, try viewing counseling like building a house. When you are in the building stage, you spend a lot of time focusing on the plans and even go into significant detail on how you want things to progress. You spend a lot of time talking to designers and contractors. They are your guides through the entire project.
However, once the house is complete you cannot assume you will never need an electrician, plumber, or handyman to ever darken your doorway again. General maintenance is essential to keeping the home in good condition. Neglecting issues only leads to bigger, more costly problems.
The same can be said of counseling. If you have invested in building the foundation in personal growth or relational harmony, then recognize that it is wise to address issues as they arise. This does not mean you run to counseling with every bump in the road; however, it does mean you don’t have to wait until things are falling apart to check back in for some insight or direction.
Hopefully this helps you view counseling with less of the stigma of “something is wrong,” but instead with hopeful encouragement.
(This post was originally posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition as Three Questions Asked About Getting Biblical Counseling.)