Then Through The Darkness: My Experiences with Counseling
Because the question, "Does counseling help?" is valid. And one we should ask more often.
The intake paperwork glared up at me. My mom must have printed it out for me. It was the Summer of 2018 and I didn't know what was going on or how I was going to get through it.
My bones felt hollow, my strength was gone, and I slept for days. My mom reached out to my local church to ask for counseling options. A few days later I was sitting in front of an incredibly kind lady on a black couch in a church office. My fears, doubts, anxieties all laid on the table, barely out of bed with no make up on, in need of help.
The Lord is enough. He is. He is the only thing that can fully satisfy. The only Healer for a thirsty soul and the only Relief and Rest. In the Lord's kindness, He has equipped men and women to counsel, to listen, to guide, to encourage, with sound biblical knowledge and wisdom. And for that I thank Him. His power, grace, and nearness are shown through men and women who take on the mental and spiritual strain of counseling. He is their strength. Some of my experiences with counseling are told here to embolden a weary soul to consider counseling as an option to move towards hope and healing.
Summer 2018. A handful of sessions that, by the Lord's kindness, helped pull me out of intense darkness. The prior terror lasted roughly a week and I laid awake at night on my floor calling out the Lord in an effort to see if He would sustain me. In my midnight weeping, asking Him to take these burdens from me or to cease my waking hours, He sustained me.
I went to counseling because my anxiety was intense. It was affecting my appetite, my sleeping habits, my mood, my thoughts, and my walk with Christ. I wanted to speak to someone trained to biblically address struggles I didn't even understand.
Building a relationship with a trusted counselor became a helpful resource for me. When burdens became heavy, when fears became real, when I sensed a season of life change approaching, I scheduled a counseling appointment. Having a counselor I knew and could trust meant I had a safe space to have my thoughts and terrors considered and redirected through a lens that was tethered to Scripture.
Since the Summer of 2018, I have attended counseling on and off. The pattern is usually kicked off by a looming weight on me, a week of panic is soon to ensue, it crashes like a tsunami, I make a counseling appointment. People ask me what triggers it. The answer, unfortunately, is usually nothing. It's like my party trick. Woohoo.
A typical session looks like this: I sit down, sometimes I start crying before I can elaborate on my reasons for scheduling and other times I pop off explaining the raging furnace that is my anxiety. I bring up my questions about God, His purposes for certain events, and she provides wisdom and clarity. I don't expect her to, nor would she, have a magical healing power or the exact answers from some revelation of God unknown to me. She prays before and she closes in prayer. I have either paid through Pay Pal beforehand, I have a check ready from my nice mama who often pays, or I swipe my card on one of those cute little phone plug-in card swipers.
At one point in the past-almost-three-years, I was attending frequent sessions and we walked through a book on anxiety. I highlighted quotes to talk about with her at my appointment. I learned that having anxiety simply means I am hyper vigilant.
At other points, like when I was soon-to-be-graduating-college or soon-to-date Ben, I went to counseling to check in. Because counseling became a safe space for me and my counselor became someone I knew was super dependent on the Lord, I wanted to overthink right in front of my counselor's face so she could hear me clearly and point me in a direction, again, with wisdom and clarity.
2020 brought on a new set of challenges. My anxiety was heightened and the physical symptoms seemed to last longer than normal, showing themselves regularly, as if they were house guests to my soul. My overall guest rating for them on Airbnb would be a solid 0 stars. I thought it might be time to get some other form of therapy.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) was a therapy I researched and it seemed time to give CBT a try. Psychology Today helped me get in touch with a mental health counselor who practiced CBT. CBT is basically like retraining your brain, through exercises and talking things out with a counselor, to think differently. Sounded like a dang good idea to me. My preference was to receive help from a Christian counselor. Because life in Christ is the way I process things that are happening to me, my desire to steer clear of self help and adhere to strict biblical principles was a must.
The first session with my CBT-practicing counselor went well! She was super kind and we got right to the nitty gritty of my life, such as family dynamics, having divorced parents from a young age, my mental health history, unhealthy relationships from my teen years, all the things no one loves to uncover.
The second session went just as well. We started chatting about plans moving forward for my therapy and I got my first worksheet. The worksheet was a chart to log my thoughts and to work out the probability of them actually happening in an effort to see that my thoughts and fears don't have to obtain power over me.
After that second session of CBT, I couldn't bring myself to sit in the moment of my anxiety or my panic and fill out a worksheet. I didn't follow through with the next scheduled session because I hadn't completed my worksheets. This form of therapy was also twice as expensive compared to my previous counseling. Not that price should matter when it comes to mental health, but it does matter when you don't have the right insurance and you're needing to go on a weekly basis.
I missed the accountability, friendship, authenticity, and Christ-centered conversations that were shown during my times at biblical counseling. I missed having different passages of Scripture pointed out to me and prayed over me. I missed having a counselor who knew my situations, and my personalities (yes, plural hehe), so I started going back to biblical counseling with my first counselor on a weekly basis for a few months during quarantine.
One of the best things about these last few times at counseling is that I started to see the reaping of all that has been sown over the last few years.
My mind was racing the week prior to my most recent appointment. My throat was closing up, nightmares were terrorizing me, my brain was engulfed by a cloud throughout my days, it was insanely hard to just be a person. Due to my personality, I was well-researched on all the ways I thought the Lord may be sanctifying me or lovingly disciplining me and I went into my biblical counseling appointment with a scroll logged in my brain of my reasons. I wish you could have seen the look on my counselor's face. This is why I go to counseling. The Bible says things like, "The heart is deceptive" and "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding," but I went up in that church office declaring I knew what the Lord was up to. My counselor sincerely pointed me in a direction that showed me where my explanations may be faulty. I went into that session feeling so reformed. I felt so right on the money. It felt amazing to be wrong.
The next step was for me to go to a doctor appointment and see what was going on! After many months, even a year plus honestly, of putting this important step off, I figured it was time to be willing to accept the wisdom directed at me. Now I'm on a low dosage of... drum roll please... an anxiety medicine. It's an antidepressant in the Zoloft brand that is considered an SSRI (a fancy acronym for a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.) I have been on it for a month and find it to be super helpful! I have yet to endure, during this month, a panic attack or panic symptoms but I am thankful for the gift of medicine and the Lord is being so kind and patient to teach me more about Himself.
I share all of this in vulnerability for two reasons.
1. The personal conversations I have had about counseling
There have been many times where I have spoken to close friends about counseling and I hear things such as, "I went to counseling a couple times when I was younger and it just didn't work," or "I think I may need to see someone, but it's too expensive," and questions like "Does counseling really help?"
Due to my sincere desire to, by God's good grace, see mental illness, anxiety, and depression become destigmatized, especially in Christian circles, I like to chat about these things. I pray this vulnerability gives someone, through Christ, the strength in weakness to ask for help. His power is made perfect through weakness. Our weakness.
Having a counselor you can connect with and trust is important. Many counseling centers can work with you on payment plans. The local church you are plugged into may offer it at no cost. Counseling does help, it creates an avenue for wisdom to make its way into the depths of your heart and mind. It's not a one time fix but a road to healing.
2. Jesus Christ is my Living Hope
Phil Wickham has a song called Living Hope. If you've heard it before, sing it with me now!
How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is ﬁnished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope.
My lips quiver and my eyes water when my church begins to play this song during corporate worship. This ballad takes me to a the Summer of 2018 when I was on my floor in the middle of the night, begging the Lord to either squash my life and bring me to glory or to take away the dreaded ache of anxiety that plagued me.
There was a gap between Him and I. In His perfection, He could not stand to be near something so tainted and imperfect like me. There was an impossible mountain that, no matter how hard I worked for it, I could never climb. In my desperation, in the middle of the night, in my last ditch attempt at salvaging whatever beauty was my life, I turned to heaven. In my weakness, I cried out to the Lord. A small, faint knowledge in me knew He was there calling out above the storm. So I called out to Him. It was His working all along.
Just like the lyrics attest, through the darkness, the darkness that night in the Summer of 2018, His loving-kindness tore through the shadows of my soul. That night I didn't experience salvation, by His grace and power I was already justified, but I experienced comfort that I never had known before. In my darkest hour and in my darkest desperation, the Lord was near to me. He still is. He always will be.
I share my experience, that in my lowest point of hopelessness, I have a Living Hope. I have a Savior who declares "It is finished." I have a Father who sent His Son to die on my behalf, be buried and raised to life, to bridge the gap so that I could have a seat at His table, forever. My fate is secure. My God is on the throne.
The local church is needed. Community is imperative. Mentors and discipleship are pertinent. Friends, brothers, and sisters in Christ are a blessing. Mothers, fathers, spouses, they are all valuable, God-given gifts to help carry the burdens. Pastors and elders are shepherds of the body of Christ. Let these people in. Seek these people out.
Biblical counseling is a treasured source of refreshment to me. It has taught me innumerable lessons. The Lord has been so present with me on that black couch in that church office. Getting professional help is an honorable thing. His power is made perfect in your weakness. The Lord has led people into this profession and has given them knowledge and gifts to use for a purpose. He is a good God and He is so worthy.