When Is Counseling Necessary?
by Lanny McFarland
The number of people receiving professional counseling has increased significantly over the past 10-15 years. And, prescription medication for depression and anxiety disorders are at an all time high. In our age of seemingly unending stress, when do we know if counseling is the appropriate route to take for ourselves, our marriages or our families?
Our first clue as to the necessity of counseling is if symptoms of depression or anxiety just won't go away. All of us feel blue, sad or anxious from time to time. Those feelings may last a few days, disappear and then we feel fine. But if we find ourselves experiencing these emotions for weeks at a time, it needs to be seen as a red flag that something is wrong and professional help might be our best approach. The symptoms for depression may include any of the following, although the list is not exhaustive: insomnia or sleeping too much, loss of appetite, or eating too much, negative or painful thoughts, loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable, loss of sexual drive, irritability, crying all the time or the inability to cry, fatigue (feeling "flu-like"), intense feelings of guilt, decreased ability to concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of suicide. And, the following may indicate a need to address anxiety in our lives: When the anxiety and/or worry is excessive, consistently feeling apprehensive about a number of different areas of life, worry is becoming increasingly difficult to control, may feel restless or "keyed up" or "on edge," easily fatigued, mind going blank, muscle tension, and difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Sometimes Christians have a hard time seeking assistance with emotional and/or spiritual struggles because it is seen as a lack of trusting that God will see us through the problem. So, then, counseling would be going outside of His will for us, or at least we may think that. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has put us on earth, not only to have a relationship with Him, but to have relationships with others. There are times when the counseling relationship can be the place where God's grace can best be modeled. One in which a person is able to share whatever is on their heart and mind and know that they will not be rejected or put down for feeling and thinking the way they do. Although it certainly does not mean that they will not be challenged in those areas. Ideally, a small group provides this venue for help and healing, but unfortunately, small groups do not always function in the desired way. Proverbs 11:14 says, "Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors, there is victory. Sometimes counselors (professional or lay people) can make the mistake of thinking all people who are needing help can be dealt with in the same manner. While that may be true in the issues we face as fallen people, it is not necessarily a cookie cutter approach with all. In fact, verses like I Thessalonians 5:14 is great guidance as to how "counselors" need to interact with people, when it says, "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone" (Italics mine). Each word is a way that counselors or people helpers in general can come along side others in dealing with the problems of life. And because God is a relational God, He uses relationships to help us heal and be restored with Him and with others. Professional Counseling is one arena, although not the only one, in which this can happen. So, then if we feel stuck in some troublesome emotional state, as individuals, we need to seek help.
Or if we have tried everything we know to do to strengthen our marriage and yet the wall between us as husband and wife, still seems so high, counseling may be in order. For you see, when we are so close to troublesome issues, we do not always see clearly. The three main areas that we usually "see" that brings us to marriage counseling are communication, sex, and money. The reality of it, and the part we don't always or even often "see," is that selfishness is at the core of most relationship difficulties, although the three areas mentioned above are extremely important. Usually we know that marriage counseling might be needed if feeling of resentment and lack of forgiveness seem to play a large role in our marital interaction. Another way to know if professional help might be needed in our marriages is if we have gone through major changes or significant traumatic circumstances in the past year or two. Examples might be the loss of a loved one, changing or losing a job, a move to a different part of the country, or even a move down the street, trouble with one or more children, health related issues, our oldest child leaving home, empty nest syndrome, and on and on. These types of things can trigger marital difficulties that may not have been so apparent before.
Lastly, if our family seems to be in chaos most of the time, with very little relief, then seeking out help may be our best option. We usually know chaos when we see it. This would include constant arguing, yelling at one another, family members always going their separate ways, never eating a meal together, consistent misunderstanding and miscommunication, or a person in the family who drinks too much, may signal the need for help. Really, if the thought of getting counseling has crossed our minds, then that might be the best barometer that we need to be open to that possibility. If a friend whom we trust, has lovingly suggested we get help, we would probably be wise to follow up with that. We can pull the blinders on and it takes an objective person to see what we may not see.
Keep in mind that professional counseling is just one avenue of support. This should not preclude our prayer life with the Lord. Nor should it eliminate the need for connecting with a smalerl group of people and experience the love, encouragement and support from them. (See LIFE Groups under Adult tab on the Home Page).
Counseling has its place with God's people. And if counseling becomes necessary, it is important that we search for a Christian counselor. This is not the same as a Christian doing counseling, but one who uses God's word, prayer, and the body of Christ as means to help. While counseling certainly can be very expensive, the money will be well spent. It is easy to just find someone on our insurance policy and hopes all goes well, but for a Christian we need to find a counselor who demonstrates in a kindred way, the kind of grace that God shows all of us when we face difficulties in life, or when we have fallen into sin and addictive behaviors.