Counselling and Faith

As many of you know I have been through a rather “turbulent” mental health journey over the last decade. I’m actually doing pretty well at the moment and next month will mark three and half years since I was last in hospital. This has been the longest period of sound mental health for me since my first hospital admission in 2007.

I am taking medication in the form of an injection every two weeks (and a couple of tablets morning and evening to help deal with the side effects from the injection). Compared to some of the medication I’ve been on my current regime is pretty manageable, although I’m still experiencing side effects which are inhibiting and unpleasant.

I’m so grateful to God and I thank Him each day for the abundant blessings in my life. I have a roof over my head, food and drink, Internet access, support from my local Mind, and I recently started to attend some low-cost counselling, which is proving to be very helpful and is what I want to focus on in this article.

I have had three counselling sessions with Yvonne (not her real name) and each one has been interesting, challenging, and thought-provoking. I’m no stranger to talking therapies; in the past I have attended private psychotherapy, group CBT, one-to-one CBT, and Christian counselling. I also tried psychodynamic counselling once but it was a bit like trying to interact with a brick wall so I gave up after a single session. I am mature enough now that I generally have a good idea of what is going to be helpful and what isn’t.

I identify as a Christian, even though there are aspects of Christian theology that trouble me and often cause me to question the faith. I try to live out the two great commandments identified by Jesus – to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. I try to make these two commandments the focus of my life, and part of the reason I am attending counselling is to try to understand myself in a deeper way so that I can be of greater assistance to others.

To be honest, I have been in two minds about whether it’s a good idea to attend ‘secular’ counselling (and by that I mean counselling where one’s faith is not necessarily central to the process). I have been worried that when it comes to talking about my beliefs, there may be certain things that are profoundly important to me, such as the way I understand God, Jesus, or the Bible, that my therapist might not be able to relate to. I worry about this before every session. Having a personal relationship with God is such a wonderful thing, but can seem like madness to someone who doesn’t have such a relationship (See 1 Corinthians 1:18).

I haven’t held back from talking about Jesus in my sessions with Yvonne so far. And I have been pleasantly surprised by her response when matters of faith have arisen. Yvonne is a true professional, and works hard to help me to understand my own beliefs, behaviours, and values, without being critical or judgmental in any way. And to me, this goes to show that even for people of faith, counselling can be a wonderful thing.

With counselling it’s always important to remember it is a two-way relationship. There are things that the client can teach the counsellor as well as things that the counsellor can teach the client, and of course the ultimate truth is that God is using these sessions to teach both client and counsellor. Every counsellor is a flawed human being, as is every client. Everyone has gifts to give and lessons to learn.

Therapy has been life-changing for me in the past and with Yvonne it is proving to be life-changing once again. Attending therapy doesn’t mean that you’re more broken than everyone else, it means that you have a desire to grow and develop and understand your personality and your strengths and weaknesses in a deeper way.

I suppose there are those Christians who might argue that all we need for our personal and spiritual development is contained within the pages of Scripture, and if we are guided by the Holy Spirit when reading the Bible then all the truth we seek will be revealed. Is it a kind of idolatry to see a secular counsellor who doesn’t necessarily share your faith? Does seeing a secular counsellor mean you are putting your trust in human beings rather than in the inerrant and infallible Word of God?

2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. This verse shows us that all Scripture is important, but does that mean that only Scripture is important? Does the Bible support the idea that counselling could be beneficial to us on our spiritual journeys?

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this. For example, Proverbs 13:10 reads “Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel.” Proverbs 15:22 reads “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counsellors they succeed.” And Proverbs 12:15 gives further guidance: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”

It could be argued that in the above quotations, counsel means ‘Godly counsel’, and this can only come from believing Christians or the Bible. But might it be the case that God also uses secular influences to help us to grow on our spiritual journeys, to help us deal with pain and abuse and hardship, and to grow in wisdom and understanding? Even if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, are there still things we can learn from non-believers?

I will end with a short poem and I will leave it to you to make up your own mind as to whether secular counselling is profitable or sinful. This is something I must work out for myself as well. Please help me and other readers to get a broader perspective on this subject by leaving your thoughts in the comments below.

Approach all things with open mind,
All have gifts to which we’re blind,
Be sensitive to others’ cries,
Others too are also wise.

10 comments

  1. Hi Steven,

    In a nutshell, I’m inclined to comment to the effect that if you find counselling sessions bring you to a better, clearer, more deeply satisfying understanding of God; the Father of Jesus Christ, then it couldn’t possibly be sinful.

    In my youth, I actually studied with the intention of entering into the Probation Service. I then moved my studies on more specifically and intensively towards, Mental Health.

    At the end of the day, a Psychologist /Counselor is there to listen. A good, effective Psychologist /Counselor will never inflict their own views/ beliefs /mindset on the patient. Personal theories /convictions /modes of thought must come from the patient in order that any life changes they may subsequently make spring from personal choice.

    In pouring out thoughts, worries; often repeatedly session after session, a patient responding to therapy will often gradually begin to see his/ her life from a different angle…because they have become able to stand ‘on the outside (mentally) looking in’ at themselves from a distance taking in the whole vista… as apposed to being ‘on the inside looking in’ where the vision /the whole picture is obscured causing the mind to spin round in circles in a ‘manic’ effort to make sense out of a ‘perceived’ non-nonsensical situation causing confusion, distress, fear and despair.

    Cultivate the art of standing on the outside looking in Steven by letting your WHOLE breath out before completely emptying your mind of any preconception in readiness to receive guidance from The Holy Spirit through prayer, and see what transpires.

    Talk soon

    Best

    Jan

    1. Hi Jan!

      Interesting to read about your past interest in mental health, but I really don’t like the way you use the term ‘patient’. I think ‘client’ is a much better word. As I said in the post, both counsellor and client are growing and learning from the relationship. It’s not like a doctor/patient relationship (well, not for me, anyway!).

      I found your response somewhat patronising, talking about my breathing, I think I’m somewhat beyond that, though of course I understand you’re only trying to share what works for you, so I appreciate that.

      Hope all is well with you and thank you for your comment!

      Best wishes,

      Steven

  2. Hi Steven,

    Firstly, when I was involved with the Mental Health Authority the term ‘client’ for those seeking counselling hadn’t yet been dreamed up. And why it’s a ‘worldly’ term in this context.

    Secondly, you mistake my meaning re ‘breathing’. I am not referring to breathing exercises re relaxation techniques perse, although I achieved much success in employing such techniques as part of their therapy.

    When I refer to you ‘letting out your whole breath’ and ‘clearing your mind completely’ I’m referring to a complete new start. (New wine in old skins, the Bible says) by emptying your mind of all your old baggage…and again, like the Bible says: (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘…be humble as a little child in your search for knowledge/ the truth’…And, ‘the truth will set you free’

    The mind of a ‘little’ child is not cluttered by unwanted knowledge because everything is new. Would you call God patronizing in using such an example for us to follow in order to achieve complete humility…the only path to wisdom and true understanding?

    Best

    Jan

    1. Hi Jan,

      No, I would never call God patronising! But I did find your instructions patronising. I suppose it’s because you were trying to give me guidance in areas where I feel I am very experienced. You do come across as rather bossy sometimes! Maybe it’s just conviction. Two people with strong convictions. Let us both try to be as humble as possible, and love each other in the way Jesus commanded…

      Best wishes,

      Steven

  3. Hi Steven!

    Thank you for sharing. It sounds as though your current counselling sessions with Yvonne are good experiences that will bear good fruit for you, especially as she accepts your faith without being critical, nor judgemental about it.

    As you know, I went through a treatment program of one-to-one CBT and it didn’t work for me. It felt like training to be something I didn’t want to be and I’d rather suffer than lose my self-identity. In my case, it seemed to me that they were applying a ‘one size fits all’ sort of approach, and the therapist did not want to hear anything about my Christian beliefs.

    I’m seeing a psychologist for some counselling sessions starting 19 October. I’ve forgotten the nature of the treatment and have lost all the papers relating to it. I know where the sessions will be held, so I’ll find out soon.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about loving God fully and loving others as ourselves. I truly believe that’s all God wants from us.

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

    1. Thank you Dinos! It’s a shame that the CBT sessions you did weren’t helpful. I’m glad to hear you are going to try seeing a psychologist for some counselling soon and that you haven’t given up on the idea of therapy altogether. I always say to people who are considering therapy that it’s worth ‘shopping around’ until you find an approach/therapist who you feel can really help with your particular circumstances. I’ve tried various different talking therapies, as you know, and some have been amazingly helpful, others less so. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes.

      God bless you friend – have a wonderful week!

      Steven

  4. Hi Steven!

    My therapy starts next week on Weds 19 Oct. I would be happy to let you know how I get on. I’m unafraid of revealing personal information about myself and it hasn’t caused any problems to me thus far.

    I would have liked to ‘shop around’ but this has not been available to me. The number of people with psychological problems is increasing exponentially and the response from Healthcare Professionals within the NHS has been to organise a factory of methods to deal with it, mostly dependent on CBT, one-to-one or group. I never had the option to look at chargeable therapies, outside of the NHS, due to insufficient funds.

    Peace and love to you Steven,
    Dinos

    1. Hi Dinos!

      I totally understand. Will look forward to hearing how your session goes on 19th October. I really hope it’s helpful. I’ll be keeping you and Demetra in my prayers.

      Love and blessings,

      Steven

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