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What’s with the stigma around Christians in counseling? Reflecting on my own journey with counseling, I have some ideas why we hide the fact we’re getting help.
When it comes to counseling, it’s usually not that we doubt what it can do for us – it’s that we fear what it might say about us. With the exception of pre-marital counseling (the kind of counseling I loved announcing to people), I was concerned what people might think, if I admitted to getting professional help for anything else:
What’s wrong with her?
She must not pray well or hard enough.
She must have serious issues, if she needs counseling.
Behind the stigma of counseling we generally find one of two things: shame or self-righteous judgment. Shame that we need counseling; or self-righteous judgment that someone else would need counseling (and we don’t). And what we know about both of those is that neither is of God.
The first time I can remember seeking out professional counseling was my senior year of college. Most recently, I consulted with my current counselor a couple weeks before Christmas, as I processed a difficult personal decision. To me, counseling can be a great option for a few reasons:
1. I don’t want to exhaust my friendships. Even the best friendship has its limits. I’m not suggesting counseling replace friendship. But I am recommending we be considerate of the expectations we place on friends to listen, encourage and help us problem-solve.
2. I want the advantages of talking to a professional. If you had a legal problem, you’d want a lawyer advising you, right? Why? Because, in theory, someone who’s earned a law degree has cultivated certain skills and knowledge, and been tested and found capable.
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3. I see how counseling safeguards against gossip. As an industry standard, counselors keep things confidential. And they’re typically able to be more objective, or at least balanced. A good counselor can detect gossipy analysis, and help you more constructively process.
But despite these reasons, are we “lesser Christians” if the Holy Spirit isn’t enough? After all, Jesus clearly explained in John 14:16 that one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is Counselor. So is it wrong for us to seek counsel from a fellow human being? No, not inherently, though counseling can become a sin when we elevate the human counselor above God and His Word (idolatry).
In fact, Scripture even speaks of seeking good counsel as an act of wisdom. Human counsel certainly shouldn’t become a crutch or replacement for cultivating our own discernment – even when that human also has the Holy Spirit indwelling her/him. But especially among believers, counsel can be a conduit of divine wisdom, and strength.
Now, I’ve known people who “don’t believe in” counseling; people who think the Holy Spirit should be enough. Please understand that I am not questioning the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit, I’m just not omitting the possibilities of how the Holy Spirit can work within the body of Christ. Even Christ said in Matthew 18:20 that, where two or more are gathered in His name, there He is, too.
Let’s pretend for a second it is a sign of spiritual maturity that you don’t ever need professional counseling: we still all seek or receive counseling. We share with friends, family, pastors, co-workers, small groups and more. We share with people who may or may not be the best confidants and advisors. We were, after all, created for fellowship.
So will just anyone who calls him- or herself a Christian, and has a few letters after their name suffice? Not so fast. It’s been my experience, and my gleaning from others’ experiences, that there is more to choosing a counselor than the title and affordability. Remember the lawyer analogy? Well, just as some lawyers are more professional or more skilled than others, so it goes with counselors.
This is one of the primary reasons it’s essential to choose the right counselor. One who will give sound counsel based on a balanced view of Scripture; who will pray with you, point you back to the Word of God – who will even encourage you to test their advice in the spirit (1 John 4:1). One who encourages reliance on the Lord, not dependence on him or her.
If you’ve considered enlisting the help of a professional counselor, I hope this has encouraged you. Don’t let shame and stigma stop you from asking for help. If you’re ready to take the next step, but don’t know where to begin with finding a counselor, The American Association of Christian Counselors has a directory that can help.
Rebecca Halton is an author & writer, and currently co-leads TeamRedeemed.org, which encourages people to believe in life after their worst days. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys connecting with readers on Facebook. She gratefully dedicates this article to Bob and Carol Baker of Marriage Foundations of Colorado. Photo by Breakthrough Photo + Design.