There are many different types of counseling along with many different kinds of counselors to choose from. That is what makes counseling so great and unique. I believe that a good counselor has many tools in their toolbox so that they can meet their client exactly where they are in their life at that time and apply what would work best for the individual.
For instance, people with trauma might need Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or even Cognitive Processing Therapy. These are only a few of the ways to deal with trauma. My point is that there are many different ways to somebody through similar challenges. It is going to be based on the individual and what is going to work best.
Benefits to Individual Counseling
You are not alone
Dealing with mental health issues and/or other life challenges can be isolating if you do not have anybody to talk to or at least anybody you feel safe talking to. Take depression, for example. Many of my clients do not want to burden family or friends and at times feel like others would not understand.
Seeing a counselor is going to help you feel like you are not alone in this fight with depression. Having somebody who has gone through school on the issues you are having helps you feel like somebody truly understands
Changing bad habits and/or behavior
When most people come into my office they have something they want to change. It can be anything: a habit, a behavior or even a mindset. I talk a lot about gathering tools for our “toolbox”. For instance, if you are struggling with depression you might need to learn new behaviors or things you can do to fight back against the depression. This is going to be different for each individual but seeking out the help is definitely going to be beneficial to the treatment of your depression (or whatever brings you to counseling).
Develop real solutions
Many times we put a “bandaid” on our problem, by which I mean that when left to our own devices we use a temporary solution to problems that really need to be addressed. These bandaids can be anything that does not really address the problem you are dealing with, it just puts it off until next time. Finding real resolution will offer you long term peace.
Sometimes the best guidance can come from firsthand knowledge. I interviewed a woman who has been through individual counseling throughout her life to offer some first hand knowledge and discuss the benefits she experienced.
(This woman is not a client of mine but her information is being kept confidential)
How old were you when you first sought out counseling, and why did you do so?I was nine years old when I first went to counseling. My mom sent me because I could not be separate from her. I had anxiety about leaving her. I saw that therapist for approximately a year or so.
When I sought out therapy as an adult, I was about 27 years old. My physician at the time recommended her. He told me I was having “mild delusional disorder” and thought I needed to see somebody. At the time I was not sleeping very well, working two jobs and trying to start a second career in ballet.
I think I was in counseling for about five or six years. Now as an adult, I was having separation issues from my mother. Looking back I think one of the other reasons was because of my depression.
You see, I look at my life in two phases: one where I was using drugs and alcohol and the other phase where I was (and still am) sober. The depression was kind of masked by the drugs and alcohol, but I think it has always been there.
Tell me a little more about your depression and the impact on your life?
My first psychiatrist, who I went to for therapy, did not believe in anti-depressants. I was not treated with medication and she believed in talking through things.
Therapy with her helped with a lot of things but it did not help with my depression, alone. Therapy helped me develop a sense of who I was as an individual separate from my mother, but I needed more.
When the depression really hit was when my mom passed away. That was the clincher. My depression worsened and four months after my mom had passed, I sought out counseling. I was having significant problems and that is when I wanted to kill myself. It got that bad. It was horrible.
I think I have been depressed my whole life. I wanted to dance and that is pretty much all I did. I had dreams of doing it professionally. My world fell apart when that was no longer a reality. The support I got during this time of my life still brings tears to my eyes.
The clouds of darkness are there still but the combination of therapy and anti-depressants has helped. Anti-depressants have taken the edge off for me and having a Psychiatrist that I trust to do therapy with has made all the difference.
Do you still deal with depression? If so, how do you deal with it today?
Depression is a chronic illness and I believe my depression is something I will have to deal with my entire life. I see my psychiatrist once a month for therapy (talk therapy) and he prescribes anti-depressants for me, as well. I have been seeing this doctor since 1999.
Were there any drawbacks from going to therapy?
What has been your biggest takeaway from therapy?I have no secrets with him. My grief and my sadness are known. I know he does not take it on because he is a professional and because of that, I can talk about it openly. He gives me such strong, good feedback on what I am going through. He sees the whole picture. The trust I have in him is so strong. He has my back. There is also the education, I have also learned so much about myself and my depression.
If one of our readers was considering starting individual counseling, what would you say to them?
Just to be open and try not to hesitate. It works, it really does. Go into therapy with and open mind and if you’re not satisfied with one counselor, then try another. There are thousands of counselors out there. Just go and get the help you need. You will get results, I promise.
What a great testimony to how therapy has helped this woman throughout her life, during some very dark and challenging times.
What does the Bible say about counseling?
Seeking out counseling does not mean you are weak or any less of a Christian. If you broke your leg and went to the emergency room for medical treatment, would you be asking yourself the same question? Probably not. God is with you in those rooms working through you and the counselor to get you to a better place and maybe that place is closer to God.
Dr. Eric L. Johnson, author of Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal, professor of pastoral care at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a participant at “The Gathering on Mental Health and The Church,” hosted an event in California with the title, “Stigma or Stigmata: Helping the Church Rethink Mental Illness.”
In a Q & A with ChristianPost.com, Dr. Johnson was asked, “What do you say to a Christian having difficulty reconciling their mental ailments with their faith?”
He answered this, “When I think of the dark side of the human condition down here, there are three aspects. One of them is sin and Christians are most aware that we can sin and cause problems to ourselves and others.
“But two other problems that are a part of the challenges down here are suffering, which I think anybody sees that suffering is a part of life, and then also the third category would be damage that can happen to our bodies and souls. A technical term would be biopsychosocial damage.
“People who have severe mental illness have severe biopsychosocial damage. That damage is rarely related to personal sin. It has to do with genetic dispositions, growing up in a fallen world, sometimes growing up with severe trauma in their families of origin, things like that.“So when they enter into adulthood, they can have this damage, struggling with their thinking processes, their emotions. It’s just a part of human fallenness. God wants to be the savior of all us from our sin, but He also wants to be a healer and a comforter to us in our psychological struggles.
“Some of those struggles will not be resolved in this life, from what we can tell. A person who’s born with mental retardation, for example, that may not be resolved in this life. So we also have to encourage ourselves that when we get new bodies and when we are set free in heaven from the struggles down here we will experience a much greater life and will be healthy in a way that we’re not now.
“I also want to add that, of course, part of what Christ wants to do is to overcome sin in our lives and sometimes sin does cause us some struggles and trouble and sorrow and grief and anxiety. That is a part of what I think Jesus provides for us as well, as we learn to overcome our sins, that we’ll have a benefit in relieving at least some of the sadness and anxiety that we struggle with in this life.
“The problem is, I know people that are not committing sins who struggle with serious mental problems and mental disorders. It’s not either or. It’s not one of the above. Rather, in the struggles that people have down here, it can be a result of sin, it can be a result suffering and it can be a result of damage, and everybody’s different.
“The mix of that is going to depend on that particular person and their struggles. That’s one reason why it helps to see a pastor or spiritual director or a counselor, to kind of get some guidance for what kind of healing can I expect in this life and what areas of my life do I need to have addressed by Jesus. There’s a sense that Jesus can be directly related to all of these areas in providing comfort, help, and forgiveness, depending on the problem.”
It does not matter how you get into therapy, it just matters that you make it. As my interviewee stated, there are a lot of counselors out there to choose from, if one does not work try another. I have never come across anybody in my work as a counselor who has said, “Seeking out individual therapy was the worst mistake of my life.”
Going into therapy is going to ask for you to be vulnerable for it to work. That can be a scary thought for some but you can take it slow and build trust and a rapport with whomever you choose to see.
You do not need to go into counseling and within the first session or two be expected to open up. It is going to take time but if you are open to it, it will happen. I am a big fan of Brene Brown and her research. I want to leave you with a quote from her about vulnerability.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown
“Balance”, Courtesy of Bekir Donmez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman with Mug”, Courtesy of Kira auf der Heide, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Grow”, Courtesy of Andrew Seaman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Jubilation”, Courtesy of Natalie Collins, Unsplash.com, CC0 License