THERAPY - it's a thing now.
For those of you who have admitted to yourselves that perhaps you do a have a just maybe a little smidge of baggage that is stopping you from having a healthy romantic attachment – in this post I want to show you where to go to get the help you need, to free yourself from the weight of pain and move forward.
There are a few ways to go about this. Remember, we are made up of body, soul and spirit. Our ‘soul’ is often described as including our mind, will and emotions. So your pain can be felt and expressed through any of those areas. In my experience, it’s easy in the Christian world to focus solely on the ‘spiritual’ part of yourself. And yes - the Holy Spirit is our counsellor. And yes - the Bible does have all the answers you need for life. But…have you ever shared your pain with someone just to be hit in the face with a slew of Biblical platitudes? ‘It’ll be ok; God works out everything for the good, remember!’ ‘Jeremiah 29:11 – He knows the plans He has for you!’ ‘You are an overcomer in Christ!’ Now, while all these things are true, they are not usually what you need to hear in the moment. Sometimes you just need a hug, a good vent and cry, and some chocolate, from a kind soul who cares about you. Platitudes don’t heal pain. The only thing that heals pain is love.
Many of us don’t have someone to actually care enough to sit with us and let us cry on their shoulder. So we often just try to keep it together, ‘stay strong’, and buy our own chocolate and ice-cream (this is an attempt to love yourself when there’s no-one else to do it - better than nothing but not ideal.) Unfortunately, pain that is not felt, shared and grieved doesn’t just go away. Consider the following scenario:
You: ‘I’m so tired and down all the time. I’m 36 and still single. I’m so lonely! Will I ever get married? I don’t even know what the point of living is anymore.’
Friend or Pastor: ‘Hey cheer up! You have eternal life! That’s better than anything! God can use you as a single person!’
You: ‘Oh my goodness, you are SO right! Wow, thank you! I never thought of that before! Suddenly I feel so happy! I can’t WAIT to go and be an awesome single and change the world!’
Yeah, right. You can’t just make pain go away by pretending it’s not there or that it doesn’t mean anything, or that it’s wrong. Painful emotion is never ‘wrong’. It’s just that it makes some people so uncomfortable that they will do anything to skirt around it and cover it up. Not helpful.
So, because most people around you probably really suck at helping you sit with your pain, feel the pain, grieve the pain, and move through the stages of grief, you may need to look outside your normal friendship group or church to seek help from people who are professionally trained in actually hearing people’s pain. Let me give you a quick run-down of the main avenues where you could seek this out.
1. Christian Counselling
This is the best place to start. The role of a counsellor is to ‘join and journey’ with you. They are not there to fix your problems, but to listen to you and be the ‘container’ in which you can express all your grief, rage, depression, anxiety or whatever. A good counsellor will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, not by flattery, but by true listening and caring - true connection.
Counselling usually takes place in a small room with a couch and some chairs, maybe a plant or two. The office/s might be attached to a church or a medical centre. Alternatively, many counsellors work out of their own homes in a home office. If they are the relaxed type, they may offer you a cup of tea and a pillow to hug. Some counsellors take notes during the session (eg. ‘This girl be CRAZY’ - no, just joking!) They should do about 5% of the talking the whole time. It’s really a space for you to just ramble on and say whatever you want, and let them ‘draw out the golden thread’ of what’s really going on for you.
It’s typically very private and trained counsellors are very discreet. (If it’s not, get out of there!) You will have to fill out a form when you arrive, and they should say on the form that all your information will be kept confidential. If for some reason you need to be incognito when you attend the counselling session (eg. the counselling centre is on the campus of a church where you don’t want to be seen), you can mention this on the phone when you make an appointment. They may have a back entrance you can use, for example. All this cloak and dagger stuff is quite normal for the counselling world, as counsellors are often dealing with high-level privacy issues like divorce, custody battles, sexual abuse, workplace bullying, and so on, as well as the ‘dual relationship’ problems that occur in many Christian communities.
Professional registered counsellors are extremely discreet and have a strong code of ethics around confidentiality. They have an ethical obligation to not disclose any of your information to anyone, except if they believe you are expressing/disclosing a risk of harm to yourself or someone else. Even in that case they should handle the situation with care. Counsellors do have ‘supervisors’ who are kind of like professional mentors. They may share some of your information with that person (although they will probably keep your identity private) in order to get ideas on how to best help you if they feel a bit stuck. This should all be discussed with you in the first appointment.
You don’t need to know what to do or what to talk about – they will draw it out of you. A good counsellor is very skilled at picking up on what the real issues are for you, and will help you identify them and examine them. They take it from a head level to a heart level. (To truly grieve pain, you need to get to the heart level.) The main things you will do in counselling will be talking, crying and sitting in silence. It can be a bit strange when you’re not used to it. Christian women in particular often find it hard to believe that there is someone there who actually is emotionally strong enough and caring enough to literally sit there and listen to your crazy for an hour, without judging you or getting bored. But a good counsellor does this all day long – it’s their job. They really just are amazingly kind and empathic people.
I would recommend Christian counselling as opposed to secular counselling, because a lot of your baggage is probably tied up with your ideas and experiences around religion, church, God’s will, Christian sexual morals, and your eternal purpose. A Biblically sound Christian will potentially be able to understand and handle these issues better. They will also be more empathic about the difficulty of being true to yourself while still holding true to your deepest values.
The main priority is getting a good counsellor that you click with. There are some not so great ones out there, so if you have a bad experience with the first one, try someone else until you find the right fit. I always work off recommendations when it comes to counselling. DM me if you want ideas of who you could see in the Queensland region of Australia.
There are lots of people out there who may have some qualifications in counselling (or none) and have hung out their shingle as a ‘counsellor’. Counselling is a bit of a grey area in Australia and anyone can ‘practice’ as a counsellor without anything to back themselves up. They may not be registered with a professional counselling body such as PACFA or ACA. Make sure you check that the person you see is a legitimate counsellor who is registered. Don’t be shy about asking about their qualifications. At the very least they should have a Diploma of Counselling – preferably a higher qualification such as a Master of Counselling or similar. As in any field, experience is key. If you can spend the time and money to see someone who is very experienced and recommended, do so. You might get more out of one session with them than you do out of ten sessions with someone less experienced.
Counselling costs anywhere from around $60 to $180 per hour (they call it ‘the 50-minute hour’). A higher cost may indicate that the counsellor is more qualified, experienced or popular, but not necessarily. Counselling is not covered by Medicare, as it’s not recognized as allied health, although this will hopefully change at some point. Usually a person will see their counsellor once a week, fortnight or month, for any length of time until they feel that their particular issue is resolved. Once a week is ideal if you can afford it. There’s no rule on how many sessions you can have or have to do. You will see the same counsellor each time, as it’s important for them to build relationship with you. That’s why it’s crucial to get one that you click with from the beginning. There’s no point bailing out after six months (although it is within your rights to ask for a different counsellor at any time if you are just not ‘gelling’).
I’d strongly recommend a female counsellor rather than a male. This is because the counselling environment can get very ‘warm’ and you don’t want to be building inappropriate bonds with a man who can’t (and certainly shouldn’t) reciprocate. I have had awesome counselling with some males, but they were the best in the business. It takes a very experienced and solid male counsellor to maintain proper boundaries with a single female client. (Which is why you should REALLY avoid doing ‘counselling’ one-on-one with your male pastor - more on that in another post.) Furthermore, I personally think there are some things that only a woman can understand! It’s also super important that you don’t have a ‘dual relationship’ with your counsellor. That means that she is not your best friend’s mother-in-law, for example, or your mum’s walking buddy. It’s best if you have no ties at all and have nothing to do with each other outside the counselling room.
In our generation, there is now very little stigma around counselling. Every man and his dog has their own therapist these days, so don’t feel embarrassed about it. You’d be surprised at how many Christian women find counselling to be part of their normal lifestyle now. I’ve had about 35 hours of counselling over the last six years, with maybe 5 different counsellors and psychologists. I can absolutely say that it changed my life. I don’t think I would have been able to get married without it. So I am a big fan of counselling! That’s why it’s my number one recommendation for starting proper emotional work that will get you meaningful results.
Continued in next post…