Thinking with You
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Therapy continued...

In my last post I detailed the process of having professional counselling.  I found personal counselling to be extremely helpful in dealing with some of the issues that were underlying the problems in my relational dynamics: perfectionism, control, fear of rejection, inability to be myself, being a doormat, etc. etc. Can anyone relate?  

In this post I want to mention a few more therapy options.  Find something that works for you and you may be amazed at the major difference good therapy can make in your life.  (May I again emphasise the importance of finding a really good therapist with whom you ‘click’. Keep searching till you find her!)

2.     Seeing a Psychologist

 A psychologist typically has much higher qualifications than a counsellor.  They have completed at least a Bachelor of Psychology and have then had to do around 1000 hours of prac in order to register as a psychologist.  (Whereas registered counsellors in Australia only have to do max 200 hours of prac, depending on the registering body.)

Psychology is recognized by Medicare and your visits therefore attract a rebate when you have a ‘mental health plan’.  This is a plan that you can get from your GP if you feel you are struggling with depression, anxiety or similar issues.  They will quiz you on a few things and then decide if you qualify for a plan – although in my experience the government is so keen to avoid major mental health issues down the track that they give out the plans like candy.  This plan will entitle you to about six subsidized visits per year, with the option to be reassessed by your GP and get another six.  And then the following year you just sign up for round two, and so on.  This is great because psychology is usually a lot more expensive than counselling – an average session might be around $150 per hour. 

Regarding confidentiality, the same things apply to both counsellors and psychologists.  The main way that psychologists are different is that they are typically a bit more intellectual in their approach to dealing with your issues.  They will be very evidence-based and may bring more education into the sessions.  They can definitely handle you crying and bringing your ‘crazy’ to the table, but you may not get the full sense that they are feeling with you, like you will with a good counsellor.  Counsellors really drill down into your emotions, whereas psychologists are more interested in your behavioural and thinking patterns.  But both counselling and psychology are generally what would be called ‘talk therapy’, and you can vent as much as you want. 

If you feel like you need a warm grandmotherly hug, see a counsellor.  If you feel like you want someone to help unravel what’s going on and give you perspective quickly, see a psychologist.  Again, a Christian psychologist would be best. 

3.     Pastoral counselling

I must tread carefully when commenting on this as a therapy option.  The thing is, there are a some church pastors or lay pastoral leaders out there who are just brilliant at listening, caring and providing good advice, with no ulterior motive.  But these are few and far between.  Here are my issues with having counselling sessions with a pastor:

  • ISSUE 1: TRANSFERENCE.  Usually the pastor is male.  Major issues right there.  There’s a phenomenon in counselling called ‘transference’ which is when either the client or therapist behaves towards the other as though they were someone from their own life.  The classic scenario is when a male pastor counsels a female parishioner, who cries about her unhappy marriage and how she wishes her husband could be more like the pastor himself – kind, gentle, spiritual, etc. etc.  The pastor then starts to think, ‘Yeah, this woman needs a good man like me!’  Next minute he’s treating her like he’s her husband, caring for her, calling her up to check on her, letting her cry on his shoulder in counselling, etc…next minute, boom, affair and a couple of divorces.  That is not therapy!

Here’s more info about transference:

The thing is, any person who is not professionally trained as a counsellor or psychologist is really vulnerable to falling into the transference trap.  A good therapist is able to maintain the balance between warmth and empathy, and actually building an inappropriate (positive or negative) relationship with the client.  It’s really hard to do.  And most pastors are simply not trained in dealing with this. 

  • ISSUE 2: DUAL RELATIONSHIPS & POWER IMBALANCE.  There is no possible way that your church pastor can be completely neutral on your particular issues.  If you are a member of the congregation, then your behaviour will have some kind of effect on them or their church community.  Say you want counselling about a church leader that you are dating.  You’ve discovered that he has a porn addiction and want to know what to do.  Well, the pastor is probably going to find this really tricky to deal with, as he is good mates with your boyfriend and thinks he’s just great.  He might counsel you to ignore it, to just break up with him and move on, or to ‘forgive and forget’.  He might not want the news to get out to the rest of the congregation, so might counsel you to keep it quiet.  This is not really a healthy therapeutic approach to the situation and in fact divests you of any power.  Another example is this: your pastor needs you to serve and give to the church.  He doesn’t want you to not like him.  But you can’t do therapy with someone who needs something from you.  This will completely affect everything they say to you.  They will just be keeping it superficial and flattering you.  You need a therapist who is bigger than you – who doesn’t need you and in fact will go home at the end of the day and forget about you until your next session.

  • ISSUE 3: CONFIDENTIALITY. Or lack thereof!  Pastors are people-persons.  They love a good chat.  They are always networking and sharing the goss.  Pastors simply do not have the same discipline around confidentiality as do professional therapists.  They have no ethical obligation to you, particularly as you don’t usually sign a contract with a pastor, and usually meet them in a more informal context.  You cannot be sure that the pastor won’t go spreading your secrets throughout their family, church, or the wider church network.  This could even affect your future employment or dating prospects! (God forbid!).  Furthermore, pastors are already incredibly weighed down by the deep, dark secrets of everyone in their church.  Generally pastors don’t get their own counselling, supervision or therapy of any kind, so they don’t have anywhere to download and vent about all the burdens that they are carrying. Hence they may let it slip to an inappropriate person, or might just buckle under the weight of your issues and not be able to continue seeing you.

  • ISSUE 4: IT’S NOT COUNSELLING.  There’s pastoral care, and there’s counselling.  They are actually two very different things.  Pastoral care is great, having dinner with your pastors is great, getting a warm hug and some encouragement from your pastors is great – but this is all not counselling.  It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to deal with your unresolved issues towards your dad, for example.  You might get a shoulder to cry on over the latest break-up, but you won’t be able to deal with your obsessive need to control every situation.  These are deep issues and will usually only be dealt with properly by a trained therapist.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  Now if you can’t get into a professional therapist and really want to talk to a pastor anyway, here are my tips:

-       Talk to a female, or a married couple.  Never talk to a male one-on-one.

-       Ask her to be clear about whether she can keep your information confidential.  If you don’t feel you can trust her, then don’t share.

-       Don’t expect counselling.  Expect encouragement, maybe some good advice, and some helpful modelling of how to be somewhat normal (LOL). It’s more like talking to a kind parent – really nice and makes you feel warm and fuzzy – but doesn’t get to the root of your problems.

 4.     Journalling & letter writing

If you feel that you’re not quite in need of therapy but still have some simmering feelings (eg. anger or sadness), writing can be a really helpful way to express those emotions and get them out of your system.  Perhaps you are really angry at someone but you’re not really an ‘angry’ person.  Try writing a letter to that person and just let it rip!  Use any language you want, write a novel if you want – just get everything onto the page.  And DON’T SEND IT.  You will find that your anger will start to dissipate straight away!  You might think, ‘Oh but that’s terrible, I should be a nice forgiving person, it’s not very Christian to do that’ – well, you can either have the anger inside or you can get it out.  Because it’s there!  And if you don’t express it through writing or talking, trust me when I say it will come out somewhere else, possibly in a negative way such as chronic fatigue, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, workaholism, addiction to drugs, alcohol or shopping, etc.

On that note, do you realise that the main demographic of people with internalised anger is religious women?  Why do you think that 90% of counselling clients are women, and 90% of prison inmates are men?  Because women point their anger inwards, harming themselves, whereas men express it outwardly and harm others.  Christian women are usually socialised to never ‘feel’ or express anger.  But that’s impossible – sometimes life throws some horrible things at you and the normal response is anger or even rage.  It’s extremely important to express this.  Therapy is a great place for this, and journaling or letter writing can help a great deal. 

PS. If you struggle to express anger, get this book:

 5.     Art Therapy & Play Therapy

There are tons of variations of therapy, so go nuts finding what suits you, but let me mention these alternative therapies.  You don’t have to be artistic to do it!  Art & play therapy are so cool – you just let your emotions come down out of your body and through your fingers onto the page or into the sandbox.  You will be stunned by what comes out of you.  That’s the cool thing about therapy – you actually don’t know what your subconscious is feeling, so you enter the therapeutic process to actually discover what is going on deep inside.  You don’t need to go into therapy saying, ‘I have control issues and need to work on them’ (although you can).  In art and play therapy, you don’t have to speak at all!  The therapist will direct you. 

So there are a few ideas about how to start your ‘self-improvement’ journey.  How do you know if you could benefit from therapy?  Well – do you have repeated negative patterns in relationships?  Do guys always dump you, or string you along?  Do you attract guys you don’t like and don’t want?  Do you never get asked out?  Do you self-sabotage your relationships?  Do you avoid relationships like the plague?  If any of these are you, maybe you could benefit from therapy.  You might wonder if it’s worth the time and money.  But if you commit to it for say, a year (maybe about ten sessions or so, spending a total of around $1000), your life could literally be changed.  If someone told you that if you spent ten hours and $1000, you could be married within the next three years, would you do it?  Heck yes! 

 Go for it, girls! Xx