Fieldstone counselor, Jessica Gallina
Now that we are a third of the way into a new year, many of us might be reflecting on various hopes or goals we had for 2023. For some of us, this included pursuing counseling care. I’d like to answer some questions you may have as you make these decisions and consider moving forward with the counseling process.
Counseling can be a rich, productive, and beautiful process in which fellow believers can lovingly guide one another in being planted by the stream portrayed in Jeremiah 17:7-8. Unfortunately in recent history, counseling and psychological help have held a negative stigma. Over the past decade, this stigma has begun to fade, but still proves to be a barrier for some to receive counseling care. Many of us have grown up with the message that, “You’re stronger if you handle it on your own” or “If you go to counseling, something must be wrong with you.” Biblically, these messages do not hold up. The word “counsel” is found 133 times in Scripture. We often associate Proverbs with wisdom on counsel, however; the concept of counsel is found regularly throughout the Bible. The frequency of this concept in the Word reflects its importance in God’s eyes. Many passages instruct us to seek out wise counsel from other believers. Consider Proverbs 15:22, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” and Proverbs 20:5, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Sometimes we seek or give counsel among our brothers and sisters in Christ in an informal way. We may ask for, and receive, counsel over a cup of coffee or through a phone call with a friend. However, in some cases, it may be best to seek more formal counseling So, what is formal biblical counseling? A general search of the term can yield dozens of results, a few of which are referenced here. I’d like to offer the following definition: Biblical counseling is when brothers and sisters in Christ come alongside one another in love through a Gospel framework, supporting and encouraging embodied people as saints, sufferers, and sinners.
Could I benefit from formal counseling at this point in my life?
The first step in navigating the counseling process is determining if and why you might benefit from it at this point in your life. Some questions that may help you determine if counseling would be a helpful layer of care at this point in your life are:
- Would I benefit from routine care related to my grief or suffering?
- Have I experienced any kind of trauma and/or emotional, sexual, spiritual, or physical abuse?
- Do I desire help in navigating difficult relationships or situations?
- Have I tried to grow in a specific area on my own or with more informal counsel and find that I am not making progress?
- Am I engaged in an entrenched pattern of struggle and/or sin?
- Am I hearing concerns from people in my life, or have others urged me to consider counseling?
*Some areas require specialized treatment in a clinical mental health setting due to their organic and systemic nature. These areas may include trauma; severe psychological disorders; addiction; eating disorders; abusive behavior (emotional, sexual, spiritual, or physical) towards others; and suicidality.1
How do I navigate the counseling process?
Most counseling organizations provide an online intake form. Once you submit the intake form, a staff member will typically contact you to schedule your first session. Currently, many organizations have a waitlist, as there is a demand for counseling services that exceeds the number of counselors with openings. Although it may take some time to begin, I encourage you that it will be worth the wait if this is what the Lord’s wisdom is leading you to do. After the pandemic, many organizations now have in-person and remote counseling options. When you come to a first session, it’s called an “intake session.” It looks different from other sessions, as the counselor will ask you questions related to understanding you and your context, and work to help you identify goals or next steps in your counseling care plan. The second session is often more conversational and begins the specific counseling work.
How can I benefit the most from the counseling process?
- Pray. Ask God for support and guidance with your counseling, to pour into your healing process and for Him to draw near in your hurt or difficulty. If you find prayer to be uncomfortable or painful, consider asking a trusted friend or loved one to pray for or with you about your counseling process.
- Be as open as you can. It may take some time for you to feel comfortable and safe with your counselor before sharing the deepest parts of your heart. That is okay. Be as open as you can and make a goal of sharing more of your heart and life over time.
- Assess counselor fit. It is important to the counseling process to work with a counselor you feel comfortable with and who is a good fit for your needs. It is normal for counseling to sometimes feel awkward at the beginning, but it’s okay to request to change counselors if you think you can find a better overall fit. A wise and caring counselor will be open to your feedback and want to help you find the most appropriate care.
- Expect small increments of progress. True healing takes time. So does sanctification. It is hard work and it is good work. Success in these areas is also not linear. A wise counselor will meet you where you are and help you to make realistic short-term goals to work toward your long-term goals.
- Slow and steady. As mentioned above, and it is worth repeating, true healing takes time. Although you may want to rush healing - I can’t tell you how many times that I have! - it is not possible. Allow yourself to settle into the process and remember that Jesus draws near to us in our weakness and suffering.2
- Take Notes in Your Sessions. Bring your Bible and a notebook. Write down things that you want to remember and work on in the week(s) ahead. A good counselor will help you leave a session with at least one or two key takeaway points to continue processing.
- Homework. The counseling session is a critical part of the healing process for many reasons, including the counselor-counselee relationship and exploring thoughts and feelings in fellowship before the Lord. At the same time, a counseling session is less than one hour in a 168-hour week. For counseling to be the most effective, it’s important to take what you have learned and apply it throughout the week. Keep in mind that good work is imperfect.
If you have any questions about biblical counseling care, please reach out to the Fieldstone office. I am praying for you, dear friend, as you bravely consider if counseling would benefit you at this time in your life.
1 Eliza Huie, How to get the most out of your counseling
2 Dane Ortlund offers a robust discussion of these themes in Gentle and Lowly (Crossway, 2020).
Jessica Gallina taught and mentored children and adolescents as an intervention specialist for 12 years, before feeling called to become a biblical counselor.