By, Curtiss Robinson, CEO/Owner of Thriveworks Conway
I love to say, “Words have meaning,” when I teach clients about what they say to one another in couples counseling. I even say it with high performers when I am conducting executive coaching and mentoring.
Specifically, I want these good folks to realize that our brains have a tendency to take what we say and mold it into our reality. It affects our attitude and our paradigm. We can literally “speak things into existence” or “create a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
That being said, let’s see what Christian counseling at Thriveworks Conway does for those with very strong religious beliefs (applicable to other beliefs as well).
How Faith and Counseling Coincide
In counseling, it is essential to help clients develop trust with the counselor. Many times that means connecting with them on their terms and tying in to their belief system. Sometimes I can make connections with outdoorsmen/women by talking about hunting, hiking or trips to the lake. I have also found that many clients love talking about their kids and family members. It seems to be the key that opens the door to their hearts. Words do have meaning. Every religious group (and even nonreligious groups) has these aspects of communication in common.
Imagine that a very religious person comes in for counseling. Maybe he is having problems with depression. He feels hopeless and helpless in many cases. His eyes are downcast, and his shoulders are slumped forward. It is as if he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. When I start digging in to his feelings, I make note of the things he says and the words he uses to describe what is going on, what he has been doing about his problems and, finally, what is and isn’t working.
The conversation for devout Christians usually includes phrases like:
I have been trying to turn this over to God. I have faith that things will get better, but I am struggling now. I have been praying, but I am feeling like help isn’t coming fast enough. I need God in my life, and I feel disconnected from Him right now.”
Once I realize the client is “tuned in” to God and relies on the Holy Spirit, I take full advantage of the tools already in place for their belief system while being careful not to make faulty assumptions.
My replies often sound like this:
So it sounds like you are really connected to God. Do you follow a particular denomination? How have your prayers been answered in the past? Do you have a strong testimony in faith, prayer and scripture study? Tell me what empowers you, what gives you the strength to endure.”
The Stabilizing Anchor of Belief
When it comes to Christian/religious counseling, I have found that many people “anchor” to these beliefs. Anchoring is a powerful habit that helps us to center ourselves and get ready for the task at hand. Basketball players anchor with two or three bounces of the ball before every free throw. Baseball players and golfers take a few practice swings. Even martial artists take up a fighting stance and get ready before a fight. This is all anchoring.
The religious groups Christians meet with often provide an amazing source of reliable strength to the client, and that support system is very powerful. We all rely on support groups like family, friends, and teammates. We lean on them. We rely on them. They help us bear the burden, and in healthy relationships they empower us to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness.
Most importantly, it is when prayers are answered, after much trial and tribulation, that clients feel rewarded for their steadfastness, dedication, and faith. It is akin to a perfect free throw in basketball, a solid hit in baseball, and a straight drive in golf. We all have our “get ready rituals,” and for Christians the payoff is the “healing through faith” that makes Christian counseling so effective.
When it comes to therapy in general (nonreligious), a good clinician should always build rapport (find common ground to build a “helping” relationship), establish what is working (anchoring to positive beliefs), determine what isn’t working (problem solving/troubleshooting) and then empower the client to recognize that it is within his or her own beliefs, systems and tools that they can be healed. In many ways, Christian counseling has all of these aspects built in! It follows simple logic that if it is working, then use it.
Now, these words are not meant to convince every nonbeliever to suddenly go find a church, dive into that church’s beliefs, and miraculously expect healing. As a Christian, it may sound odd coming from me, but I don’t believe that is likely to ever happen.
Why? Because of faith.
Faith is the key — an essential ingredient that makes Christian counseling work. Just going through the motions would be like throwing all of the ingredients for a cake into a bowl, mixing it up, pouring it into a cake pan, and then never putting it into the oven.
In short, we need the “heat over time” to make the cake rise.
For Christians, they have had trials and tribulations in their lives that faith (heat) has gotten them through. For those who want a lifelong connection to God, I recommend establishing a connection to the faith of your choice, but it is not a quick fix. You can’t just join a church and expect everything to miraculously change. It isn’t a pill to swallow. It is an entire belief system rooted in faith, and that is why it works.
So what can nonbelievers take from these words if not a strong urging to just go join a random church?
First, it is critical to know what you place your faith in. Hard work is something many Americans fall back on in hard times. We know that if we work hard we will overcome obstacles. That is faith, of sorts, and we prove it true time and time again.
Perhaps education (gaining insight on problems) is where you put your faith. I am a huge advocate of personal insight as well as gaining knowledge to understand WHY there is a problem first and then HOW to overcome that problem. This works well for many folks and, again, the results build faith in that belief system.
Second, I would say stop trying to re-create the wheel, so to speak. Find a mentor, a coach, a leader, or an experienced family member that you trust and ask them to guide you through hard times. These are all great systems that really work.
So what parallel can be drawn from the last paragraph that really puts Christian counseling into perspective? Have faith in God but know that hard work is still required. Know that faith is meant to be tested in order to grow, and these are the hard times all people face.
Believe in scripture study (education) as a way to center yourself, gain insight into your problems, and ultimately discover the WHY and then the HOW of problems I describe above. Know that every trial, hardship, and pain we suffer can be overcome as we look to Christ as our example. His ministry is the mentorship Christians can follow with confidence and an expectation of success. It is rooted in the same values shared globally.
Finally, I think it is perfectly acceptable and highly effective to go to a pastor, priest, or other religious leader for help first, and a counselor second.
Both have valuable experience and insight. A second opinion can help us get out of the rut we get stuck in. A fresh set of eyes can see the problem from a different perspective.
If all else fails, a nonjudgmental pair of ears can hear our woes as we vent, and, in many cases, that helps us process our troubles as much as anything.