I've Got Problems...

What are your goals in seeking counseling?  This is a question that we ask early and often in the counseling process, from the initial intake interview on through the various stages of growth and progress.  To go anywhere meaningful, we need to understand more than just what is unwanted, unhealthy, painful, or dysfunctional about the way things currently are.  Identifying these presenting problems or concerns is important, to be sure, but we also need to develop at least some sense of how those things ought to be instead.  What would be desirable, healthy, healing, functional…sound familiar?  By sketching out these goals and aims for counseling, we will know more clearly where to focus attention, what issues to prioritize, and how to measure progress along the way.

Of course, constructive goal setting is easier said than done.  Our presenting problems can feel so complex, so intractable, so deeply rooted, and so overwhelming that the idea of setting a goal can seem like an empty and arbitrary form of fairy tale thinking.

“I just want to feel better…happier…or at least just not like this.”

“I want to fix our marriage, but it’s been so bad for so long.”

“I know I need to be a better person, but I doubt anything will ever really change.”

Perhaps you have felt this way before.  We all have at some point in time.  From a biblical perspective, we recognize that the pernicious nature of sin, which exists within us and all around us, would very much like for us to remain stuck in this sort of mindset.  If we remain stuck in a sense of futility or confusion or bitterness or hopelessness or even some elusive and abstract idea of “happiness” (as in, the kind that is not in any way grounded in “real life”), then we will be successfully impeded from experiencing the fullness of life that God desires for us.  Thinking this way about our problems is just as destructive to our souls as thinking that we have no problems whatsoever.  Thinking this way about our problems keeps us from grappling with the realities of the gospel – that Jesus has fully atoned for our sins, that his power is made perfect in our weakness, that his mercy is real and substantial in the midst of our greatest pain and hardships, that his saving work is meant to produce real and transformative (though often unexpected) change in our lives. 

How we think about our problems and, even more so, how we think about change and growth in the midst of those problems is of critical importance.  So what are your goals for counseling?  In the next post, we will explore a few practical steps that can be taken to navigate this process of goal setting in a biblically informed, gospel driven, and empirically effective manner.  Stay tuned!

Anxiety and Faith

Written by Day Marshall, LMHC (Senior Clinician)

Anxiety is one of the most common reasons people enter a therapeutic setting. The symptoms of anxiety can be as varied as the individuals it affects, but generally, it shows up as jumbled, racing thoughts of worry and negativity about self or others, resulting in an impaired ability to focus, process options, problem solve, or make decisions. Anxiety often manifests physically as sweaty palms, increased heart rate, lightheadedness, and either lack of purposeful motion or excessive activity.

At times, Christians who come to counseling with a hope to resolve anxiety can express a sense of failure or disappointment in their walk with God. There is a belief that their anxious thoughts and feelings are somehow related to a lack of faith or ability to rest in God’s goodness. And though resting in God plays a part in the management of anxiety, it is often relieving for clients to recognize that anxiety is very often closely related to values, beliefs and coping strategies established in early childhood, usually long before a comprehensive understanding of God is formed. This means that learning how to apply faith and God’s truths to anxiety responses can take some coaching and skills building: learning proper application of God’s healing balm, if you will.

Since many neurological pathways are solidly established for anxious responses early in life, it is helpful to have the capacity to apply critical thinking and reason to practical skills building in order to carve new pathways for responding to stressors. Faith and God’s truth can be powerful components in establishing these new responses. For example, applying Scripture and God’s promises during grounding and self-soothing techniques can often be very effective at mitigating the impacts of anxiety. One possible application of this is the practice of breathing in deeply while thinking, “He is my refuge” or “Rest for the weary”, and then visualizing breathing out worry and fear.

Rather than experiencing guilt or a sense of failure, those with anxiety can be encouraged that peace and rest for the anxious mind is closely related to learning how to apply the healing balm of God to those affected areas.