Thinking About Problems (Part 1)

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 and shortcomings, 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!