Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.
What is Counseling?
You know things are not going well. Your arguments with your wife do not clarify the issue or move you toward anything good. They simply darken the landscape, making it more attractive to hide from your anger and retreat to some place where life is not so tense. Perhaps the conflict is not anything so outward. You have long tasted a dull ache but push it to the back of your throat. It has been relatively easy to keep from others, but you know that it is burning a hole in the lining of your heart. You have talked to friends or family, but you are tired of the "here is what I think you should do" answers to questions that don't even seem yet well formed. How do you even begin to seek help when you can't even articulate the conflict?
The ancient Greeks defined a therapist as "one who serves" another. In many respects, looking at the process of therapy in this way is helpful. But within the realm of therapy, "one who serves" does so not simply as an attendant or hired assistant, but as one who looks toward the other's deepest needs in order to navigate the other toward the goal of living in a way which is most consistent to her God-ordained design. The path seems to always involve some difficult and dark turns - true in any good story - which require resolute courage to stay the course and the bearing of hope.
It is a sobering thing to sit with another human being and talk about things that matter. This type of relationship is unique in that there is a focused energy toward discovering that which is in the way of becoming more loving and more integrated as a man or woman. The therapeutic relationship is also odd in its intensity of feeling and vulnerability. Because of this focus and intensity on not just the problem but the person, the counseling relationship has sometimes been called sacred. That is, it is a kind of relationship where there is space created for trust, vulnerability, and freedom to doubt, struggle, and hope. This can also be intimidating and is perhaps one of the reasons many do not seek this kind of conversation.
So we return to courage: Opening one's life to another to be seen and probed is an endeavor which is not for the faint of heart but for the courageous; and to live in that dangerous realm of hoping to become all that we are meant to be is worth the humility and openness required.
Counseling at its Core
Have you ever noticed that some people, as soon as you meet them, engender some sort of trust in you? You intuitively are drawn to trusting them, although you know it won't be easy or comfortable. Your own gut is perhaps the most important tool you have in your search for someone with whom to explore your life. For this reason, finding a therapist you feel good about is an incredibly difficult task. It is more like finding a good friend than it is finding a good mechanic. Personal recommendations are always the best way. Again, trust your own heart in the process of finding someone you are comfortable with.
Counseling as Confidential
This important area of trust will show itself in the therapeutic relationship in at least a couple of ways. First, it will be that gut feeling which steers you into feeling you can speak your heart with the assurance that the therapist will hold sacred what you have expressed. Secondly, trust is engendered by the utter confidence you can have in knowing that what you have said in counseling will not go beyond that space. So important is this privilege that it cannot be revoked except under the specific order of a judge with the threat of contempt of court.
How does therapy play itself out? What actually happens? It is no great mystery, nor does it follow a prescribed set of rules or actions. Very simply, the therapist will ask how he can help you and invite you, through dialog, to talk about your life and what kinds of things are distressing you. He will ask questions which will feel uncomfortable from the standpoint of an attempt to get at the underlying dis-ease he may sense from you. However it happens, it is simply a conversation, but a conversation unlike any you may have ever had -it is directional, moving, and swaying according to the landscape that begins to unfold before you. It is not best understood as "ask a question, get an answer," nor is it technological in the way taking your car to a mechanic is. "My engine is making a strange ticking noise." "Oh, I think the problem is this and what we need to do is that. I can have it fixed by next Tuesday."
Therapy may last six weeks or six years. There really is no way to determine its length. In much the same way as when you invite good friends for dinner at 7:00, you do not know how long the evening might last. Close attention will be paid along the way to the process and to whether or not both counselor and patient sense movement in a good direction.
Ultimately, therapy is a movement of one person into another person's life for no less reason than to address the mystery of suffering, illness and hope for true healing and freedom.
At our weakest moments, our souls have the brightest opportunity for clarity and movement. Perhaps this is why when we are doing well, we sometimes are apt to feel stagnant. It is not until we confront, or, more typically, are confronted by the suffering of past and present wounds and trouble that we can begin the process of clear and purposeful movement.
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