I went back to counseling recently. I’m not seeking therapeutic help because of addiction, or because I’m a serial adulterer, or because I’m facing an epic marital crisis.
I’m going because sometimes, when I’m stressed or tired or when the sky is cloudy, I lack the self-control necessary to hold my tongue. Meeting with someone who helps me create strategies to combat this personal weakness has already had positive effects. CEOs come up with business plans all the time to improve their financial performance, and since I’m the co-CEO of the Duggan Corporation, it can’t hurt to create a performance plan of my own.
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I’ve noticed some Catholics are wary of counseling and I get it. It would not be helpful, for instance, if a counselor suggested I get on the birth control pill and quit homeschooling as the solution to the stress I experience in family life. I’ve already discerned that the birth control pill and full time school won’t really solve my problems, but developing coping skills for emotional volatility actually will, and I don’t want to have to defend my faith or my lifestyle to someone who doesn’t understand. Even if I did quit having babies and put all my kids in school, I’m still going to struggle with my temper.
All that said, not one counselor in the handful I’ve seen has ever suggested a lifestyle change that violates my conscience or my value system. All of them have respected my personal belief system and many of them were Catholics themselves.
Still, I sense some Catholics are hesitant about counseling for other reasons. As an active volunteer in church ministry, here are four issues I’ve noticed Catholics wrestle with when discerning whether or not to seek outside help (and my rebuttals).
1. We believe prayer and spiritual formation is enough. God can use the sacraments to fix anyone, at anytime. He can stretch out His hand and voila, perfect healing.
But what if God also wants you to help yourself? What if He is using the sacraments to prompt you to seek some extra help? Have you ever had a nagging thought or intention to pick up the phone and make an appointment to talk with someone about your problems? Perhaps the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you something.
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Has anyone in everyday conversation or a priest in the confessional ever said to you, “Have you ever thought about some counseling?” If so, perhaps that should give you pause. It was the frequent reception of the sacraments (and a few prompts from others) that enabled me recognize I couldn’t figure out all my relationship issues on my own.
2. It’s too expensive. This is true, counseling can be costly. But what is more expensive?
Health problems because you stuff all your emotions or because your emotions leak out all over everyone all the time?
How costly is a divorce?
Sure, counseling might require some Benjamins upfront, but if you really need help and you don’t get it, that decision could bankrupt you, and not just financially. Plus, you might be able to talk to your counselor from the start about your budget. Some counselors might have a target range of sessions, depending on the type and number of your concerns. Budgeting for 15 sessions at $100 a pop is different than preparing for an extra $200 a month for many years or the rest of your life.
3. My spouse is the problem and he/she won’t go with me. Perhaps you are married to a porn addict, an adulterer, an alcoholic or even just someone who is emotionally stunted. Your spouse, no doubt, lacks a whole host of interpersonal skills, which makes interacting with him or her challenging.
But maybe there is also something in you that deserves a good look? Maybe there are some unhealthy emotional patterns you possess that could benefit from a bit of probing? It’s helpful to first take the log out of our own eye, before we can see clearly to take the speck (however large it may be) out of our brother’s.
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4. I can figure it out on my own. Actually, no, you probably can’t. We are made for community. “Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation” (CCC 1879).
Our interactions with other people help us to understand ourselves better and attain our fullest potential. We can’t become who we are meant to be on our own. We need support. When we’re sick, we see a doctor to help heal our bodies. When we need spiritual healing, we see a priest. And sometimes, no matter how talented and successful we are, we must seek the support from an expert to help us deal emotionally.
If you think you are in need of a Catholic therapist near you, check out www.catholictherapist.com to get started.