Last week I talked about how I benefit from couples counseling right along with my clients as I'm reminded of important relationship principles, and as my appreciation for my own marriage grows. But this phenomenon is not limited to couples counseling. Being a counselor provides constant opportunity and motivation to pursue my own personal growth in several ways.
First of all, as a counselor, dealing with my own issues is a prerequisite to being able to offer good care. This isn't to say that a counselor should have it all together and think that they don't need help themselves – quite the opposite in fact. None of us are going to have it all together until Jesus returns and puts it all back together, and anyone who thinks they don't need any kind of help is deluding themselves to a dangerous degree. Dealing with my own issues looks like being aware of what they are and continually walking the road to health. Because if I'm not aware of and dealing with my own issues, they can easily get in the way as I'm trying to help someone else.
The psychological term for this is counter-transference. Basically that means you've stopped helping the client deal with their issues and started using the client to try and deal with your own issues (probably without realizing it). For instance, a counselor ends up taking sides in couples counseling because one client is doing the same thing the counselor does in their own marriage and they defend that client as a way of defending themselves. Avoiding this kind of pitfall is great motivation to be consistently coming back for an honest look at my own life.
Second, when I am aware of and dealing with my own issues in a healthy way, some of the same things that could have caused unhealthy counter-transference can become opportunities for growth. I end up recognizing myself in clients and instead of making it about me I'm able to use my experience to relate to them and understand what they need in their journey. And in that moment not only am I able to help them more effectively, I also end up helping myself continue to grow because I'm speaking the truth to myself as much as to them.
Have you ever had that experience where you know something to be true, but after you explain it to someone else, you find that you believe it even more deeply? I have that experience quite often in counseling. For instance, I know that as scary as it is to trust another person and really let yourself be known, it is worth it because as long as you are interacting with people from behind a mask, only your mask receives love and you are left feeling alone. And yet it's still scary and it's still a challenge to walk in that truth day-to-day. But when I've spent time in counseling encouraging someone else that it is worth taking the risk of being known, I walk out of that hour believing it more deeply than I did at the beginning and freshly excited to practice what I've been preaching.
Finally, just the process of walking with people as they grow and experience the healing power of Christ is one of the most inspiring things in the world. Too often in the grind of regular life we start to forget about the bigger picture – about God's redemptive work and how we are meant to be growing in our knowledge and experience of Him every day. We may start to think that our lives and our growth don't really mean much. But when I see God step into the darkest places in a person's life and bring light – when I don't just see it but actually get to be a part of it – it convinces me again that God wants to redeem each of our stories to show His power and grace to the world. It helps me believe that fighting to see that happen, in a client's life or in my own, is one of the most valuable things I can do.
How have you found yourself blessed through your attempts to help others?