This question came up as I was talking with a friend the other day. He wasn't simply asking about what kinds of issues I deal with most often, but really asking... why? Why do people come to counseling to deal with those issues? What is the benefit of counseling? What's the purpose? I had to think for a moment before responding. Just explaining the rationale for my life's calling, no big deal.
I hope what came out made sense in the moment, but it made me want to spend some more time thinking and articulating the answer to the question of “why counseling?” There are a lot of ways I think people can benefit from counseling and I'd like to write about some of those in greater depth later, but I'll start with three basic assumptions that I think lay the foundation for why counseling is valuable.
First: normal people face serious problems.
I remember when I first realized this. In high school I had a lot of friends who would talk to me about what was going on in their lives. I was known as a good listener and sometimes had good advice (often the listening was all that was needed). But I remember when I learned a good friend of mine had bipolar disorder, just being a good listener didn't seem like enough. I wished I knew more about how to support my friend and wanted to get further training to be able to do just that. And issues like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, OCD, PTSD, etc. are much more common than most of us realize. In a given year, approximately one in four adults experiences some kind of mental illness according to the National Institutes of Health. And people who face those issues are just like you and me. Some day you or I may be the one in four.
Second: the rest of us are broken too.
Just because you don't meet the diagnostic criteria for one of these disorders doesn't mean you've got it all together. I know I sure don't. Realizing that you are broken is actually one of the most important steps to healing. So if you don't think you're broken at all, I'm extra worried for you. It's not just my experience and the experience of everyone I know that tells me we're all broken, Scripture tells us this is the case as well. Since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, we've been living in a world under a curse. We run from this awareness and we develop coping strategies to try and mitigate and deny the effects of the fall. Unfortunately, our strategies usually cause further harm to ourselves and others. These kinds of issues are as important to deal with as the things that get a diagnostic label.
Third: counseling can be a great setting not just to address problems but to pursue growth.
I talk a lot about how we're all broken and we need to be honest about the fall, but that doesn't mean that's all there is. Life is even more beautiful than it is broken. Even though we still live in the midst of a fallen world, the goodness of creation was twisted but not destroyed, and Jesus has already begun the process of redemption. This is part of why I think healing and growth are often two sides of the same coin. Every pain we face is due to a twisting by sin of something that was created good. As we address the problems we face, we learn ways that we could more fully live out of God's design for us. And we find once we've “dealt with the problem” there is still plenty of room left to grow. This is probably my favorite part of counseling – to watch people growing week by week more into who they are meant to be.