You may have noticed that our emphasis this week across our YouTube channel, podcast, and blog is on counseling. I am really thankful our team is willing to speak so openly about the importance of counseling—not just for students, but for ministry leaders, as well. Many of us are engaged in this process ourselves, and we want to be part of normalizing it for you because of the benefits we have seen in our own lives.
I know from personal experience that thinking about engaging in counseling can be intimidating, and it’s easy to come up with excuses or reasons why counseling is not for you.
As Zac said in his post yesterday, “If there ever was a season to feel less ‘bad’ about seeking professional help, it’s now.” And here’s the truth: you should never feel bad about engaging in counseling. Processing both your personal and ministry life with a professional is a healthy practice.
“But Katie, I have other practices in place, and therapy is expensive!”
I get it. I really do. I put it off for a long time. But your longevity in ministry—and arguably, most importantly—your overall mental and spiritual health—are worth this investment.
It’s time to drop the excuses.
Here are 5 things that are good, but are not counseling:
Exercise is an extremely healthy practice with major mental health benefits. I started running a little over a year ago and it has helped my overall energy levels and my head space. Running gives me alone time to process my thoughts and gives my anxious or negative energy a place to go. You may hear (or say it yourself) something like: “Exercise is my therapy.” As good as that sounds—exercise is exercise, and therapy is therapy.
When I combine regular therapy sessions with an exercise outlet like running, the benefits of both are maximized.
2. Talking with friends or your spouse.
Being open and honest with a close circle of people is vital to your spiritual and emotional health, but venting or sharing with friends and/or your spouse is not a replacement for therapy. Your close circle can support you as you walk through difficult seasons, but a trained professional will help you develop healthy coping skills, gain an understanding of your behaviors and how they impact others, and process the relationships in your life. Here’s the reality—your close circle will have a hard time not projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto your situation. A therapist will provide you with as much space as you need to share, and then give professional and unbiased feedback.
3. Gaming or other immersive hobbies.
Having an escape can be healthy when practiced in the right way, but don’t let immersive hobbies become a distraction from dealing with the things that are causing you spiritual unrest. They won’t go away, and distracting yourself from them will only work for so long.
4. Self-help books.
Books are a great way to learn more about how the brain and body work, and there are many Christian resources out there that can help contribute to your overall spiritual and mental health. But reading alone is not a replacement for therapy. Counselors are professional listeners, and it’s their job to help you process what you’re going through based on your specific context.
Prayer is vital to our spiritual lives as Christians, and we must be engaged in prayer regularly. The danger comes when we find ourselves in the mindset that we are “too broken,” “too far gone,” or unseen when prayer is not solving our mental health issues. There is a stigma around counseling that needs to be broken down. Seeking professional help does not mean that your prayer life is ineffective.
I have been in that season—a season where I felt like Jesus had surely forgotten about me because I just couldn’t “pray away” the struggles I was facing. There is guilt and shame and loneliness there, and if you’re in that place right now, I want you to know that you are not forgotten.
Just as we recognize that God uses people all the time to reveal Himself to others, (through Scripture and people around us) we should recognize that a professional counselor can be one of those people. God can and will use counseling as part of your healing process, and to draw you back to Himself.
If you’re wondering if it’s time, it’s time.
This week on Student Ministry That Matters, Ben shared 3 Ways to Know it’s Time for Counseling. But my guess is that if you’re reading this post, there’s a little voice inside of you that has been wondering if it’s time to engage (or re-engage) in this process. Listen to that voice.
There is never a bad time to engage in counseling. You don’t have to wait until you’re in a crisis season to jump in. If you’re there right now, it is absolutely okay to start right where you are. If you’re not there, I’d still encourage you to start anyway so that you have a support system in place when a difficult season hits. Minister, you do so much for others. Counseling is a good and healthy gift you can give yourself that will have positive returns in nearly every area of life and ministry.
This post was written by Katie Wylie, marketing strategist for LifeWay Students. Student ministry had a huge impact on Katie’s personal faith journey, and she loves resourcing leaders to disciple teenagers well. You can catch Katie on the podcast, and she is also the human behind the Lifeway Students social media accounts.