Hope you are having a good week. Holidays are usually pretty tough for people in destructive relationships and my prayers are for you to remember God has given you an incredible gift of his peace. Jesus says to us, “I’m leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So do not be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27). You may not feel peaceful or have peace with your spouse or other family members, but Jesus promises his people that we will receive a special gift of his peace.
Today’s question is one I receive often. I’ve answered it before but not for a while and it bears updating in these turbulent times. Depression, anxiety, suicide, and addictions have skyrocketed in 2020. Our world has lived in fear and isolation most of 2020 and it is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health even as we try to stay safe and keep others safe from the virus.
You may need some extra help from a counselor in order to regain your stability and your peace. Please don’t shame yourself about this. If you had a persistent temperature, you’d get yourself checked out by a doctor for COVID. In the same way, if you’re feeling hopeless, lethargic, or have lost interest in things you’ve previously enjoyed, have anxiety, or are using substances to dull the ache in your soul, you need to get some help for your emotional and mental health.
Today’s Question: You may remember me as the brain tumor and stroke survivor who left her mentally abusive cheating, narcissistic, controlling husband I divorced in 2018. I am hoping you can refer me to the best therapist to support me through retrieving my property from my home the judge awarded me after their continued noncooperation. Thank you.
Answer: Since I don’t know where you live, I can’t suggest someone who might be helpful. However, with telehealth changing the landscape of who you can “talk to,” I’d recommend that you look for a counselor who has expertise in brain injuries and as a bonus, knows the crazymaking that happens in destructive relationship patterns.
Fighting to regain your house will add extra stress to your life and you will need support to manage the extra toll it will take on your already weakened brain and body. Only someone who specializes in understanding brain injuries will be able to provide that specific kind of support you will need. I’d look for someone who is trained in neuropsychology.
But let me broaden your question for others who may want to seek some outside help from a counselor or coach.
There are many people who label themselves as a counselor and/or coach these days. They may be in your church, workplace, community, or on the Internet. It’s important that you do your own due diligence to find out their credentials. Check to see if they’re licensed, their education, their expertise, their experience, and their approach to the “work.” I’d also suggest you do a quick search to see if the person you are considering has had any malpractice suits or claims of unprofessional conduct. If so, take him or her off your list of potential helpers. You’re already struggling with relationship issues you don’t need to repeat them with your counselor.
There is one other crucial ingredient in finding a good counselor and how much he or she charges is not it. It’s the actual person of the counselor/coach.
For example, sometimes you can get by with a medical doctor who is an amazing physician but who lacks good bedside manner when you are there for a specific purpose, like surgery. However, when you need to have an ongoing relationship with your physician, counselor, or coach, a good fit between you and the professional cannot be underestimated.
Relational pain and trauma is experienced within destructive relationships and personal and relational healing is experienced within a healthy relationship. The professional you trust with your health, especially your mental and emotional health, must be able to model the ingredients of a healthy relationship with you, in order for you to grow and get healthy yourself.
For those who promote themselves as a Christian counselor this goes even deeper. The Christian counselor has the responsibility to represent Christ to their client in such a way that their client gets an experience of what God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s unconditional love looks like, all while maintaining professional boundaries with Godly wisdom.
Here are some things to pay attention to. You want your counselor to listen carefully to your story. To not interrupt or put words in your mouth. You want your counselor to validate your feelings, encourage your growth, and help you set appropriate goals for yourself to get healthy. However, if you do want to get healthy, you don’t want someone who will just hold your hand and comfort you – you can get a friend to do that. Your counselor or coach must help you grow, challenge (in a good way) your resistance to that growth, and help you process your negative emotions constructively.
It’s important that you feel safe, understood, and pushed in a supportive way to get to the next step of your journey. (Sometimes we can get too comfortable being stuck in a victim mindset).
If there is something you don’t understand, don’t agree with, or feel upset about with your counselor, don’t just quit. First, attempt to talk about what bothered you.
For example, suppose your counselor is repeatedly late for your session, or your counselor falls asleep while you’re talking. This can happen. Counselors are human and they may have their own stuff going on that you don’t know about. Or if your counselor over-talks you or shames you, you need to speak up.
Why? You are there to get healthy. Part of getting healthy is speaking up when something bothers you. You aren’t just a client seeking services from a counselor. You are two people who have a real relationship, even if it is a professional one.
Sometimes there are misunderstandings, hurts, or tensions that have to be talked out in any relationship. Learning how to talk those things out or to disagree constructively or have a good conflict is part of you getting healthy. Click To Tweet
Counselors/coaches are human beings and sinners just like you. Believe me, they struggle with their own issues even if you don’t know about them. Your counselor may make some mistakes. She may be crabby, tired, or having personal struggles. The biggest difference between you and your counselor isn’t that she is more educated or more spiritual than you are. She may not be. The biggest difference is that your counselor should be very self-aware of her weaknesses, flaws, and past and current baggage and triggers and has done her own work. Hopefully, she is a healthy person but she will never be a perfect person. But she recognizes when she is getting defensive, impatient, angry, or anxious. She can own her own stuff, and take responsibility, and makes amends for mistakes she has made without shaming you or herself. If she gets defensive or makes mistakes and blames you, don’t take it personally. But it is a red flag that your counseling relationship is not healthy and you won’t get what you need to heal.
When a counselor doesn’t protect the counseling/coaching relationship, a lot of damage can occur even if the counselor is professionally competent. People have experienced huge emotional setbacks, pain, and trauma because the counselor did not have the personal maturity to hold to appropriate boundaries, to wisely handle her client’s strong emotions, or to speak the truth in love.
The best way to find a good counselor is to ask others who have gone to one and actually received help.
Another way to find a Christian counselor is to call several larger churches and ask what counselor they refer people to. If you hear one or two names mentioned repeatedly, try those counselors first. If those counselors’ schedules are full and they are not able to take you right away, they often will give you the names of other counselors that they work with and trust.
Your insurance company may have the names of counselors that they partner with to provide counseling services to their subscribers.
When you make your phone call to make an appointment, it is appropriate to ask some initial questions over the phone. This will help you gather information about their level of experience and expertise as well as give you a sense of who they are in the way they speak with you over the phone and respond to your questions. If they refuse, or are impatient or shaming in any way, move on to the next person on your list.
Questions you may want to ask:
What are their fees per session? Do they have a sliding scale if you can’t afford their fees?
Do they take your medical insurance? You may not want to use insurance and that is fine. Some clients are very queasy about confidentiality and some insurance companies ask a lot of questions. This is your choice.
Once you’re in counseling with someone if you choose to use your insurance ask your counselor what your diagnosis is and what she is going to write in the treatment plan before she submits it. You have a right to know because this diagnosis can have ramifications later on. (Such as applications for life insurance, adopting a child, or child custody disputes).
What is the counselor’s experience in working with brain injuries? Abusive relationships? With emotional abuse? With trauma? (Or whatever you are going to counseling for).
What books have they read on the subject? (See if they can answer you before you supply titles). If they are secular counselors and you want some expertise in abuse see if they are familiar with Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That: Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, and Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. If they are Christian counselors see if they have read my books The Emotionally Destructive Marriage or The Emotionally Destructive Relationship or others that you have found helpful.
Have they taken any continuing education classes on Domestic Violence or abuse related subjects? If so, which ones?
What are their professional credentials? Are they licensed? How long have they been in practice? A psychiatrist is an MD and is appropriate if medication is involved, but rarely does any counseling. A licensed psychologist is usually a PH.D and can administer psychological tests such as an MMPI or other tests. An LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker, has a master’s degree in social work and several years of supervised clinical counseling experience. An LPC is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree and several years of supervised clinical counseling experience. An MFT is a marriage and family therapist with a master’s degree in that discipline. If they are licensed, they will also have been supervised by a more experienced professional.
There are also lay counselors, church counselors, pastoral counselors, coaches, and mentors who offer some sort of people helping. When choosing who you are going to work with, understand their level of expertise. You would not elect to have heart surgery with a dentist or even a general physician. Do your homework.
Does the counselor have a Christian orientation, and does she incorporate her faith into her counseling? If prayer is important to you, ask if she will pray with you.
Can you make an initial appointment for a consultation?
The last question gives you the option to go for a session and check them out to see if you feel comfortable and are able to open up to this person. If for any reason after you have your first appointment you don’t feel it’s the right fit, you do not have to reschedule another appointment.
This may seem like work, but your well-being and health take work and you want to partner with the right person. It’s better to take 3 weeks to find the right person than to spend 6 weeks with the wrong person in counseling and then be more discouraged with the process.
Friends, I have two questions. I’d love you to respond to one or both. 1. How did you go about finding a good counselor or coach? 2. Were you able to speak up when you were unhappy about something and what happened next?