See Yourself as God Sees You
When I was finishing my undergraduate degree in theology almost two decades ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what was next, but I knew I was not going to continue to live in Ohio. Snow on the ground the first week of May had me tossing my sweaters in the donate pile and vowing to never need an itchy turtleneck in April again!
The other thing I was sure I wouldn’t do was study counseling. My college theology professors wisely encouraged us all to consider pursuing a master’s in counseling to be better equipped to listen to what people were searching for when we were sharing the Gospel. I am ashamed to remember having a very poorly formed idea that, “if people just understood the Gospel, there’d be no need for counseling.” Like many 20-year-olds you may know, I had everything (nothing) figured out.
I left Ohio and the snow on the ground and went on to spend 15 years as a youth minister in two wonderful parishes. However, the more time I spent with people, especially those who had experienced trauma, the more I realized that, yes, Christ is absolutely the way, the truth and the life. But also, the struggles of this earthly life can sometimes obscure or even block our ability to hear the Gospel and say “yes” to Christ’s invitation to follow him.
As I learned more about how adverse or traumatic experiences could affect our brain, body and beliefs, some of the challenges I had while sharing the Gospel over the years began to make sense. If we’ve had experiences that caused us to believe the world or others are no longer safe, this can affect how we understand everything, including our relationship with God.
For this reason, 20 years after I began college I finally took my professor’s advice and returned to school to study counseling and mental health. My own experiences with mental health professionals — and the healing I saw in those closest to me — led me to realize how wrong I had been as a 20-year-old.
As a very young adult, I thought that if faith was strong enough there was no need for counseling. Now, I know that one can have very strong faith and still benefit from talking about difficult experiences. I also know that faith can be strengthened when someone helps us see how our thoughts are unhelpful, inaccurate or harmful.
While my attitude about snow remains unchanged (I haven’t owned a turtleneck since 2004), I now know that I couldn’t have been more wrong about the important role of counseling and mental health services. Sometimes, being fully receptive to the Gospel message means we first understand how our beliefs were affected by the adversity and trauma in our history.
If you’ve had an experience or believe something is keeping you from seeing yourself accurately — as God sees you — talking to a counselor or therapist could be an important step towards healing. If you’re concerned that your faith might not be understood by a mental health professional, consider contacting your parish office to ask if they have a list of local referrals or calling prospective providers to ask if Christian counselors are available.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Talking to a therapist or counselor can help us see that what happened to us or what we’ve come to believe is keeping us from fully living Christ’s life in our everyday one.
- The national suicide hotline for those in crisis or emotional distress is 988 and can be reached by calling or texting.
- The national domestic violence hotline is 800-799-7233.
- To report suspected child abuse or neglect, contact the SCDSS 24-hour, toll-free hotline at 1-888-CARE4US or 1-888-227-3487.
Alison Blanchet lives in Panama City with her husband and three children. She works as a therapist for children and teens. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.