It blows my mind how many people in American Christian culture resist the idea of counseling. We give lip service to the idea that we are broken vessels and that we need healing from God, but as soon as someone suggests that we seek out significant professional help for an issue we are facing we react like they asked us to play frogger on the freeway! The social stigma of seeking counseling is an unfortunate American phenomenon for a number of reasons, and in my opinion Christians face pressure from both sides.
First is the cultural side. Our culture says that counseling is for sissies and that counseling is for people who just need to “get over it.” We see counseling as useless psychobabble and endless and worthless laying on a couch talking to a stranger. Only the truly perverted or sick go to counselors, and then only when forced. We lampoon the role of counselor and caricature what counseling really is:
We owe our cultural heritage to the British primarily, and the “stiff upper lip” of the Brits definitely invades the American mindset. That mindset got pushed to the next level in the 1950’s in America with the Cold War and the great effort that we all put in to look successful and to win against the communists. We won the “war” by beating out the Russians with our prosperity, and part of our prosperity was having it all together in our perfect families. That combines with our sitcom-saturated society which teaches us that all of our problems should be able to be solved in 30 minutes with two commercial breaks to form a toxic brew!
We as a culture want to embrace the American dream of health, wealth, and prosperity, and unfortunately have been duped into the idea that if we exhibit any brokenness then we are weak. Everyone else around us is healthy and perfect and happy, so if we aren’t then it’s our own fault; we should, in Bob Newhart’s words, “Stop it!”
Some Americans can get over these hurdles, but it doesn’t stop there for Christians. Christian counseling is a whole new dilemma, and for Christians the cultural pressures don’t ease. In fact, they tend to intensify! We still maintain our cultural associations whether we walk with Christ or not; becoming a Christian does not remove the cultural upbringing or the cultural conditioning we have, and in this case that culture distrusts counseling.
What’s more, for Christians there is the pressure to simply “give it to Jesus” and to be healed by Him directly and immediately. We read verses that people will tell us should free us from any and all bondage that we experience so that we can simply “get over it” and live the victorious Christian life that every Christian ought to somehow automatically have:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. ” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NAS)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ” (Philippians 4:6–7, NAS)
For Christians there is unfortunately a double whammy! If we admit that we are struggling to our church and our sphere of influence there we feel the stigma of not overcoming sin and struggle in our life. We get pressure from our culture that we are not meeting the standard of success and are a big crybaby. The pressure can get pretty intense!
The problem is that life is more complex than that. Some people may have the ability to simply read a verse of Scripture and have it transform them instantly, but for others it’s not that easy. We all experience the pull of sin and find ourselves doing what we know we shouldn’t. (remember, our sin nature is like a zombie!) We need help to accept, appreciate, and apply the truth of what God says in the Bible. We need someone who can hear us out, help us understand our thinking and our behavior, and chart a course toward authentic and real change from the inside out.
This help is quite literally found all over the pages of Scripture. One of the titles for Jesus that we proclaim is, in fact, Wonderful Counselor:
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ” (Isaiah 9:6, NAS)
Counseling is interwoven into the fabric of God’s character, and as bearers of the image of God we reflect that character. In fact, I would argue that the Bible paints a picture for us of a life filled with counseling.
“Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. ” (Proverbs 11:14, NAS)
Not only does the Word of God say that Christian counseling is a good thing, it says that counseling is mandatory. Further, I think that there are concentric circles of counseling, support and care that we absolutely need in our lives to succeed in Christ, but that will have to wait until the next post.
For now, I leave you with a thought: What is your view of counseling? Do you think deep down that most people just need to suck it up? Does counseling just mean talking about feelings and getting nowhere? Should faith in Christ solve our problems and our fears without the need for help? Or is a circle of counselors a valuable and necessary tool that God uses to make you who He wants you to be?