Mental Health

As a Christian, Why Should I Go to Counseling?

Written by
Rosie Wittleder

It’s a common belief that prayer, Bible reading, believing in Jesus, and going to church are all we need to successfully navigate life’s challenges, and if we’ve got that, then nothing else is necessary to live the life to which we’re called.

Those things are critically important, and undoubtedly have a central place in our faith, but there are several reasons to consider professional counseling as a tool to enhance our journey of faith and wholeness. Here are four reasons counseling can be a very important part of living a healthy and whole Christian life.

1. Learn to become more like Christ.

A core tenet of Christianity is our desire to be more like Christ. Followers of Jesus recognize and acknowledge that on our own…we have all fallen short, we are desperate for hope and healing, and we ultimately need a savior.

Unfortunately, a disconnect often occurs between the realization that we need to be transformed and the reality of how that transformation occurs. After we decide to follow God, how exactly do we become more like Him? Prayer, scripture reading, joining a church and small group, and other spiritual disciplines are important, but sometimes we also need to seek out trusted, professionally trained therapists who can use their insights and skills--in conjunction with the Holy Spirit--to help us heal and grow. Much in the same way we’d go see a doctor when there is a physical issue.

Thankfully this seems to be improving, but there are still a lot of stigmas and misunderstandings in our churches and among Christians regarding seeking treatment through counseling. The sentiment is something like: “If your relationship with God was legitimate enough, strong enough, if you really trusted God, prayed, and read your Bible faithfully, you wouldn’t need to see a therapist”, or “I’m a Christian so I don’t need counseling”.

However, there should be no judgment or shame in realizing we all have blind spots, and we can’t see what we can’t see. We already admitted that we struggle and need help when we choose to humble ourselves and submit our lives to Christ. Therapy is simply an effective tool to help us learn to rely on God and learn how to better reflect the image of Christ. We’ve already made a decision of humility, so a lifestyle of humility would be the logical posture of Christian living.

Just because we accept Jesus, doesn’t mean that we represent him well. They are two different concepts. One is a decision; the other is a process.

We don’t all struggle in the same ways, so a one-size-fits-all solution to specific areas of weakness will not suffice. To become a healthy person who represents Christ well, we need greater awareness to know and understand ourselves. This can often come from an unbiased outsider’s support. A trained Christian therapist can help us figure out our blind spots and the particular ways in which we struggle, figure out what ways we want and need to be more like Christ, and be a guide on our journey to help us get there.

2. Learn to share our gifts and talents.

A second reason to consider therapy is that living the Christian life includes using our gifts and talents to be a part of a larger community of believers.

When we are unhealthy, we are unable to use the gifts and abilities we’ve been given and instead spend much of our time and energy just trying to get by. Living with unhealthy patterns of relating takes up an unbelievable amount of time and effort, which makes us unavailable to use our gifts and talents. We are not nearly as effective as we otherwise could be if we weren’t held back by our unprocessed brokenness.

When hurts and challenges are not addressed, we live a small life, feeling insignificant. When we are unable to lead a meaningful life, we become depressed, apathetic, and unfulfilled. We were made for something more, and for our lives to have an impact. Therapy helps us gain awareness so we can acknowledge and address our unhealthy patterns, so our gifts and talents have room to flourish.

3. Learn to break generational trauma.

Another reason to consider therapy is that our generational patterns do not disappear once we’ve decided to follow Jesus. We agree that Jesus can help us break through those patterns, but that decision in and of itself does not negate the long line of unprocessed generational pain and dysfunction. The pain we carry from our families of origin can often be unconscious, and this unawareness results in unintentionally passing it down to those who come after us.

If we choose not to do the work of becoming aware of our specific generational family patterns, the default result is the automatic transfer of generational dysfunction to our children. This occurs whether we acknowledge those patterns or not. The desire to be different than those who came before us is a great first step, but failing to do anything differently will not result in change. If we want to raise a healthier and more loving generation, we need to do the work of understanding where we come from and how it’s impacted us.

No family is perfect, so we all have work to do in this area. There is a large continuum of health to unhealth in different families. Because we live in a fallen world, we all adopt coping strategies and unhealthy ways of relating that we learned as children that helped us as youngsters, but are now outdated and unhelpful.

The purpose of addressing generational dysfunction is not to assign blame, but rather to help you identify these challenges and set yourself free from them. Addressing our generational traumas does not mean our children will be perfect (or even close), it simply means that the dysfunction train has slowed down substantially and hopefully they will not suffer in the same ways we have.

We don’t have to keep suffering in the same way generation after generation if we choose to do this important work. Seeing a trusted therapist can help us see what we can’t see and begin the process of breaking generational patterns that persist through the centuries.

4. Learn to improve relationships.

Finally, therapy helps to improve all aspects of relational health. As Christians, we are called to make disciples and lead others into a relationship with Jesus, a directive that is only possible if we are in relationship with others. The skills necessary to have healthy relationships aren’t all instinctive and must be learned; a task even more difficult if these skills have not been modeled for us.

Counseling can help improve communication skills which will strengthen existing relationships and help us to be more likely to attract healthy people when developing new relationships. Toxic relationships can be identified, and boundaries created to help protect us from people who may be physically or emotionally harmful.

This means that not all existing relationships will get “better.” Healthy change might require that our existing relationships adjust dramatically. When someone puts in the work needed to become healthy, the dynamics shift and people around us naturally decide either to change with us or resist the process of becoming healthy.

Those who are unhealthy and do not desire to change will probably not appreciate the transformation we are engaging in--as it usually disrupts the status quo that has typically existed for years. Those on a similar path of health, however, who are also growing and changing into who they were created to be--will appreciate the new efforts and the relationship with them will experience significant changes for the better.

Though the results of improving our relationships are positive and often life-changing, it can come at a great cost and can be very hard, especially in the short term. In the long run, however, you will feel relief, peace, and purpose in your life. A life that Jesus desires: to become abundant and whole.

If you’d like to learn more about how to get set up with a therapist or talk further with someone about the next steps in your personal growth journey, please make a care appointment with Wendy Herrberg, the Pastor of Adult Discipleship.

Reach out to her and she can help direct you in your journey to become more like Christ: using your gifts and talents for eternal purpose, breaking generational patterns, and improving the health of your relationships.

Visit our calendar to attend a Mental Health Equipping Workshops or check out our Care Resources for recommended and affordable counselors in our area.

Written By: Rosie Wittleder (In collaboration with Wendy Herrberg)