I’m currently a student in the counseling program at Gordon-Conwell and I find myself hungering to know what it really takes to be a good counselor. I keep hoping that I can do so osmotically by merely working here at The Barnabas Center on the administrative side. I keep wishing to glean and soak in some of the goodness of the counselors here. While I’ve learned lots by observation and conversation, I know that there is my own work to be done in order to become the kind of counselor that the Lord wants me to be.
I feel overwhelmed with questions that I want to ask the counselors about their modality, their sense of self-care, their ability to separate themselves from work, how they respond to certain situations, beliefs, personalities, etc. I find myself piecing together what I learn in my program with what I see around the office. One day I asked one of them “What percentage do you counsel out of theory and what percentage do you counsel out of just you?” His answer surprised me and seemed relieving at the same time. He said that he counsels much more just out of himself than any theory or modality that he learned in school. That may not strike you like it did me, but at times, it’s easy to get caught up in the psychology and intelligence of theories, that we lose sight of ourselves and others as people. We can truly know every fact under the umbrella of psychology or have read every book there is, but that does not produce a good counselor by default. There is much inner work to do. ‘Who I am’ matters more than ‘what I have been able to store in my brain’ . More importantly, it is who I am in Jesus that matters ultimately. For it is His Spirit and work in us, that even allows us to reach others. It is not a matter of implementing the right technique, but it is ultimately God’s work in us that allows us to both cope and change: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”-Romans 8:26-27
Thankfully, one of the requirements in my program is to do my own didactic therapy. While I groan at the time and financial obligation that this requires, I am so glad that it is required. How am I supposed to help others do their inner work if I have not done it myself? I cannot imagine talking with others in the counselor’s chair if I have never been in their seat. I am seeing, as The Barnabas Center believes, that counseling is a process. There is no quick fix, and thankfully it is not up to us as friends, parents, mentors, or counselors to solve anyone’s problem or situation. The use of shortcuts or any attempt to speed up the process takes away from the richness and goodness that the Lord intends as a result.
I am reminded of how I cook. There have been so many times that I have rushed a recipe by leaving out certain ingredients or steps or even try to speed up the cook time, only to find that I have ruined the dish. Or if it is not ruined, I can tell the difference in its goodness and taste compared to when I follow each step methodically and allow for necessary cook time. The taste is simply not as good and fulfilling when rushed or short-changed.
Through the process of counseling, I hope to help others taste the richness of God and to see their identity, worth, and dignity in Christ amidst our own depravity and that of the world. I want to offer others the wealth of information that I am learning, but more importantly, I want to offer others Jesus. He is the Ultimate Hope, Joy, and Healer. What I offer and who I offer can only be given in as much as I have received it myself. I must know God and know myself as His.
One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen writes in his book, Life of the Beloved, “The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness”. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving each other the gift of our Belovedness? Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.’ It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody—unless you can demonstrate the opposite.” It seems to me that longing to find our Belovedness in material things, behaviors, or people is often what leaves us broken and what brings us to counseling. Nouwen continues writing, “We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice [of Jesus] that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’…Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper.”
I want to dig deeper and encourage others to do the same.
Mollie Johnston moved to Charlotte from Tennessee to pursue her master’s in Counseling at Gordon-Conwell and currently works as the receptionist for The Barnabas Center.