“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).
If I could go back and give anything to my tender adolescent self, it would be an excellent counselor. Unless, of course, I could have healed my family—that would be my first choice. It may sound odd to some but growing up in a family plagued with addiction, trauma, and mental health issues, one of the resources I needed most was someone whose training allowed them to understand how significant dysfunction affects people. And maybe, even more, someone who could provide me with the tools to validate my experience in the middle of what felt like madness.
But lacking this, I shifted and adapted to our unhealthy family system. I became over responsible for dealing with the constant chaos in our house. I became rigid and perfectionistic to ensure success, believing that if I didn’t look after myself, I might fall through the cracks. I created a façade to show the outside world that I was strong and independent—all the while developing severe anxiety, a need to be noticed, and adopting a wounded view of the world and myself.
Graciously, faith was also knit into my family in my childhood, and it was a source of hope and joy for all of us. I experienced Jesus at a young age in the midst of my family turmoil, and I am deeply grateful for God’s presence in my life. And yet, he chose not to heal my family or myself in an instant; and believe me, I asked.
At the time, I wondered if my profound sense of pain was a punishment from God. Where was this abundant life of which he spoke? I saw glimpses of it, certainly. But, I had a sense that all was not as it should be. I suspected even in this life, living into resurrection meant a deeper sense of wholeness than what I was seeing.
I became curious and even despondent at times, as I wondered why my family wasn’t transformed. But pray and wait and hope as I might, we weren’t miraculously changed—at least not the way I thought we would be.
When Healing Is a Process
When I was younger, I errantly believed healing should happen quickly; it never occurred to me it would look any other way. I didn’t yet understand change could occur through instantaneous healing (Matt. 8:13, Mark 1:42) or in a process (Luke 17:12-19; John 9:6-7). We don’t necessarily need a clear understanding of why God chooses to work in the way he does. However, what we can confidently cling to is that he promises he will complete the work he has begun in us (Phil. 1:6). This means we may never be fully healed on this earth, and yet we know God’s heart is for us to be complete, even if that day is when we meet him face to face.
So how do we as Christians wrestle with this tension?
In my experience, psychotherapy can be part of the journey toward the wholeness for which we long. Specifically, the relational dynamics and skill building that show up in therapy can quite literally heal our wounding and begin to rewire our brains. Because God created us to be relational beings, and it is often in relationships that we are deeply wounded, this is where the formative work of therapy is done—in relationships. At its best, therapy provides a corrective emotional experience in a safe place so we can live the healing for which we ache.
Similar to the way God’s kindness shows up as insulin for the diabetes patient, so also does our good God allow us to have relationships and tools to move us toward healing in the areas of mental health. With this lens, we can embrace God’s grace to us in the midst of a cracked and broken world.
On the Other Side
Now, well into my 30s, I write as a licensed counselor, an adult child of addicts, a survivor of a traumatized family, and a fellow traveler on this journey toward holistic healing. In many respects, it should be no surprise I chose the field I did.
After years of leaning into my own healing, therapy, community, and discipleship—I can humbly and confidently say Jesus can meet us in the counseling room, too. Admittedly, I have long wrestled with the ideas of faith and psychology, and find, gratefully, they are not at odds with each other.
In the decades since my childhood, it has become a passion of mine to examine the integration of faith and psychology and use my voice to advocate for the gap that continues in our churches surrounding mental health. And while I wouldn’t wish pain on any person, God has woven my own life experience into a deep empathy for those who feel disenfranchised; and this often means folks with mental health issues.
Now, when I think about the hurting young woman all those years ago, I feel deep compassion. And, I believe we, the church, have a beautiful opportunity. We have the ability and the means to point those who need the resources of mental health in the right direction. We have the chance to speak life over folks in the gaps and remind them they are scandalously loved and—sometimes—God’s grace shows up in the form of a counseling room.