Most people can benefit from counseling or therapy. We all need help and comradeship along the way. A good counselor provides a trained listening ear and ability to bring new perspectives. Additionally a skilled therapist provides a context in which a client can consider how they relate to others, the stories which have shaped their lives, emotions that have controlled life from the background, and new possibilities for more satisfying and meaning-filled living.
Although it is not a requirement to begin therapy with a problem that needs to be addressed, it is common that the conversation begins with a problem to be understood and improved. Problems may range from dissatisfaction with life to chronic struggles such as persistent depression, anxiety, or addictions. Quite often, the problem is troubling stories of harm or dysfunction from childhood that have never been addressed and seem to bind us in patterns that stifle life. And sometimes the problem is not an individual matter, but instead is manifest in a troubled relationship such as a marriage.
Once a problem has been identified, then therapy can proceed in two different directions. It may be that some limited counsel and short-term support is all that is needed. However, as is often the case, the client finds that the problem has deeper roots in personal story, emotions, and relational patterns. In this case, change requires more than a few behavioral adjustments. Change comes from a reorientation of one’s perspective toward self and toward others. Thus therapy becomes a discovery of inner realities that are in the way of meaningful relating outwardly. It capitalizes on the strengths of what is already available in each of us and then moves toward being authentic, self-aware, and more loving and transformative in relationship with others.
Good therapy starts with the development of a trusting relationship with the therapist and an exploration of the problem that has brought the client to counseling. From that point, the client and therapist can work together to determine what is needed for growth. Options may include short-term counseling or long-term therapy, medical intervention such as physician assistance and/or medications, and advice or education. Inevitably, therapy that has lasting effect will move from the initial problem to a deeper look at inner realities and ways of relating to self and others. This will likely require a well-timed approach to past story, emotions, increased awareness of the parts of our personalities, and the courageous creation of a new story that is not just a repetition of old patterns. It becomes a creative way of living that requires awareness of and care of self and an outward focused care toward others.
Although, not a requirement, many clients find that the journey toward maturity leads to spiritual questions and awareness. These questions and desires for meaning and purpose are very important and should be respected. Successful therapy allows for these questions and doesn’t rush to prefabricated answers. Instead, it allows for an ever-deepening spiritual experience that often leads to questions of and pursuit of the One that is bigger than ourselves. Perhaps it may even lead to complaints toward God or the religious community, and a pursuit of reconciliation and understanding. These questions and feelings must never be required in good therapy however they must be allowed to grow in their own way and be supported by the therapist so that the client can find acceptance and purpose that leads to meaning-filled life.