Your Story Matters - Thoughts from a Counselor
Whether you are in the counseling field, currently seeing a counselor, or considering if counseling is right for you, it can be helpful to hear from a counselor considering the importance of connecting with everyone who comes through their office. While counseling may be unfamiliar or intimidating, a counselor's job is to establish a real, collaborative relationship.
In the counseling field, we are conditioned from our first moment of training to think about our clients first and foremost. We learn to be skilled in listening well, discerning information, recognizing non-verbal cues and working through reluctance or resistance. We learn theories and techniques and how to diagnose.
But, let me suggest, that the relationship is more important. What? Did I just really say that? Surely not! Don’t panic – you heard correctly. I say this to suggest that as you think about your clients, do not neglect nor forget to think about yourself as well.
Who I am – my story – is intricately and unquestionably impactful for each client I counsel. My personal journey through life has taught me valuable lessons and has shaved off some of the rough edges to my personality and corrected erroneous presuppositions about life. Everything in my life has brought me to this point in my life and I need to embrace the idea that who I am is necessary for excellent therapy to happen.
An excellent counselor is one who knows who they are and remembers who they are as they engage with their clients.
We know that research affirms that the therapeutic relationship is essential for a favorable outcome for a client. While there are several important elements to make a successful therapeutic relationship, I would argue that one of the greatest factors is the confidence and ease that we can bring into the sessions when we are fully aware and accepting of who we ourselves are.
Our stories, our personalities, our philosophical predispositions, and our faith are not hindrances to excellent therapy, but rather essential to excellent therapy.
When we forget that we ourselves are the most important tool we have in our possession as we enter into our counseling sessions as therapists, we tend to revert to formulas and theories and get stuck in trying to identify key elements of the client’s story without really hearing the client. We lose our unique flair for the art of communication. Our anxiety can increase and our self-confidence as a therapist decrease.
From a biblical perspective, we can see the relevance of how someone’s back story influences their perception of someone else’s life when we look at the life of Christ through the unique lens of each gospel writer, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four New Testament authors tell the life of Christ differently because of who they were; who they were directly spoke into what events they chose to tell, what details they chose to highlight and what themes they chose to explore.
Matthew – the Jewish tax collector, who when coming to Christ, threw a huge party for the entire town declaring that he was no longer the community thief robbing from his own people, his fellow Jews. No one could have written this gospel better than a Jewish man who was redeemed from a shameful past, one who himself had committed crimes against his people but was now forgiven and redeemed by one of his own, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Mark – Mark knew failure as a young adult when he first started ministry with the Apostle Paul. Not being able to handle the disappointments and challenges of the very first missionary journey, he returned home as young adult who struggled to adult. Mark’s rapid telling of the miraculous events of Christ’s life stresses what Christ did – his actions and activities. What better man to tell these amazing victories over Satan and death than one who had so spectacularly failed himself?
Luke – the only gentile author, Luke was well-educated as a physician and well-versed in travel and nautical navigation. A scholar who loved words and details writes the life of Christ from someone who peers into the Jewish world and finds the minutia fascinating. Only Luke could allow fellow gentiles to relate so well to the beauty and majesty of Christ.
John – John is the disciple who is known as Jesus’ best friend. John talks of Christ with a familiarity and affection that is uniquely his and makes his tomb vastly different from the other three.No one would yearn for fellow disciples to live faithfully as Christ deserves nor celebrate the resurrection and eternal life like John, for how he must have longed to be with and honor his crucified friend.
We are like the gospel writers in that our backgrounds will influence how we see, hear and tell the stories that our clients bring to us.
May we employ the same diligence and care that the gospel writers used as they allowed their backgrounds to filter their retelling of Christ’s life wisely. May we be as intentional in the use of our stories as we engage with the life stories of others and may we celebrate our uniqueness and see how God can use it for the good of those we counsel.
I celebrate each of you and how God has uniquely created you to serve our King. May your story bring everlasting peace to others and the Kingdom.
BIO: Elizabeth Smith is an Associate Professor and Program Head of Children and Family Ministry at Moody Bible Institute. She a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a professor, a Senior Pastor's Wife, and a mom. Learn more about her and check out her blog.