I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble. (Psalm 142:1-2)
A therapist is a bit like God in that they both listen to complaints. A good therapist, though, recognizes that his/her familiarity with God ends there. A good therapist resists playing God. A good therapist avoids becoming too enmeshed in our problems or trying to heal our condition for us. A good therapist draws on the healing power that flows from God yet sees that the Source of this healing comes from beyond him or herself.
I’ve had many therapists – some good and some not-so-good – in my almost thirty-year pursuit of good mental health. I’ve observed that a good therapist shows great patience, listening to cries and supplications, complaints and trouble all day long, day in and day out. A therapist who persistently yawns or watches the clock can give hurting people the impression that their hurts don’t matter. A good therapist helps lift the burden of pain a client carries simply by listening attentively. Being an engaged listener is both a gift and a practiced skill that flows through years of discipline.
While I’ve had measured success with therapists of other faith perspectives in the past, I now see a very gifted Christian counselor. He does a tremendous job of patiently and persistently walking with me through the darkness of doubt and confusion and helps me make difficult decisions, leading me with the light of Christ. I particularly appreciate that he prays with me (and for me), not to manipulate my choices, but that God would guide me to moral clarity.
While I believe God may speak through therapists of various faith perspectives, the best work I’ve done has been with therapists who understand my faith story and appreciate how my faith in Christ is an essential resource for my healing. The therapists I’ve had who have viewed my faith as a crutch or even an obstacle have challenged me to examine my beliefs (which is not bad), but have contributed very little to positive therapeutic change.
While some say “change comes from within,” I would contend that this is only true when the Holy Spirit works within us to produce change. The Spirit, who is One with God, is more than just a good therapist. The Holy Spirit is the Great Therapist. Not only does the Spirit listen to our complaints, but always responds with love.
Good earthly therapists lead us to the great heavenly therapist. By entering into our faith story and connecting it to the story of the Gospel, we learn together to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord so we can lead healthier, holier lives.