What Counseling Means To Me

Mental health counseling, psychotherapy-or just counseling- whatever we call it, is so many things. My professors in graduate school taught me that counseling is science and art.  It is a white coat and a paint brush.  It is a personality assessment and a song.  Author Frederick Buechner might add that counseling is secret telling.  I like all of that.  So maybe counseling is the science and art of secret telling.

Without a doubt, though, counseling is conversation.  It is nothing if not conversation.  Counseling is as plain and simple- sometimes as mundane and meandering- as two people telling stories on a bench in Central Park.  But it is, at the same moment, as epic and life-changing as the reconciliation of warring people groups in South Africa.  Counseling is powerful precisely for this reason: it holds together the park bench and the peace talk... in one hour... on a Tuesday afternoon.  Welcome to counseling. And there's more!


Counseling is feeling.  It is corrective emotional experience, Irvin Yalom says.  It is learning to feel, learning to feel anew, or learning to feel for the first time.  It is learning to feel and then suddenly feeling every emotion at the same time.

But counseling is also thinking.  It's slowing down that instinctual, almost primal, emotional process just enough to let 2 + 2 = 4 have a say.

Counseling is learning to walk.  It's learning to use thoughts and feelings together in a fluid motion, like feet moving in tandem.  Left foot.  Right foot.  Left foot.  And suddenly we are walking, we are unstuck- unlodged.  We are FREE.

But there's still more.

Counseling is grieving the past.  It is talking while the tears keep coming and the Kleenex box is empty on the floor.

Counseling is hoping in the future.  It is dreaming out loud.  It is life-sized vision-casting.  It is redemption.

And counseling is looking into the eyes of the present- burning a hole in the terror staring back.

Counseling is growing a little more comfortable with being human, with walking the earth longing for heaven, with attending a funeral and then visiting a maternity ward.

Counseling is relational experimentation.  It is re-parenting, re-friending, re-pastoring; but most of all, it is re-selfing.

Counseling is prayer.  Counseling is listening.  Counseling is silence.  Counseling is being, and being loved while you're just being.


I love counseling.  I believe in counseling.  I believe in counseling because I believe in people.  And I believe in people because I believe in God.  And I believe in God because I believe in the counselor He sent, who died that humanity might find healing- with God, with each other, and with(in) themselves.  Hans Rookmaaker describes the goal of counseling best when he speaks of what Jesus came to do.  “Jesus didn't come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human."  This is my theory of counseling.

- Josh Bales