tunnel, man, counselling, shame

Removing Shame From Counselling

Why does our world place such judgment on the act of seeing a counsellor? This is something that has been on my mind lately, as more and more people I know are choosing to attend counselling, whether it be due to depression, anxiety, heartbreak, or even to gain a new and different perspective on life. For many, speaking to a counsellor provides a “tune-up;” the opportunity to process life and all of the ups and downs that come with it. For others, it is an act of survival as a counsellor is the only person they have that they can share the burdens of their heart and mind with. Why then is there such a stigma around it?

Mental illness is a topic that tends to make people uncomfortable. It’s scary, challenging, heartbreaking, and can either tear families apart or bring them closer together. That’s the reality. In 2010, Bell Let’s Talk began to take shape, allowing for there to be a platform for an open discussion about mental illnesses- whatever they may be. In a time when no one was talking about mental health, celebrities and sporting icons began to stand before the very people who put them on their pedestals, and shared their history with mental illness. It was a discussion that made people feel uncomfortable and for a good reason. Now it is one that has opened up ways for people to share what is going on inside their heads and their hearts, whether or not they have been diagnosed with a mental illness. It opened the way for society as a whole to begin to share struggles, worries, thoughts, concerns and find solidarity and peace in knowing that they are not alone.

What is incredible to see is that more and more people are choosing to attend counselling, not because they have been forced to but because they recognize that it helps to process life with someone; with a person who can provide guidance and wisdom. To help them move from a place of shame to a place of acceptance, and hopefully a place of joy.

It’s a Relationship

It’s not an easy task to seek counselling as it requires us to be vulnerable and to allow a stranger (generally) into the inner workings of our minds. It is a relationship that has to be established and worked on, just as any other relationship.

In my fourth year of university, I sought out a counsellor. Before my first session, I found myself wondering what would happen if anyone knew that I was seeing a “mental health professional.” I was secretly thanking the founders of the program for putting the Mental Health Clinic in the basement of one of the buildings on campus. Needless to say, my shame entered the room before I ever did. After my third meeting with the campus counsellor, she turned to me and said, “You have make-up on, you are showered and wearing clean clothes, and you are sitting in front of me. You don’t need counselling. You’re fine.”

Fine?! I had to disagree… Everything within me wanted to yell and scream at the lady sitting across from me; the person who was blatantly sitting in judgment, just as I was sitting in judgement against myself. Instead, I got up and left. If shame had come into the room, shame left with me as well.

It wasn’t until two years later that I attended another counselling session. I wasn’t happy about it, and my family and the counsellor knew it full well. My second counsellor, however, saw the shame and hurt and judgement that I was carrying and helped me to see depression as not something that defines me, but as something that I can walk through with the help of others. Shame was still there, but it began to wither with every session.

I’ve shared this story because not every counselling “relationship” is going to be the best one for you. There will be some counsellors who understand what you are experiencing right off the bat and will fruitfully speak into your life. And there will be some that will make snap judgments about who you are and what you need. You can even choose to reach out to a counsellor who shares your beliefs about God, or one that doesn’t, depending on what you feel is best for you. Seeking counsel from someone should not be a “clinical” experience, but a “relational” one instead.

Christians Need Counselling? Yes! 

Now, some people believe that mental illness (whatever that may be) is not something that a Christian will ever have to deal with. There is a belief that attending counselling is not of God, because “if we truly had faith and brought all concerns to Christ, we would be healed and set free.” What’s the issue with this rhetoric? The Bible encourages the act of seeking out and welcoming counselling, mental illness or not. In Ancient Israel, the term counsellor was used to describe a wise king who guided his people. It was also used to describe Jesus, as found in Isaiah 9:6, when it says,

“For to us, a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In the book of Proverbs, many verses encourage us to seek counsel (or advice) from someone, as we are not given a book that has all of the answers. Proverbs 11:14 even says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counsellors there is safety.”

How many people in the Bible sought advice, asked questions, sat in silence and absorbed the wisdom of those more knowledgeable than them? What would the timeline of human history have looked like if no one sought counsel, but instead relied upon their own understanding? It would be unrecognizable.

There is no shame in attending counselling. There is no shame in saying, “I need advice. I need to process life with someone.” There is no shame in being a Christian who needs to speak with a counsellor. God created us to be in community with one another and to experience the sorrows and joys of life with those around us. This becomes pretty impossible to do if we let shame keep us from seeking out this community, whether it is a counsellor, a friend, or a loved one.

Psalm 103:14 says it perfectly. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” God knows our weaknesses and He knows our struggles, but He also knows that through Him and the guidance of others, we can be more than the dust that we were created from.