Reflections for the inner life.
It's wedding season. This translates into a significant increase in the number of couples seeking pre-marriage counseling. One of my goals is to help couples recognize the need for marriage counseling in every season of their relationship.
For couples seeking marriage therapy, it can be overwhelming to know who to choose from. A healthy google search can produce counseling options of every flavor. A counselor's bio or credentials, while important for establishing professional credibility, are not always enough to satisfy our need for some additional assurance.
One third of the change you desire will occur because you just show up to therapy. Another third of the change will rest on your trust in the therapist's ability to guide and help you accomplish the change or outcome you desire. The last third rests on the arduous work you will do in and away from therapy.
Did you catch that? A significant amount of the change in your situation rests on your confidence and trust in the therapist ability to facilitate the process. That's so huge! So I am writing this guide to help you to to navigate your way into a counseling setting that best matches your specific needs and desires.
1. Dig your well before you are thirsty.
The best time to look for a therapist is when you don't need one. Getting established with a therapist you trust in non-critical moments will set the stage for feeling much more grounded in critical moments. It can also help to mitigate a crisis before one even occurs. Many of the staging grounds for a crisis come from some area of neglect in a marriage. By sitting down in those non-critical moments with a marriage therapist, you may actually be able to have those difficult conversations before they become toxic.
2. Ask around.
Google is a powerful search engine but nothing is more powerful than the referral of a trusted friend. I'd begin by asking other couples or a local pastor who they trust to work with couples. Pastors typically triage couples in crisis and wisely refer them to a trusted local marriage therapist. Unless a marriage therapist is new to town, the good ones will have a reputation that precedes them. Here are some things trusted referral sources have had to say about partnering with me...
3. One size does not fit all.
Different kinds of couples have different kinds of needs. Listening to one another's preferences prior to making an appointment will help narrow down your field of options. The wife may prefer to meet with a woman, while the husband may prefer to meet with a man. One couple may need to do some targeted work around communication while another couple may be negotiating a complex trauma or some level of marital infidelity.
4. You don't have to hit bullseye on the first throw.
When you are looking for a marriage therapist there can be a lot of unnecessary pressure to choose the right one on the first visit. We would not walk onto a car lot and buy the first car we see. Why would we trust our most vital earthly relationship with the first visit?
Don't get me wrong, many people do actually find a good therapist on their first visit (after google searching, asking around, discussing therapy needs and goals with their spouse, scheduling an appointment and making the journey across town to their first appointment). It can be done but that is not necessarily the goal.
Sometimes meeting with the "wrong therapist" can set you up to clarify what you really are looking for and needing. Sometimes you know right away if it is a good fit. Other times it may take a couple sessions. Don't be discouraged if you go to three sessions and discern its not the best fit. This is all part of the process of your growth. Meeting with the "wrong therapist" can help you become even more clear about you need. That is growth!
5. Good chemistry matters.
You read earlier that nearly one third of the change you are seeking leans heavily on your trust in the therapist's ability to facilitate your process. This trust includes good chemistry between the two of you. Like any relationship, there will need to be a runway of time together for trust to form and rapport to develop. For some, that first one hour appointment will be enough. For others it may take a little more time.
Three attributes that make all the difference in helping cultivate the rapport that is needed will be the warmth, curiosity and empathy demonstrated by your therapist toward you. While therapy is not designed to always make you feel better, you should experience a growing sense of safety and rapport with your therapist as you begin facing aspects of ourselves that stir up fear, shame, regret, grief, hurt, loneliness and sadness.
What has been helpful for you?
When thinking about launching a counseling practice in Saint Augustine, I tinkered with forming a "brand new thing." That's when a timely conversation with a friend grabbed my attention.
For the last six years, I've been embedded with a counseling practice in Chattanooga that I have watched grow from the ground up from a single therapist to sixteen.
Over ten years later, I am now launching a new initiative with Elbow Tree Florida. As I was toying with whether or not to carry the Elbow Tree torch to Florida from East Tennessee, Greg gave me an image that has really stuck with me.
"You won't be rolling into town alone. You will be traveling into town with the strength of an armada behind you."
This image of connection, communion and commonality resonates deeply.
The human heart is hard wired for connection. In human development, we describe this as the formation of healthy emotional attachments. When there is a wound to attachment in the growing up years, it can greatly impair a person's ability to trust others and limit our assurance of being fully loved.
At some time or another, we will all experience the pain of feeling less loved or desired. Husbands, wives, sons and daughters are all vulnerable to this kind of pain.
"The only thing more painful than pain is being alone in the pain." Over a decade ago, a friend of mine shared these words as an invitation to me into a new kind of friendship with him.
Two years ago, I launched a therapy group for men called TRIBE. My heartbeat is help men find a new way to navigate their anger, fear and pain while exploring in in a context of healthy community how to live more fully from their whole heart.
Men are notorious for isolating themselves when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. I wrote a blog last year called "Every Man Needs a Tribe." I'd highly recommend reading it.
There is this lie that permeates male culture that men must endure emotional pain alone when nearly every other dimension of our lives is marked by traveling in some form of tribe.
Genesis 2:18 and Ecclesiastes 4 unveil God's heart for us.
"It is not good for man to be alone." (Gen. 2:18)
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc. 4)
The invitation into counseling is not to drill on what's wrong with a person, rather it is to explore what is very, very right about you. It is an invitation to experiment with the possibility of being known in ways that will cross-pollinate all of your relationships - with others, with yourself and with God.
Men and women both have an unquestionable need to be known. We were not meant to travel alone in that desire. That longing, often experienced as loneliness, was placed within us by a God who shares a similar longing.
Even God does not live in isolation. No. God's very nature is communal; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. An enduring fellowship whose image we bear as communal creatures.
It can be easy to forget that God is not a singular being. God's invitation to each of us is NOT to become so strong that we do not need others. Instead, we are invited to live, breathe, learn and grow in the context of both human and divine connection.
There is no special guarantee that traveling in community will rescue you from pain. But once again, the only thing more painful than pain is being in pain alone.
May you travel with the strength and power of an armada.
Two years ago, I went to see The Revenant in the movie theatre with some friends.. I sat on the edge of my seat from the moment the film opened until the credits rolled as I watched this semi-biographical (aka mostly true) story of Hugh Glass unfold..
What struck me most was the resilience of the Hugh G;lass. He endured staggering life threatening circumstances out on the frontier as an experienced fur trapper.
Any one of these experiences would have been sufficient to kill a man, yet he survived;
Hugh Glass is "the revenant."
The official definition is "a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead." In more modern terms, we might say, he is resilient.
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as, "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences."
Several years ago while serving a non-profit in Chattanooga, I was introduced to the work of the Search Institute. Over two days we were trained in the 40 Developmental Assets.
"Search Institute has identified the key building blocks of healthy development—known as Developmental Assets—that help young children grow up healthy, caring, and responsible."
The more of these assets a young person possesses correlates to their flourishing later in life and less likely they are to out in a wide range of high risk behaviors.
As adults, we are each individually charged with our ongoing lifelong development of resilience in several key areas; emotional, spiritual, relational and financial.
According to Search Institute, the majority of these assets that we need are linked to the community around us. If a community embraces serving as a catalyst for investing itself in the lives of young people, the greater likelihood it will have forming strong resilient adults.
Resilient adults are most often formed in intentional community.
For the last few years, I have been getting together monthly with a couple other men. Since the film's release, we have referred to our gathering as "The Revenant."
Our hope is to lift up a spirit of resilience as husbands, fathers and business owners in some specific key areas of our character. We discuss character threats that seek to wipe us out. We believe that resilience is best formed in the context of healthy community and authentic connection.
In 2008, a friend invited me to read a book with him called "Deadly Viper Character Assassins." Mike Foster and Judd Wilhite have identirtied 7 deadly character assassins where adults must develop durable character resilience;
1. Careless Decisions
2. Unhealthy Emotions
3. Toxic Busyness
4. Self Deception
5. Sexual Temptation
In my work with adolescents and families over the last 20 years, these seven areas seem to be most reflected in what brings clients into counseling.
When people experience some brokenness or fallout in any one of these areas, the key to resilience is what Mike Foster describes that we need a way to recover.
Mike Foster recommends that when we experience a setback of any kind we must;
(1) Admit it authentically.
(2) Amend it adequately.
(3) Get back to work.
ARTICLES PROMOTING RESILIENCE :
10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People
5 Steps to Help Build Emotional Resilience
10 Ways to Boost Your Emotional Resilience
The Road to Resilience
Developmental Assets - Discovering What Kids Need to Succeed
Why Is Spiritual Growth Often Seen As Backsliding
Elbow Tree Christian Counseling