Five things to do when you enter counseling


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I have written posts previously about counseling myths, how to spot a bad counselor, and my “full immersion” approach to counseling (as a client). In this post I want to help you get through the first few weeks of counseling.

1. Celebrate what you have done, and keep at it

Once you have taken that step and called to make your first appointment, realize how far you have already come. Think how unwilling you probably were not long ago to even consider counseling, much less believe you actually might benefit from it! It is this openness that will be the main factor in the progress you will continue to make, and you have already seen it in action. Hang onto that openness.

2. Do your paperwork

I have heard people say, “I didn’t do anything in my first session but answer questions and fill out forms.” If a counselor mails or emails you some paperwork to do, do it as thoroughly and conscientiously as possible and bring it with you to the session. Consider asking if you can scan and email it to the counselor in advance. Attend to this formality and it will be more more likely that you will be able to jump quickly into what is bothering you, perhaps even in the first session. If your counselor insists on spending the first session or two on intake (questions, paperwork, your psychological and perhaps medical history, etc.), that is okay.

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Can you define what a healthy relationship is?

young couple, healthy relationship

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What is a healthy relationship?

It seems like an easy question to answer, but there are thousands of people who would be stumped by it. Many have never seen a healthy relationship, don’t know anyone who has one, and certainly never experienced one for themselves.

Are you one of those people?

A healthy relationship is one where two healthy and whole human beings are attracted to one another and choose one another as companions on life’s journey.

This is a simple, boiled-down definition, but it has a few important implications:

1. A relationship, by definition, can only be as healthy as the individuals in it. Two broken, needy, insecure, and/or immature individuals cannot “complete” one another. When they form a relationship, they will both end up with twice the brokenness, neediness, insecurity, and/or immaturity they had before.

2. The individuals in a healthy relationship do not need each other. Each of them is a whole person by themselves. They come together not out of need, but simply because they enjoy each other’s company and want to spend life together. This is why I use the word “choose” in my definition of a healthy relationship. Only healthy people are truly free to choose one another. Broken people always think they are choosing, but they are driven by their emptiness and deep need for the other person. “I need you,” as romantic as it sounds, actually means, “I am not free to choose not to be with you.”

3. When one person in a relationship believes they are healthy and whole, but that the person they are with is broken, it is almost certainly the case that the first person is not healthy and whole. Healthy and whole people rarely choose unhealthy and broken people as partners. Brokenness is obvious to them, and is a turnoff.

4. Broken people, however, will be deeply attracted to other broken people. To a broken person, brokenness in others feels like love. They will mistake their partner’s jealousy, neediness, dominance, sometimes even aggression and violence, for love. And they will mistake their own craving and neediness to be with the other person as love. These are all signs of brokenness.

5. The work of saving a broken relationship is always the work of the broken individuals becoming healthy and whole. As that happens, the relationship will naturally begin to heal. It is next to impossible for broken people to be in a healthy relationship, and it is just as unlikely that whole people will be in a broken relationship. The only exception to this is when a broken person in a broken relationship finally sees their brokenness clearly and does what must be done to become whole.

6. Very young people can be healthy, but are rarely whole. To be whole is to have a full sense of one’s self as an individual. When very young people marry, they essentially end up raising each other, and their process of becoming whole individuals is seriously complicated. This is why marriages between partners who married young often end in divorce.

Question: How have you seen these ideas in action in your own life, both for better and for worse? Leave a thought or two in the comment section!

Avoiding a Muffin-Top Life

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The Muffin Top — Self Absorption

I realized this morning that I have become self-absorbed. When I first got sick a few weeks ago, it was all about having “time for myself” and wanting to rest and recover fully and not being burdened by the expectations of others. Somewhere along the way, that became complete absorption with myself, until my issues, my struggles, and my life just began to build up and spill over the healthy limits normally set for them like a muffin top on my life. I didn’t do it on purpose. In fact I was just trying to follow doctor’s orders and take my recovery seriously.

This has happened before, at other times when I have been sidelined by my MS and its challenges. It begins with some significant life event that, in itself, feels — at least initially — like a sacred experience. Bad health has a certain seriousness to it, and I experience that seriousness as sacredness — a time when I can get quiet and draw near to God. Only I very easily may not. I might just sit around watching a lot of television, feeling overwhelmed, and waiting to get better. In fact that has often been the pattern for me.

Letting it all go

This manifests itself in a complete abandonment of any schedule whatsoever. I stay up too late, eat too much, watch too much TV, sit too much and, in this case, probably spend way too much time online. Muffin top. This naturally spirals into depression at some point. I almost completely neglect the disciplines of my normal life such as time set aside for quietness, meditation, and spiritual reading. I feel like I”m “on vacation” only it’s a really terrible, self-indulgent vacation.

Reigning in the Muffin Top

There are certain things we (you and I) do in life not because we must but because they frame our lives properly and become containers for all the other things. If you wish to avoid a muffin-top life, then no matter how sick you are or what else is going on, there must be a core set of practices you essentially stick with. Below I am going to list what I will do to avoid a muffin-top life.

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When Is It Okay to Give Up?

Many people have complimented me on my courage and persistence lately, as I continue to struggle with my MS. The question though, really, is what is the alternative? Is it some great virtue that I refuse to cop an attitude and grow whiny and ask “why me” every five minutes? In the face of a huge challenge like this disease, when exactly is it okay to give up? Is there a point where that could ever be rational?

Let’s start with the facts. I have a disease for which there is no cure. Everything happening in my body right now is completely beyond my control, which is to say there is nothing that I can directly do about it. Even nutrition and my daily injections will do nothing at all to modify the outcome of this current flareup. This adds up to one thing: powerlessness. My chosen coping methods (praying, meditating, and staying in the present moment) make a huge difference in my attitude, but are not treatments for the disease itself.

Given this basic state of powerlessness, the question is whether hanging in there, or giving up, is the best thing to do. I think, frankly, the situation calls for both.

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