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Should I Go To Counseling?

Whether or not to go to counseling is often a really hard decision to make. Even as a mental health therapist who has been in the field for a while, it’s not lost on me that some social stigma remains about the idea of seeking therapeutic help. Additionally, at the heart of most of us (Americans) is typically this “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that seems counter to the therapy process. The people I meet with have already dealt with the internal struggle of whether or not to reach out for counseling support. But I still hear a lot of objections on a regular basis. Here are a few reasons why people wrestle with starting the therapy journey:

“Are you sure you reeeeeeally need it?”

Ok. Maybe. Maybe you don’t reeeeeeally need it. Maybe it would just be Helpful to you. Is that enough? Also, who reeeeeeally needs it? How bad off does a person have to get before they meet that criteria? Isn’t prevention the best cure?

“I can just deal with it on my own.”

Here’s the deal: you don’t get a medal for not asking for help. What you get is a longer, slower journey that could’ve been dealt with months or even years ago, but you decided that you weren’t going to ask anyone else to help you process through this. Can you deal with it on your own? Maybe. But why should you have to?

“I am not really the therapy type.”

You… Oh you! And your specialness! See above. 🙂
But also, since this is my own blog, I feel free to toot my own horn here. I’m the QUEEN of clients who “aren’t really the therapy type.” I’m honestly one of the least “shrinky” shrinks out there! I’d let my former clients attest to this, but it’s unethical to ask for therapy reviews. You’ll just have to take my word for it. If there’s anyone who you would possibly not hate having to go talk to in therapy, it’s probably me. 🙂

“It’s in the past. What’s the point of dragging it back up?”

This one is slightly tricky because it sounds rational. It actually falls into the category of minimization of your pain, and the expectation that you’re a super human who shouldn’t have ongoing effects of difficult life events. I always say, negative emotions will find their way to the surface one way or another. If you let them choose how they come out, it will be in the least convenient way possible. You’re better off bringing your stuff to the light and dealing with it head-on, processing and healing as the need dictates, rather than attempting to stuff it down deep.

“I don’t need counseling…I have God/Prayer/The Bible/My Church/Etc.”

You do have those things. You totally do. And where would we be without them? Counseling doesn’t diminish your ability to utilize those gifts in any way. Think about it like this: we’ve all sat through sermons that were less than awesome simply because someone was “pinch hitting” for your regular pastor. And then the next Sunday, you think, “Wow, I’m so glad Pastor So-and-So is back!” because your pastor is gifted at what he does and specially equipped by God for that task. The same is true for counselors. As a Christian, I believed I am called and equipped for this role, and it is my gift from God to give back to the body (and to people who do not practice their faith as well, as God’s gifts are for everyone to benefit from). You’re gifted, too. But this is my gift to the community and there’s something to be said about going to the right person for the job and not expecting all your needs to be met through your normal outlets.

“I went to therapy before and it just wasn’t that helpful.”

This may legitimately be the case. I’m sorry you had a less than stellar experience. There’s somebody for everyone, but apparently you didn’t find your right therapeutic “somebody” yet. I can’t guarantee that it’s me, but if you come and don’t think I’m the right fit for you, I’ll gladly make some referrals based on your preferences and goals. Also, I am working on a blog that I’ll post soon on how to pick the right therapist for you, so check back soon for more on this topic.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to find out./My family is really against counseling.” 

Comments like this really tug at my heart because they’re laced inextricably with shame. Come, my sweet friend, and let’s sift this out together. It’s ok to be human. Be the first one in your family to take this healing step and watch as health unfolds around you.

“Things aren’t THAT bad, are they?”

This is usually spoken by a spouse who is less than thrilled at the prospect of attending marriage therapy. Sometimes this person doesn’t want to be “found out” for his/her behavior. Other times it’s more about not wanting to hear how he/she is “failing” the marriage. But all of the time, statements like this are based in fear. Don’t let fear of being seen hold you back. Call fear a chump and remember that there are better days ahead than any you’ve left behind. Often, the only path forward is taking what’s been hidden and bringing it to the light. Healing takes place in the light, and it’s never too late (or too early) to start on the road to a healthier, brighter tomorrow. Everyone deserves a marriage that is full of connection and fulfillment.

“I would go to counseling, but it’s my wife/husband/son/boss/mom who really needs it.”

That *might* be true. If that’s the case, then you at least need help figuring out your boundaries and roles in your most difficult and important relationships in life. We all have people we wish we could hog tie, throw in the back of our truck and leave them on the therapist’s doorstep like a big, dysfunctional present. Short of that, we have to figure out a way to be in relationship with them and not lose our minds, our identities or our resolve. It’s ok to come in and seek help as a “therapeutic bridge” even if the other party is unwilling to join you at this time.

If you have any reason for not coming to therapy that isn’t listed above, I’d love for you to email it to me! If you know you’d like to attend therapy but there’s some other reason holding you back, we can discuss it here or you may find additional therapeutic help through my resource page until such a time that therapy is a more viable option for you.

And as always, if you’d like to discuss this topic (or any other), I’d love to meet with you in one of my offices: Denham Springs, Walker or Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

What Chip and Joanna Gaines Can Teach Us About Our Calling in Life

It’s May again and we all know what that means. ‘Tis the season of graduation. A time for stressing out and searching for God’s will for your life. (Jokes…kinda.)

Whether you’ve been out of school for a while or you’ve just crossed the finish line, finding your place in this world (yes, that was a Michael W. Smith reference) can be frustrating and confusing to say the least. It’s a crossroads of life that is so easy to over-complicate, over-spiritualize, and over-analyze. What if there was an easier way to get clarity? While some people have callings that maximize our weaknesses (think: Moses, the stutterer, leading a nation…before social media could disseminate a message in milliseconds), most of us will find that our strengths, our gut/instincts and people who care about us are God-given guides to lead us towards the way we can be most engaged in uncovering the Kingdom of God on earth.
Have no fear! Chip and Joanna Gaines are here! 
If you don’t know who this sweet couple is, you’re missing out. They are an uber talented construction/interior design duo with a plethora of other entrepreneurial endeavors, some great kids, a rich faith, and, oh yeah…their own reality TV show on HGTV. And while I honestly think that there’s nothing worse than being a famous Christian, they somehow seem to be handling it all in stride.
What can we learn about “calling” and finding our niche from the incredibly creative and hilarious Gaineses?
Take stock in what makes you come alive and figure out a way to make a living doing that. 
Chip and JoJo have found their lane. They know what they’re good at and what they’re not so good at. Taking inventory of your strengths and weaknesses should be one of your first steps in uncovering what your calling in life is.
Questions for reflection: What do you do that seems to be easier to you than most other people? What is it that you consistently get positive feedback on? What did you want to do when you were younger? What do you still like about that? Check out Strengths Finders if you’re still having trouble pin-pointing what you’re good at. (Pro-tip: Don’t buy it used, because there’s an assessment measurement code that can’t be reused.)
Work your tail off. Malcolm Gladwell sites 10,000 hours as the threshold for excellence in fine-tuning your craft. Do the math. That’s a long time! Chip and Joanna didn’t just stumble into their success. They’ve been honing their skills for close to 20 years, full-time, before their business exploded. Never under-estimate the season of life where you learn, learn, learn some more, try, fail, figure out what you don’t know, succeed and repeat. Not only are your skills grown and mastered in this season, your character is grown as well. Good character and hard work will always have a payoff in this life and in the one to come. Check out a post of mine about “How to Give A Rip” if you’re struggling in this area.
Find the spiritual in the mundane. What if the sacred/secular divide is totally made up? Q: If anything (legal) done to the best of your ability is an embodiment of the glory of God, what possibilities does that open up for you? A: Tons.
There are lots of ways to let the kingdom come near. Don’t over-spiritualize so much that you miss the obvious. Jesus did manual labor (carpentry) to the glory of God. That’s how the son of God spent close to 15 years of his life. Why? Because anything done to the best of your ability is an embodiment of the glory of God.
Chip and Joanna don’t do anything particularly spiritual for a living. They build and design to the best of their abilities, taking created elements and revealing their beauty…bringing order out of chaos and revealing the heart of God, the most creative one of all. Even if they didn’t hold a marriage discipleship clinic on the sly in their show (which is so awesome, by the way), they still reveal the heart of God to the world because they unveil beauty, creativity, form, function, design, ingenuity and all these elements that God so deeply loves. (For more thoughts on this topic of work in terms of the kingdom of God, check out John Mark Comer.)
The bottom line about finding your calling is this: don’t stress out about it. God knows how to communicate with you. He made you. He’s just as intentional about what he reveals as what he withholds. God gave you a lot of practical tools to discover what makes you come alive and anything done to the best of your ability brings glory to God and advances the kingdom. Enjoy the ride, as it’s the journey, not only the destination that counts.
I absolutely love talking about career counseling in therapy session! If this is a topic that interests you or someone you love, or it would be helpful for you to talk through the topic with an uninvolved third party, please contact me and let’s set up a time to meet together at my office in Baton Rouge, Walker, or Denham Springs, Louisiana.

Getting Your Groove Back: The Restorative Power of JOY

Kids playing in the surf at a beach near Algeciras in Southern Spain

Over the past few years, my husband and I been on the receiving end of some hard circumstances. The word “heaviness” comes to mind. None of it has been beyond the scope of what most people experience, but at times it has seemed to be one thing after another. You’re reading this and thinking, “Totally…me too.” or even “Allison, You have No Idea.”  I know you understand where I’m coming from because we all go through seasons like that.

You won’t ever get me to give up the hope that nothing hard in life is wasted (see 2 Corinthians 4:17 and Romans 5:3-5 just to site a few of Paul’s writings on the topic). Honestly, I hold on to that truth with such tenacity that to remove it would be removing a large part of who I am. And I hope you know by now that just because I believe sufferings aren’t wasted, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to grieve/mourn even small losses in your daily life. (See my posts on Embracing the Freedom of AND and Riding the Roller Coaster for more on this topic of processing the losses of life). However, the question for today is this: After the tough time has subsided…then what?

Remember what you love. One of the perks of living in south Louisiana is that you’re only a few hours away from some really great beaches. And, we are Beach People. The waves, the sand, the good vibes, the sun…we love it all! Chad loves being (literally) tossed around by big waves. It awakens a part of him like nothing else can. Along with the beach, I love: eating at nice restaurants, hanging out with old friends, being on my “queenie” float in the pool, driving with the sunroof open, great music and vanilla Dr. Pepper from Sonic.
What are the things you love? What are the things that you used to love but have forgotten about? Make a list and do each thing! When we engage in things we love, it has a way of reigniting joy, and blowing the cobwebs out of the deep parts of your soul.

Laugh. Laughter requires but two things: being present in the moment and a light heart. When you laugh, you are throwing care to the side, if even for a moment. What makes you laugh the hardest? When you’re coming out of a hard season, it’s important to remind every part of you that you’re still ok: body, mind and soul. What better way to communicate that to your depths than to laugh? By way of recommendation, here is the funniest book I’ve read in quite a while. And may I recommend the TV shows “Life in Pieces,” “The Goldbergs” and “The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt” for your viewing pleasure.

Play. Playfulness between people who love each other is one of my favorite things about life. Play combines a lot of the activities listed above, but it’s important enough to get it’s own bullet. If you only knew how hard I play on a daily basis, you’d probably quit taking me seriously! If I love you, I pick at you, and make you an unwitting partner in a game I just made up, jump out and scare you, sing you a theatrical song…the list only gets longer and more embarrassing from here. I love the spontaneity and movement that play requires. For me, play unlocks JOY and I personally cannot sustain too many days in a row without joy.

Rest. I’ve been reading an awesome book lately on work and rest called, “Garden City” and have told many of my clients about it already. Rest is an overlooked and undervalued part of our culture. To truly engage in rest, you have to believe that God is at work on your behalf even when you’re not hustling. Nothing fills our tanks back up like unplugging from the rat-race and trusting that everything is going to be A-OK. This requires proper perspective on your small role and God’s big role in the world. As John Ortberg says, “sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”

Today, I hope you engage in what makes your soul come alive. Remember JOY. Trust. And most of all, don’t forget…This is supposed to be FUN.

What I Wish I Would’ve Known: Thoughts On Singleness from A Marriage Therapist

My husband and I didn’t get married until I was 28 years old. To some single folks, that probably sounds young. To others, 28 may sound old! What’s true is that I had a solid 10 years of living out from under my parents’ roof and “adulting” under my belt before marriage.

As someone who spends much of her time with couples in crisis, you might assume that I’d be a little gun-shy about love and marriage. But…you’d be wrong. I love love! I wish that everybody (who wants to) would find an awesome person with whom to share his or her life. I don’t think marriage is the biggest deal in life, but if it’s something that you desire, I desire it for you, too. Lots of clients have come to me over the years for help with issues pertaining to singleness and truthfully it’s one of my favorite topics to discuss. Some feel unsure about what to do with their time while they’re waiting and others are confused as to how to transition from singleness to marriage. Being a Christian and single has its own complicating factors, so “theology of dating” often an aspect of counseling as well.

Listen, I am the first to say that I don’t have all the answers, and everyone’s story is vastly different. But as for me, the following is a list of some of the things I wish I would have understood about love and marriage when I was single.

  1. Live your life. As mentioned above, I didn’t get married until I was a few months shy of 29. One thing I felt like I handled pretty well when I was single is that I didn’t live as if my life was waiting to happen when I met the right person. I picked a profession and pursued it. I served on mission trips. I found out things I was good at and things I was less-than-awesome at. I laughed and learned and talked out the finer points of life and theology with dear friends like Christian women tend to do. I bought a house. I wish I would have traveled more. One thing I did not do: wait for a spouse to kick start my adult life. Bonus: having a full and fun life is an attractive trait.
  2. Own your desire to be in a relationship. If you have a desire for something that is upheld as good and beautiful all throughout scripture…own it. God is into marriage. Don’t feel ashamed about wanting to be married! Own it. Make yourself available to it. Let other people know that you’re interested in being in a relationship. Something currently happening in Christian culture that I don’t understand is how some people think the right move is to try to convince yourself (and others) that you don’t want to get married…that you’re “totally satisfied with God alone” and only when all your satisfaction is in Him will God bring you someone to marry. (Aside: Some people are totally satisfied without a romantic relationship, And they’re called to celibacy and special service! If this is you, more power to you. There’s literally nothing wrong with that,but this blog post is not geared towards you,) I could unpack this a ton more, but the short version is that Adam hooked up with Eve before the Fall, and that need for a partner wasn’t looked down on by God. It was His idea! Lots of people think or say they’re open to a relationship, but they truly come from a place of “no” and a posture that comes across like defensiveness when it comes to dating out of fear of devastation, fear of how other’s perceive them, or elevated expectations. Love is risk and you can’t get around that. But there’s a far cry between desiring something and being perceived as “desperate.”
  3. Consider your logistics. I’ve often heard it said that if you are following God, you will basically trip over your soon-to-be spouse. While I don’t disagree with that sentiment entirely (and it totally happens for some people), I don’t think it’s ungodly to make changes in your life to position yourself better to “increase your odds.” Certainly, there are a lot of factors in finding someone with whom to spend your life. One component that I think is overlooked often because it’s not inherently spiritual is this concept of “odds.” You’ve gotta put yourself in a position to where you’re meeting new people so that you can increase your odds of finding your partner. If you don’t put gas in your car, it won’t start. If you don’t send out resumes and go to job interviews, you’re probably not going to get a new job. Why would we expect finding a spouse to work completely differently? To this end, I support making changes in your life to increase the odds of meeting someone who seems like a God-given right fit for you. Change your routine, change where you hang out, change your gym…do what you can do to widen the list of prospects. (Yes this may include online dating. Why are people so hung up about that? Talk to me about your reasons not to.)
  4. It’s not you…it’s them. Some mildly humorous person somewhere coined the phrase, “Are you single for a season or single for a reason?” But I fully believe that sometimes the reason you’re single is because you haven’t met the right person at the right time. It may have been the right person, but not the right time. Or maybe it was the right time but the wrong person. Either way, hearing a “no” from God or circumstance can be really clarifying, so appreciate the shut door, don’t over-analyze it, and move on. Don’t get too much in your own head about it. Keep being awesome. It’ll come.
  5. Well…actually, it might be you…a little bit. “I just haven’t found the right person yet.” You’re right. It might be everyone else as to the reason you’re still single. But let’s be honest: it might be you.
    One time, after listening to yet another story of me giving some poor guy a hard time (communicating like a dude to dudes…not my best tactic), my dad suggested, “you know Allison…you might think about being a little bit nicer to some of these guys.” I quickly shot down his suggestion, insisting that “the guy who is right for me will be man enough to take it.” Ok. Maybe. But also…why should he have to? And would he actually want to? Cousins with this idea is the line of “I don’t need to take care of myself physically/wear make up/wash my clothes. The person I’m supposed to be with will love me for me!” I’m all about unconditional love and support. But I also fully support putting your best foot forward in every way so as to let your inward awesomeness be reflected on the outside.
    Now hear me on this: the last thing I want for you is to be paranoid about this point. Continue pray and ask God for a sanctifying work in your life as it pertains to your relationships with the opposite sex. Listen for feedback about how you interact with females/males from people who love you and know you well. If you think you consistently fall into the same traps, it would be worth it to pursue some short term counseling to gain some perspective leading to transformation.
  6. “There’s nothing going on until it comes out of his mouth.” We’ve all been in the “grey zone” of confusion where you’re unsure if you’re just hanging out or dating. Especially when opposite sex friendships are so prevalent (and can be totally great and healthy in some instances…when neither is attracted towards the other), things can get confusing. The best thing to do here is to address the topic directly. If neither of you have brought it up, be the first to ask a brief, clarifying question. If the interest isn’t reciprocated, and you think you can maintain the friendship, go for it. If you can’t maintain the friendship without holding out hope for more, it’s time to implement some boundaries. If you’re interested in getting married, there’s no need to put a lot of time and emotional energy into a relationship where it has been clearly stated that there’s no interest. A clear “no” is a gift, if given enough time.
  7. Don’t be too narrow in what you’re looking for. “I’m just super picky.” The type of man I was looking for when I was single is not the type of man I ended up marrying. And, for this grace, I am eternally thankful. I didn’t know what I truly needed, I just knew what sounded good to me, and what cool Christians I respected talked about wanting or having. But neither of those viewpoints accurately reflected what was God’s best for me. And I’m very glad I allowed myself the space and time necessary to “test the waters” with my now husband, and determine that what he brought to the table was what I truly needed to balance me out and walk the path of sanctification. You don’t marry an idea…you marry a person. So leave room for the possibility that you may not know exactly what’s best for you. It could be the best thing you were ever wrong about!

I started off this post by stating “if you desire to be married, then I desire it for you, too.” This is honestly one of my favorite topics to address in counseling because it is one of those issues where so much improvement is available when it’s brought to the light of day. The topic of singleness/marriage is often wrought with thoughts and feelings about yourself, with God or with the opposite sex that, when examined with a therapist or other trusted person, finally have the chance to get healthy and balanced, and can lead you to a place of abundance and freedom.

God wants to use everything in our lives to reveal us more and more clearly as being made in His image. I don’t have it all figured out but I’d love to join you as you press into how this issue works for you. 

If you’re in Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, or Walker, Louisiana and want to discuss this topic or another, I’m easy to reach!