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The Beauty of Together

The Beauty of Together: The importance of face-to-face therapy in an era when technology is king.

Recently I saw a commercial which featured famed Olympic athlete Michael Phelps talking about his transformative experience in counseling. It’s truly a remarkable plug for therapy coming from such a prominent figure. He states something to the effect of: his success wasn’t enough. He was unhappy. He needed to get out of his own head and learn to truly connect with those around him. Beautiful. Awesome. I love this message so much!

The commercial was actually for an app-based therapy service where you can pay a flat fee per week and instantly have access to a licensed therapist at your finger tips through messages or video. (And for the record, Mr. Phelps didn’t say whether he used this method of therapy vs. a traditional therapy model.)

You’re never going to hear me discourage anyone from getting the help they need, by whatever form they have access to. I’m sure for some, an app-based therapy service is a wonderful means for therapeutic support. But I think we need to be careful when considering options that further encourage our connection to the outside world to be primarily through our smart phones.

The research is clear that our connection with our smart phones and particularly our connections with each other through social media lead to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s this simple: unfettered access to unlimited people on our electronic devices is not the answer to our deepest needs for connection and closeness. What we all need to feel truly known and connected is to put down our phones and connect with those around us.

Therapy is no different. There is no substitute for a face-to-face connection in therapy.

Here are seven truths worth considering when it comes to face-to-face therapy:

  1. The relationship itself is healing.
    Despite what therapy model a therapist uses (and I have written about my preferred models here) a degree of healing, freedom, and forward progress comes through your connection with your therapist. This is why I always say in intake sessions, “sometimes finding the right therapist for you can feel a bit like test-driving cars. If, after this session, for whatever reason you feel like you’re ready for therapy but you’re not sure if I’m the right fit for you, then I’ll work with you to find someone who would better meet your needs.” The quality of the connection between you and your therapist goes a long way to foster health and healing in the therapy process.
  2. When you’re really upset, you are probably going to want someone in the room.
    One thing that’s unusual about being a therapist is that people cry with me…a lot. Having someone stay present with you in your pain can be really validating. Someone else is seeing first hand the hurt you’ve experienced. It’s remarkable what healing a silent presence can bring to deep sorrow. And I’m not talking about the silence of your phone between text alerts.
  3. Many issues aren’t safe to handle over the phone. For therapists, the safety of the people we work with is priority. The reality is that safety issues regarding mental health and physical health may need to be addressed with some clients. There are certain safety precautions that simply can not be provided when you’re not in the same room as someone.
  4. A therapist models healthy interaction with others. A common reason people present for counseling is anxiety, specifically social anxiety. While doing the work of therapy, a good therapist will be demonstrating first hand what healthy and proper connection with others looks like: listening skills, attunement cues, body language, proper question asking, and more. To experience a reduction in anxiety while in the presence of another live human goes a long way in overcoming social anxiety. The same can be said for depression. The therapy room functions as a safe place to try new things socially which can result in a boost of confidence as well as a reduction of symptoms.
  5. There is value in actually getting dressed and having some place to be.
    While having a therapy session in your pj’s may sound inviting to some, for those struggling with depression for instance, there is intrinsic value in having something to do that will get you outside of our isolation, even if just for an hour.
  6. A lot goes on in the therapy room that can be missed on the screen.
    Body language, quick glances to others, etc. as well as physical signs of health or lifestyle. If you’re a hundred pounds over weight, this is an important thing for your therapist to know and see. Does a client appear bored in session? Is the client subtly laughing at something they said to the therapist? Turning red? Breathing quickly like they’re starting to get nervous? I need to observe that and respond accordingly. You can’t always trust people to report that accurately or even to know that type of physiological or non-verbal sign needs to be reported to a therapist.
  7. Your story deserves to be experienced, not just read or heard through a medium.
    Our wounds occur in relationships. Our healing comes through relationships as well. And our deep hurts and negative experiences deserve more than a technology-based therapy process. They deserve face to face, eyeball to eyeball, soul to soul care and connection.

As stated above, my intention is never to discourage anyone from getting the help that they have access to. If you live in a remote location or have some sort of extenuating circumstance, a media-based therapy relationship may best fit your needs. But for the rest of us, there is no substitute for face-to-face connection. We don’t need more media based relationships through our phones. We are all desiring and deserving to be known in person!

If you’re ready for a face-to-face therapeutic relationship, contact me today! Offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

Be Kind to Your Hurt Places

Be Kind to Your Hurt Places

I don’t know about you, but I have several situations, both in my personal life and my professional life, that are simply in the midst of hard times. They are situations that are not “good” yet. Healing hasn’t fully occurred (or even begun in some situations). The pain is still ongoing. Confusion is still abundant. People are still in the thick of it.

Part of my own work is to learn to be kind to my hurt places. It’s so tempting to want to rush to the resolution; to find the silver lining; to white knuckle ourselves into being on the other side of the pain.

The problem with that is, it’s not very honoring to our wounds when we suppress the negative emotions just to feel better. And what is more, I think we kid ourselves if we think our suppression of these emotions won’t crop up in some other unhealthy or maladaptive way in our life. Suppression always has a hidden cost.

Sometimes though, things are so bad that it’s not even possible to minimize the hurt.

For times like these, we need to sit in our hurt and honor the brokenness that is there. It takes a lot of courage and it can be very scary to feel that. But it’s the only way to true wholeness. While we don’t need to let emotions be our master, we have to listen to them for guidance. I’m not even sure that there are “negative” emotions as much as they are all just created equally, and we need to feel all of them in order to be whole. There are some emotions that are easier to feel that others, but all emotions were created by God, so they are all important for us to acknowledge and experience. We need to be ok with our humanity and part of that is learning how to accept being in process; not rushing past the “negative” to find the resolution.

I can’t get these two bible verses out of my mind. Part A (in bold below) of the verse is just as true and scriptural as Part B. While the whole verse represents the entirety of the truth that the author is trying to convey, it’s helpful to just pause before rushing to the end.

Psalm 34:19

A righteous man may have many troubles (but the Lord delivers him from them all).

Psalm 71:20

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter (you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up).

If you don’t take a pause to feel the weight of Part A, Part B just feels cheap, powerless and almost like a taunt to our pain. Part A can bring up more questions than answers and that makes it uncomfortable. But there is goodness in feeling what we perceive to be negative emotions. And taking the time to truly feel them is the pathway to healing.

A song called New Wine by Hillsong Worship feels like it’s ministering to my deep places today. I’m not even sure exactly how it dovetails, but it goes together in my soul with what I’m feeling. Maybe it’ll feel that way for you, too.

Make me a vessel.

Make me an offering.

Make me whatever you want me to be.

I came here with nothing, but all you have given me.

Jesus, bring new wine out of me.

If you are wrestling with your hurt places today, know I am there with you! And if you’d ever like to set up a time to come process what you’re going through, I can be contacted here.

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

Wrestling with our Christian faith in the midst of chronic pain.

Most of my clients wouldn’t know this but I struggle with chronic pain several days of the month. I won’t get into the cause on this post but it’s been going on for about two years now. I wouldn’t classify it as “continuous” pain but it is regular and fairly predictable.

Perhaps you know this struggle as well.

I do everything I can to keep it from putting a damper on my personal life as well as my professional life but I am not always victorious. At its worst, I have to miss things: cancel sessions, get someone to watch our son if my husband is at work, miss church or social events, etc. Don’t worry… if you see me, I’m feeling fine enough. When it’s at its worst, I’m in bed.

We have tried several things to help reduce the pain level, most of which have not helped much. If this is beginning to sound depressing, it definitely is sometimes! But it is really important to me that I fight a good fight and not let my pain be the dominant characteristic in my life. My husband Chad and I have both had to do our own work of trying to reconcile my chronic pain with our faith in a healing God. And, just as importantly, our goal is not to just survive with pain, but to wrangle up some joy on the daily!

Maybe you know the struggle of chronic pain as well. But maybe you are more familiar with emotional pain of chronic anxiety, depression or loneliness? Maybe you (like Chad) have to watch someone you love struggle and there’s not much you can do about it? For someone with a Christian faith, this struggle can be made all the more complicated when you factor in knowledge of God’s ability to heal. Those waters can tend to get very murky, very quickly. And I think that’s ok. It’s just about what we do with that tension.

Whatever “brand” of struggle yours may be, here are some places I’ve landed in trying to grapple with my pain and my faith.

  1. Chronic pain is a fact about me (currently). It does not get to define my life. I have chronic pain. I also am married. I am a female. I am caucasian. I think I’m pretty funny. I like to cook. I don’t like cleaning my floors. Each of those facts mean something about me and set some perimeters in my life but they don’t give a full snap-shot of who I am. Losing sight of this central truth makes me chronic-pain “centric.” And there are so many better things to be at the center of my life than chronic-pain.
  2. My pain level is not the measure of my day. Have you ever thought, “I felt good today so it was a good day”? We have to fight against this because it’s a very easy trap to fall into. But the truth is that there are so many other choices to be the gauge of how each day is measured: obedience, provision, laughter, faithfulness, puppy snuggles, a very funny tv show that distracts you for a while. We have to be diligent to not be so reductionistic to say, “my pain was really low so it was a good day.” If we let it be as simple as “low pain = good day; high pain = bad day” then our eyes are fixed on ourselves alone. As Christians, we know there’s a better choice for us to fix our eyes on.
  3. How God answers your prayers for healing does not say anything about you. Or at least it doesn’t say what you think it says. I firmly believe that chronic pain is more of a result of the Fall than it is a result human choices. Sure…maybe your hard labor caused some degenerative disc issues. But still..that is rooted in the fall because hard work is not sinful, but deterioration of our bodies is the result of the Fall. Your issue may actually be the result of your choices (lifestyle issues, positive or negative…doesn’t matter really), but the toll it has taken on your body is largely a result of the Fall. What I mean by that is that when sin entered the world through Adam, destruction of our bodies came, too (and this has physical, emotional, mental implications). Before then, there was no deterioration. This is a MUCH bigger issue than your sin or your choices and this issue manifests itself in a myriad of different ways. I throw disease and illness in this same category (and flooding and hurricanes, if anybody is wondering). The world is broken by sin, so bad things happen. And they don’t really mean anything about us. So the same is true for our rescue from the physical manifestations of the Fall. If it didn’t mean anything about us that we received this illness, then it doesn’t mean anything about us if the healing comes. It would be awesome if healing comes. But it isn’t personal if it doesn’t. And it’s not personal if it does. It wouldn’t be about your good deeds or track record if you get healed; how much potential you have or how much God likes you.
    It just means something about God. It’s God’s choice how he wants your healing story to go. And he alone gets to make that call of when your healing is manifested. It’s not personal. It’s just the Fall.

I don’t know the rules about who gets ailments or who gets healed. Honestly, it looks pretty haphazard to me. There is no magic formula that I’ve ever been able to pick out. But I’ll tell you this: at our house, we ask for healing anyway.

What’s true is that our struggles aren’t meant to define us or take the central seat in our life. And God’s (apparent) response to our struggles isn’t a good indicator of his awareness of our pain.

I love this poem by Walt Whitman which ends with this thoughtful line:

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

I, for one, don’t want my “verse” to be, “Pain overtook my life.” But rather, “I found joy and meaning and purpose in the midst of the lot that I was given.”

If you or someone you love struggles with a chronic issue, you can contact me here to set up a time to come in and talk about it.

Counseling offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo credit goes to Brigitte Tohm.