I recently went through a traumatic event and my doctor recommended that I spend a few months in psychotherapy. But I’ve heard some Christians say that psychotherapy has very different principles than God. I am studying the Bible and praying for healing. I really want to follow God. Would going to therapy be relying on the doctors to heal me instead of God?
Oh Melissa, I am so sorry about the event that caused this question. Obviously I don’t know what happened, but I do know that you are brave. Very brave. Because going through something traumatic often leaves us paralyzed in the moment—and unable to ever move into any measure of healing or wholeness.
But that’s not your story. Just from your question it is clear that you sought out a doctor and are now processing the pros and cons of therapy, which is a big deal. You’re doing great, Melissa. I’m proud of you.
Let’s start at the end of your question. You asked, “Would going to therapy be relying on the doctors to heal me instead of God?” And to that I’d assert that the answer lies in how you view the relationship between God and a medical provider.
Here’s what I mean: Doctors (or, for the sake of this question, counselors) don’t heal. Even incredible counselors who love Jesus and have been doing therapy for 30 years don’t heal people.
God heals people.
Think of it this way: if you break your arm and go to a doctor, they’ll give you x-rays, a cast and send you on your merry way. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to assume that the doctor just fixed your arm. However, as you walk out of that doctor’s office, your arm is still as broken as when you went in. The only difference is that now, your arm is in a much more favorable posture for fusing back together—which is where God comes in. Inside your arm, an imperceptibly small yet miraculous event is occurring. Here’s a description of what’s going on in there. (Please note, this passage is from a kid’s medical website—which is the only description I could understand):
“Your bones are natural healers. At the location of the fracture, your bones will produce lots of new cells and tiny blood vessels that rebuild the bone. These cells cover both ends of the broken part of the bone and close up the break until it’s as good as new.”
Now that is God’s handiwork. What’s happening inside your broken—and now fusing—arm is nothing short of miraculous. And while the doctor gets credit for aiding in the onset of that miracle, when it really comes to the healing, the wellness, the regeneration—God’s doing that on a microscopic level as you go about your day.
What counselors do is invite people into the story that God is writing in the patient’s life. A good counselor doesn’t think they’re the great healer, or even the expert. They think they’re the luckiest person in the room because they’re about to witness God doing some pretty remarkable things. So to think that there’s some general truth that counselors are somehow taking the place of God not only diminishes God, but really makes counseling something that it’s not. Which begs the question, what is counseling?
Fundamentally, counseling is a conversation about the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and circumstances that surround a belief or, in your case Melissa, a traumatic event. When you sit down for your counseling session, it won’t be like what you see in the movies where you’re laying on a leather sofa and some Freudian entity is sitting behind you, taking notes and letting you unravel.
What it will actually be is you sitting in a room, across from a very friendly person, who is genuinely interested in your story. He or she will ask questions like, “Can you tell me what brought you to counseling today?” and “What was running through your mind as that happened?” And then, they’ll listen.
And while they’re listening, they’ll be thinking things like, “Interesting, I see God in that situation, but I wonder if Melissa does, I’ll ask about that later,” or “I’m so sad you got hurt in that way.” Believe me, a good counselor isn’t flipping through some mental diagnostic manual trying to put you in a box. What they’re doing is drawing on their academic training and professional experience to ask questions that get you to think about angles and feelings that may be helpful for you to explore so that—wait for it—God has a clearer pathway to work in you. Or, put more accurately, you have a clearer pathway to see God working in the midst of your pain.
One of my favorite grad school professors, Dr. Toddy Holeman (what a great name, right?), summed up the role of a counselor in this way: “At the end of the day, the job of a counselor is to be a hope peddler.”
And she was right. Seeing a counselor isn’t taking the place of God, it’s sitting with someone who knows that God is working and that any movement out of the quicksand going to be because we hope. In the words of the great Edward Mote hymn:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Melissa, go see a counselor. Find a good therapist who believes in God (maybe ask your pastor about this), and make an appointment today. Then, when you go to the appointment, and when you feel comfortable enough to open up (it may not happen right away, which is OK), share with that counselor what happened and how you feel about it. Then, watch God heal.
Many people are praying for your journey, Melissa. And for what it’s worth, many people have been where you are right now and have found their way out of the pain. Have hope, friend. God’s working.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.