Today I’m honored to have my beautiful friend Karen share a little bit about the incredible work she is doing in the world of counseling and mental health. Karen and I have been dear friends since our FUS days, where we lived in a literal (former) crackhouse and, fun fact, her older brother, Fr. Bryan, witnessed our marriage. (Technically theologically incorrect to say he “married” us, so. #theologynerd.)
I pray that Karen’s words will be a gift to you all, and that you are able to take advantage of the generous giveaway she has offered to 20 of my awesome readers.
Hello to Jenny’s amazing readers! My name is Karen, and I am so honored to have the opportunity to share with you all some of what God has been putting on my heart. I am a licensed professional counselor by trade, but to put it more simply, I am someone who just has a burning desire to see people healed and living the abundant life Jesus promised to give us (John 10:10). But before I jump into that, I wanted to just give you a little background about how I know Jenny. 🙂
Jenny and I have known each other now for about 10 years. We first met when I was lucky enough to be her housemate while I was getting my MA in counseling at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Immediately, we connected and understood each other because we both had similar less-than-pious undergrad experiences and were longing for that deeper encounter with God that Franciscan seemed to provide. Together we began a journey of faith and healing where our hearts and lives were completely transformed by the grace of God, and a life-long friendship was formed. We continue that journey together today, and that is honestly what brings me to write to you here.
God has given me a burning desire to bring healing in the lives of His children. For about as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a counselor, but to completely honest, once I finished my Masters degree and began the actual work of counseling, I became very discouraged.
Despite all my desire, efforts and training, I was not seeing much real or lasting transformation or healing happening in the lives of my clients. And what I came to realize after working for a few years in a community-based practice, was that not many of my colleagues were seeing much dramatic transformation – or even really even expecting it to happen – either.
The predominant expectation was just that symptoms could be “managed” well with counseling and medication. The problem was, I didn’t sign up to be a counselor in order to lead my clients to a life of “symptom management”. Of course, I see the great value in learning coping skills and how to manage the emotional crises that are intrinsically part of the human experience, but deep in my heart, I knew that God had more to offer his children. Since modern psychology has pretty much divorced itself from God, it’s not surprising that healing wasn’t happening when the Author of all healing had been removed from the equation.
I decided to take a break from full-time counseling after having my first child in 2009. While I did take on a few part-time counseling jobs, none of the work really resonated in my soul because it still seemed to be more-or-less “symptom management,” but then in 2013, everything changed…
It was during this time that God allowed me to experience first-hand, for the first time, what so many of my clients had struggled with. Shortly after giving birth to my third child, I had my first major battle with depression. It was a very strange experience for me of being “on the other side,” but it is exactly what led me to the work I am doing today.
Through my own experience, God led me to uncover the root causes of what I was feeling, and by the grace of God I received profound healing and transformation. As I was facing my own struggle with self-worth, failure, rejection and abandonment, I was filled with this certain knowledge that God had the answer to these struggles, and that He truly wanted to heal me. Through prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I was introduced to a “new world” of counseling, led by the Holy Spirit, where the head meets the heart and deep healing truly happens. I found a lasting freedom, rooted in Christ, and now I am on a mission now to share it with others.
I want to take a moment to elaborate here on one of the main things that sets this kind of Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-led counseling apart from the secular counseling experience. One of my biggest obstacles as a counselor in the past was that my clients typically had a huge disconnect between their heads and their hearts. Modern psychology talks on and on about the connections between one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You hear endless talk about how you need to change your thoughts in order to change your, feelings and then change your behaviors, and that is absolutely true. The reason many people are depressed and anxious is because they have anxious and depressed thoughts and beliefs, and IF you are able to help them change those anxious and depressed thoughts, they will feel better and make better decisions about their behavior.
But (and this is a big but), how does one “talk themselves into” believing the truth?
My clients would always confess that they knew intellectually that all the negative things they were believing about themselves were probably not true, but they didn’t know how to change those beliefs in their hearts.
No amount of positive self-talk about how wonderful and beautiful and special and worthy they were seemed able to penetrate their hearts and “take root” so that they could walk in true, lasting freedom.
This, my friends, is what I believe is the absolute work of the Holy Spirit. I (and any other counselor for that matter) can talk until I am blue-in-the face about the truth of someone’s identity, but only the Divine Counselor can actually make that truth take root in the heart, and it usually happens when God leads that person to the root wound where that lie about their identity first took hold.
This is the difference between what man can do and what God can do… Only God can read the heart and speak to its depths in a way that brings real and lasting change. And this is what God is allowing me to lead others to through my practice. He has SO MUCH MORE for us than we can even imagine (Eph 3:20).
I want to say quickly here too that I am not at all disregarding the reality that there is a physiological component at work when it comes to mental health struggles. Science has proven that the neurotransmitters in our brains – like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – all play a major roll in mood and emotions. I have witnessed the profound ways that medication has helped my clients, so I the last thing I want is for this to come off as a dismissal of the crucial advances of science in this area in the past 50 years. I definitely advocate for the use of medication when it is needed and helpful.
My main point, however, is to make the case for the Author of all healing, the Divine Counselor, who truly knows the causes for our heartache, and who I believe truly wants to bring healing and freedom to EVERY mental health struggle we face. I have a very hard time believing that our loving Father determined that any person would struggle with something like depression or anxiety for a lifetime. I believe these struggles are permitted in our lives to help point the way to the wound that needs be healed, in the same way that the pain in our leg points to the broken bone that needs be reset.
Without the pain focused in a certain place, we wouldn’t know where or how something needed to be healed.
I believe with all my heart that God wants ALL of His children to walk in freedom. Every one of us.
So many people are walking around in prisons of fear, sadness, and shame; and when they look around at someone else who doesn’t seem to have those struggles (hello, curse of social media!), they believe a LIE that God just doesn’t have a plan for their happiness.
It’s as if people believe that God has a good and joy-filled life for some people, and a difficult and miserable existence for others. But this is not the truth. He wants to grant the gift of his joy and peace to all of his children (John 14:27; 15:11), but the effects of sin in our world have stolen this gift from so many people today.
But the GOOD NEWS is that Jesus died on the cross to grant us the restoration and freedom that we so deeply long for! In the next life, yes, but also in this life.
He longs to grant us this healing so that we can become WHOLE – the person He had in mind for us to be when He first created us – before sin took hold and wreaked havoc in our lives.
It is the pursuit of this WHOLENESS that is the key to the truly HOLY life that we are each called to lead.
So, my prayer for you is that if you find yourself struggling in a certain area of your life, whether or not that carries a clinical diagnosis (maybe you struggle with anger or self-worth or any number of other issues), I pray that instead of beating yourself up about your struggles, you instead turn to God and ask him to shed light on those areas in need of healing in your heart so that you can continue to persevere in JOY and PEACE on the path of sanctity.
Peace I leave with you, My own peace I give to you; a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid. John 14:27
Karen has generously offered a free 30 minute introductory virtual counseling session (via Skype, FaceTime, or by phone) to the first 20 readers who contact her at [email protected] and mention this post.