Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Mental Health Series to coincide with National Suicide Prevention Month. You can read the previous posts in the series by clicking the links at the end of this article. For this article, we’ve invited long-time MBCollegiate Campus Missionary, Chris Wilson, and his wife, Christen, to guest post about his experience as a vocational minister seeking help through professional counseling. We hope his story will help diminish the stigmas around counseling and encourage you to pursue help if—or when—you need it.
Four years ago, my wife and a close friend suggested I seek counseling—both within the same week.
Counseling? Had my life become so desperate that family and friends had no other advice than to seek professional help?!? Was I truly that weak?!? Was I that messed up?!? What would ____________think? (Insert names of a host of people including family, friends, my boss, Christian leaders, etc.) Would I lose my job? Would I even have a place in ministry anymore?
Up to this point, praying more, going to church and small group meetings more, and reading my Bible more had not fixed the problem. Reading Spiritual Depression by Martin Lloyd Jones was comforting, but it didn’t make my depression, low self-esteem, or fear of rejection go away.
Reluctantly, I called the first Christian counseling service that took my insurance. I quickly discovered that mental health issues are not treated the same as medical problems. My insurance would only cover a certain number of visits, but that was okay with me because I was only passing through. Whatever was wrong, I could fix it quickly. I had been doing that my whole life. So it was that I entered my first counseling session ready to talk about nothing.
As I sat down, the counselor asked, “What do we need to talk about today?” After four years of counseling, that’s now a familiar question. But on that first day, it was ridiculous, and I was immediately defensive and angry, despite my pleasant outward demeanor.
“I’m here seeking your help,” I fumed to myself. “You tell me what I need to do to fix this. It’s not my job to tell you what we need to talk about. I’m paying you to do that.”
Through clenched teeth, I told my counselor what issues I had been dealing with. The floodgates opened, and I cried more than I ever had in my whole life. The pain was real, and it was big. That visit turned into another visit, which turned into more visits. I began to understand why I reacted so strongly when people disagreed with me or questioned my decisions. I began to understand why I shut down emotionally and mentally in the presence of an angry person or someone who was unhappy with me.
I learned new coping skills and how to communicate more effectively. I was doing so well that I went from seeing my counselor weekly to once-a-month. Then a major traumatic event took place in my life that exposed bedrock—the lie upon which I had built relationship after relationship my entire life: “Chris, there is no such thing as unconditional love. Love is a reward for living up to other people’s expectations. You must be perfect. If you don’t give people what they want, they won’t like you. They will reject you. You know you’re not perfect, so it’s a foregone conclusion that everyone will abandon you when they discover who you really are.”
The lightbulb came on. I saw that when I shut down in the presence of angry people, my traumatized self—who believed the lie—was fighting for survival and would do or say whatever anyone wanted to keep from feeling the pain of being abandoned. I have since learned what my triggers are, how to stay present and engaged, and how to insert the truth of Scripture into my mind while removing the lies. I have learned that unconditional love exists, and I know what it looks like and where to find it.
Today I’m a better husband, a better Dad, and a better spiritual leader than when I started this journey. I have not arrived, but I press on toward the mark. I am thankful to the Lord for bringing people into my life who saw that I needed help and weren’t afraid to suggest it. I’m thankful for spiritual mentors who encouraged me to continue the process, who understood that seeking professional Christian counseling is no more sinful than seeing a doctor when you’re physically ill."Seeking professional Christian counseling is no more sinful than seeing a doctor when you’re physically ill." @cwilson #collegiatedisciplemaker #mentalhealthseries A Minister’s Experience Finding Help through Professional Counseling Click To Tweet
A Word from Christen, Chris’s Wife
I am thankful for the Christian counseling my husband has had. As a wife, it is hard to look at your life partner and tell him he has a problem and needs help, especially when you know he is a good man who loves God and loves his family. It was easier to keep finding excuses for his behavior and to blame it on past experiences.
I noticed there was a problem after the birth of each of our children. It seemed to trigger a flood of emotions for my husband, and I could see him struggling. After our last child was born, he was clearly depressed. We decided it was time for him to seek help to understand the feelings he was having.
He was able to find a counselor that was exactly what he needed, a mix of grandmotherly compassion and no-nonsense straight talk. Since he has been in counseling, he has been able to identify triggers and process what he is feeling. Before he had these tools, he would explode (verbally) or retreat, neither of which helped him, me, or our marriage. Using the tools he now has, we are able to work through issues calmly without the emotional turmoil that is so confusing and hurtful.
I have also grown in this process. I’ve learned that “feelings aren’t facts.” I’ve learned to take a step back from my emotions when examining a situation. I have also learned the tell-tale signs that alert me when my husband needs a minute to process something. I’ve learned to give him that time and space. It is wonderful to problem solve in a calm, rational manner with my husband, knowing that we are both emotionally safe. I now have a true partner for life.
If you’re a ministry leader looking for confidential, affordable counseling, the MBC has partnerships with counseling centers around the state to offer quality Christian counseling at a reduced rate. Find out more at https://mobaptist.org/helpforleaders
Previous posts in this series: