It’s not the realizing you need a counselor that’s hard. Surprisingly, that’s the easy part, the part keeping you up in the night, the flashing red light in the back of your mind. You can’t ignore it when you know, when you finally reach an understanding with yourself that you need to talk to someone.
But once you know, where do you go? Who do you trust? Where do you begin in the search for finding a professional counselor or therapist who will hold your crises, fears and doubts with one hand, and gently offer God’s truth (not to mention logic and analytical insight) with the other?
Hint: it does not begin with a Google search, the modern day equivalent of flipping through the Yellow Pages with eyes closed, fixing a finger on a ramdom page and coming up with carpet cleaners.
After my parents divorced, my mother knew we needed a third party to speak into our lives, to encourage my seven-year-old self to draw her sadness with crayons on paper. And through the years, from the turbulent teen-in-love phase to the pre-wedding-jitters and especially the post-partum depression, I met with Doctor P. I never needed to find a counselor of my own; I already had one.
Until now. Until the move, not just to another state, but to another continent. I’m sad to report I couldn’t fit Doctor P into my carry-on. Two years later, I find myself in a new land, awake at night knowing I need to find a new counselor, but hesitant to take those first few steps.
And as much as I’m a proponent of counseling, as much as I encourage my friends and family members to embrace the shame-free notion of seeking help, I’m doing them a disservice if I can’t equip them – and myself – in finding one.
Here’s where we can start:
With friends. Not everyone has the luxury of such intimate friendships, but a trusted confidant is the first place to go. Ask for recommendations. Many of the deepest conversations with my truest friends have included the words, “I know a guy.” Word of mouth is the best way to find a counselor, offering a clearer picture than Google or the Yellow Pages ever could.
At church. Did you know many churches offer counseling services? Some even have a pastor on staff specifically focused on counseling and therapeutic services. However, it doesn’t need to be your own church. Sometimes the more familiar you are, the harder it is to share openly and honestly about your current situation. Consider investigating the churches of your friends or the website for your denomination. If your church doesn’t offer counseling, or your prefer going outside your fellowship, ask a spiritual leader or mentor for names. Caution, though: not every pastor is trained or equipped in counseling. Look for credentials and experience, and trust your discernment.
Your GP. It’s important to note that finding a counselor that from your specific denomination or religious group is not a prerequisite. Your best fit may be someone who approaches therapy from a different faith or cultural lens, speaking into areas outside of spirituality. Your general practitioner or pediatrician can be a valuable resource. Inquire at your next appointment or place a call to his or her nurse. Often they can refer you to someone they know personally and who will be qualified to meet your specific needs. Likewise, your insurance company can offer you specialized referrals in your area.
Local schools or universities. In my college years, I met with a kind faculty counselor well-versed in the mental illnesses and emotional issues of young adults. The added benefit of attending a Bible college meant he also shared a Christ-centered worldview. If you’re a student, take advantage of the mental health services your school or institution may offer. Similarly, when it comes to a children’s counselor or therapist, start with your child’s school nurse or guidance counselor. Otherwise, contact a local university for referrals.
Virtual Counseling. Thanks to the modern era of Skype and FaceTime, virtual counseling (or telecounseling) might seem like a viable option. Unfortunately, there is one legal caveat: counseling licenses are issued state-by-state, meaning there are limitations on exactly how far-afield a therapist can treat clients. If you have an established relationship with a counselor but distance or circumstance prevents you from connecting in person, he or she may be permitted to consult with you online and point you towards a licensed therapist close to home. If virtual or telecounseling is the best – or only – option for you, consider a suitable pastoral counselor (pastoral counseling is not regulated by state licensing procedures).
The invisible thread weaving through these resources is vulnerability. It requires vulnerability to talk to a friend, visit your physician, or call your church or school just to ask about counseling. This is the hard part. But it’s also the first step towards peace of mind, wholeness and healing.
Originally published at Vital Magazine.