We provide an option for clients to see Christian therapists on our staff if they prefer it. I am often asked by Christian families what counseling looks like when it’s Christ-centered. The most important thing to understand is that we are not theologians or pastors so we do not give any biblical interpretation or religious advice. The way we most often see faith-based counseling play out is us encouraging clients to engage more fully with their religious community. For someone with social anxiety, there is an opportunity to face a lot of the fear while attending youth group. There can be collaboration with the youth pastor to make this a more comfortable step. For clients with an eating disorder there might be a discussion about what God really wants for their life and whether He sees them as beautiful even if they aren’t the “perfect” weight. For families there could be an encouragement to pray together or start attending church together. The bottom line is that Christian-based counseling means the therapist and client are operating from a paradigm that believes the client’s connection to God is an essential part of healing.
Fifteen years ago a 16 year old boy was approached by an acquaintance at school (We’ll call him John). The 16 year old had a reputation in his high school as the kid to go to if you wanted to try a new drug. John sought out the 16 year old and asked if they could hang out after school. When the time came, John worked up his courage to ask, “Do you think I could try heroin with you?”
The 16 year old liked John. He told him, “No. Some people can’t just use it once. You could become an instant drug addict.”
John replied, “Look man, I’m going to try heroin. Would you rather it be with you where at least you know the drug is good? Or would you rather I get it from someone else?”
The 16 year old sighed and took out a syringe. Together they got high. John fell completely in love with the euphoria and never got off the drug. By 22, John was dead.
The 16 year old is now 31. He cannot forgive himself for what happened. When he talks about it he glazes over. His eyes fill with tears. He consistently suffers with two questions. Firstly, ‘What if I had stuck with my no answer? Maybe he wouldn’t have made the effort to get it somewhere else.’ Secondly, ‘Why did he die and not me? He was a good kid who wanted to live. I was a horrible drug dealer who didn’t care if I lived.’
How do you forgive yourself for the sin you’ve committed that you feel is unforgiveable? How do you come back from a deeply entrenched belief that your bad choice led to so much suffering?
This question has plagued the human race for millennia. While there are differing answers to this question, two stand-out as most helpful. The first is related to repentance and the second is related to self-compassion.
Repentance is a religious concept but is easily applied to a non-religious context. If a person commits a sin against God, they admit it and turn from it. It’s not enough to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” There has to be an actual effort made at changing circumstances so it is not repeated. To go a step father, true repentance often includes helping others out of the same sinful trap. The Christian God requires repentance from sin. This is likely true in many other religious faiths as well. Even a secular humanist will agree that owning responsibility for bad behavior and actively turning away from it aids in self-forgiveness.
Self-compassion is the second part to forgiving the self. For psychological purposes it comes from a Dialectical Behavioral treatment model. Self-compassion requires a person to gather understanding for the many things that led to a bad choice. In the case of the 16 year old, he had been using drugs to numb PTSD caused by severe child abuse. The drugs led him to unclear decision-making. John also made many choices leading him to seek out heroin. Experiences in John’s life contributed to his belief he could “handle” trying heroin. In any case, there is understanding available for the drug dealer even though his choice to provide heroin was the first exposure to the drug which caused John’s ghastly and tragic death.
One must be careful not to use self-compassion to make excuses for wrong behavior. People these days love to find ways they are victims of their surroundings. Social media inundates its users with messages that bad things happen to a person just because of skin color, because “rich people are greedy,” because “all politicians are liars and selfish,” etc. In actual fact, the good and bad things in life are a blend of outside factors (race, socioeconomic status, who is in political office, etc.) and personal responsibility for choices. So how does a person practice self-compassion without falling into the trap of victimhood? Give understanding and grace for the factors contributing to past choices while committing to being better at the next opportunity.
The combination of repentance and self-compassion allows for self-forgiveness. These two things must work together for a person to become “unstuck.” They are the perfect blend of personal remorse, personal responsibility, and grace. They provide a path forward and a way to learn from egregious mistakes. Help your teenager by forgiving yourself for things you regret. Let your teen see you find a way forward that shows personal responsibility and kindness so your teenager will know how he/she can do the same.
Be thankful for your kids, they are a gift from God. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We have so much to be grateful for. It is incredible that we can live in a country with so much freedom. God truly blessed each and every one of us in ways we take for granted every single day. Even having clean water and enough to eat is not a given in many parts of the world.
The reason I remind you of this is because if you’re reading my blog it means you’re probably hurting. It means your teenager is behaving in some way that scares you. It means you’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent and you aren’t sure what to do to help your child. That is the most helpless feeling in the world.
It does us a lot of good to count our blessings. This is especially true when it comes to your teenager. I realize things are tough right now, but there are a lot of things going right too. It’s very easy to become very focused on resolving one problem. When you do this, you forget to see all the other things that aren’t problems.
I have a few clients in my therapy practice who struggle with body image. Their focus on their body image is so intense that it often dominates the teen’s whole life. It’s difficult for the parents of these teens because they worry about whether their child is eating enough, exercising too much, or just loathing their appearance. The parents of these children have found it helpful to refocus on what is going right with their kids. In some of the cases, these teens still maintain good grades and do not use any substances. They are still loving and engaged with the family. These parents try and keep perspective that there is a lot going well even though there is also a problem.
Life is like that, isn’t it? We see problems run parallel with blessings all the time. We shouldn’t ignore the problems, but we shouldn’t ignore the blessings either. In fact, if you think back over your whole life, I bet you can hardly identify a time when things were all good or all bad.
Raising kids is about maintaining the perspective that things could always be better and always be worse. Tell them constantly what you’re thankful for about them. Work with them on improving what they can do better, but don’t make that the only thing you talk about- that would come across as critical. You want them to know all the reasons you think they’re great too.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
This is hard. This is even harder on you if you’re a teenager in some ways. You feel constricted. You are missing things that gave your life value and meaning. For many of you this means you feel symptoms of depressed moods.
As hard as it may be, it’s important that you don’t get stuck in the “waiting place,” because that won’t help you feel any better.
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.