When new staff are hired on at the community mental health center I work at, we get the opportunity to introduce ourselves to them and give words of wisdom. Whether this is their first clinical experience, or they have heard about our great team from working as a counselor elsewhere and wanting to join, we want to foster an environment for great professional relationships. For the last couple of years, my words of wisdom have been the same to everyone:
Remember why you got into counseling.
Whether it is the stress and vicarious trauma from working with clients, the grind of getting paperwork done so insurance can be billed, or making sure to stay up on your caseload management that may include attempting to reengage inactive clients or discharge them unsuccessfully, these are not the reasons we started to do counseling and it can feel very wearying. Day in and day out, it can becomes exhausting doing this. The mental fortitude required for this career is high and we need to develop a strong resiliency to keep striving to do our best for ourselves, our agency, and those we serve.
So what is it that drove you to be a counselor. I do not necessarily mean why did you take the position you have now or start up the counseling agency you work at. Instead, what was it that led you to get your degree in mental health? What is your story before you took your first DSM class? How did God play in to this decision, if He did?
We talk with clients all the time of internal locus of control, when we can be our own best cheerleaders or worst critiques, to develop strong, positive beliefs and sense of self. This is something we should strive for too. As Christian counselors, one external locus of control, the one you must rely on most, is God. He is identified as being our wonderful Counselor, Prince of peace, and heavenly Father. So if we have a strong sense of that time which inspired and drove us to be a counselor, why not make that a core memory for ourselves for when we need that extra motivation?
To give an example, I want to share my story, in hopes that it helps you craft your own to identify what drives you as a counselor.
For those that do not know, my previous work was as a missionary for Youth for Christ. At that time, I had served in a couple of different communities, including a rural, underdeveloped youth ministry in a very conservative small town and in a chapel on a military base that is within a big city. In my time, I was able to do many things pastors do in youth ministry, including developing volunteers, evangelism and discipleship, as well as have fun games, go to camp, and watch high school football.
In that time, I found that giving sermons was exciting. But as I stood on stage, I’d notice that one middle school or high school student who would not be sitting with other teens in group. After youth group was over, they never seemed to stay long enough for me to connect with them. After a while, my heart was drawn to connect to them, finding God pulling me to connect with them.
This led me to having volunteers and elders give the sermons or lead key parts of the group where I could connect with the individuals. I found nearly every time that the student was struggling, hurt, anxious, lonely, or angry. Sometimes they came from broken homes, other times they came from well put together families that did not understand the pain they were receiving at school.
Unlike many in the counseling profession that may have a connection to severe mental illness or their own mental illness history, my calling came when I was in the pulpit preaching to many, but knowing I was made for deeper, authentic, and healing connections with people. Looking back, I can see God’s hand guiding and molding me into who I have become personally, professionally, and spiritually.
In that time that God was preparing me, I completed my degree in clinical counseling from Denver Seminary and then gained invaluable experience working with domestic violence offenders, people wrapped up with Child Protective Services, court, and probation and parole, individuals struggling with substance misuse, people plagued with Borderline Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder symptoms, and domestic violence victims. I found myself with a professional life motto I adapted from a Chip Ingram quote that says “Caring for People that People Don’t Care For.”
When I start to get frustrated that more paperwork is going to be hitting a deadline, Monday morning comes with a full schedule of clients, or hard decisions and conversations need to happen with staff, I lean on this story. I remember that student in my youth group all by himself, and that urgent push by God to go hear their story and help.
Craft Your Story
So what is your story? What makes you look at Monday and get excited where everyone else is counting down the days to the weekend? How can you make your calling become an everlasting source of motivation and connection to what God has for you to do to be a witness and care for His flock while showing Jesus to all who need to see?
I pray you think on and ask God what your story has been and where it is going. I ask that you sit with this story and let it breath life into not only for what you have done, but inspire you for what is to come. I pray you talk with others and see what they see in you. And I hope that it becomes a source of strength, nourishment, and direction to where you need to be next.