3 Standards for Faithful Counseling

3 Standards for Faithful Counseling

I have often compared my natural counseling ability (or should I say, desire) to the Geico commercial with the former drill sergeant throwing a tissue box at the client on his couch. You may be thinking, “Wow, that is a terrible attitude for a pastor to have.” And I would agree with you. That is why I said, “my natural counseling ability (or desire).”

In God’s grace, he called me to pastor a church. You cannot pastor and ignore the responsibility to counsel the people of God. The very nature of shepherding is one of gently leading the people, and this often takes place in one-on-one or group settings of counseling through decisions, grief, doubt, depression, fear and restoration from sin in a pursuit of holiness. By nature of my calling I have had to embrace counseling others and have, through much prayer, come to enjoy meeting with the people God has sent to my church to shepherd.

It is truly a joy to sit in a room and walk with God’s people through counseling.

My calling as a pastor is not the only way God has warmed my heart to counseling. He has also allowed me to find much understanding of, victory over and healing from my own sin and sin done towards me through counseling. Lastly, God allowed me to marry a woman who is now a counselor. Every week she sits with around 20 people (some who are followers of Jesus and some who are not) and she helps them understand, overcome and find healing through the power of the gospel as well.

Because of these three situations (being a pastor, having gone to counseling and being married to a counselor) I am often asked who I would recommend as a counselor or what kind of counseling I would recommend.

There are three standards that I look for in a counselor in order to ensure that the counseling experience is both faithful and truly helpful.

The first two standards are essential in all counseling relationships and situations. The last one is essential for some counseling situations.

Biblically Saturated
As a pastor, I know that ultimately my wisdom and my words are flawed. On any given day I can give terrible counsel. I also know that my words are never authoritative. However, as a believer in the inherent, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, I can trust what scripture says to speak to the sin, hurt, and brokenness of any person on any occasion. The Bible does not give bad advice. It never counsels poorly. Therefore I believe that if a counseling session is to be faithful and truly helpful it must be saturated in scripture.

Note: Just because scripture is used in a counseling session does not mean that scripture has been used rightly. I’ve heard far too many people use scripture out of context, twist the meaning and wrongly apply it which can cause more damage than good. Therefore, one must be a true student of the scriptures in order to rightly apply the scriptures to the counseling situation. I support rightly interpreted and rightly applied scriptures in counseling.

Gospel Centered

All counseling needs are in response to the brokenness caused by sin in our lives. Sometimes that sin is our own and sometimes that sin is that of another, but there will never be a counseling topic that is not the result of sin. Before sin there was no need for counseling. Before sin there was no judgement, no abuse, no violence, no harassment, no abandonment, no selfishness, no trauma, no death, and no shame. Adam and Eve had no marital conflict before sin. Sin is the cause of all brokenness and hurt in our world.

Therefore, the only answer to any and every counseling need is the gospel. It is true that you can learn techniques to manage your stress and anxiety, and it is true that you can learn better communication and listening skills with your spouse, and it is also true that there are times someone may need medicine or another intervention to bring stability in order to further deal with the brokenness that is present. However, one should never look to medicine, communication skills, stress releasing techniques or similar treatments as the answer for the counseling need. These are only tools which help to manage symptoms while the cure is being applied to the root of the issue; sin.

Ultimately the gospel must be applied to the life of the client in order to heal the root and bring eternal change. Therefore, I believe that in order for a counseling session to be faithful and truly helpful it must be gospel centered.

Note: If there was no need of counseling before sin, then there will be no need of counseling after Jesus returns either for he will make all things new. There will be no more sin and without sin, there will be no more brokenness. Praise God my wife will have to change careers in eternity!

Professionally Equipped
I said that the first two standards are essential in all counseling settings. In other words, whether you are seeking counseling from a friend, a pastor or a professional counselor, I would suggest that you must find someone who is scripture saturated and gospel centered to encounter truly faithful and helpful counseling

I also said that the third standard is essential for some counseling situations.

There are some situations that I, as a pastor, am not fully equipped to speak into. Someone who has experienced extreme trauma (perhaps from war, sexual abuse, or a tragic death) will likely need someone more experienced and more equipped than I am to provide their counseling. There are counselors who are professionally equipped, whether that is through clinical counseling training or biblical counseling training, who better know how to listen for the right things, ask the right questions and apply the right treatment so that Bible saturated and gospel centered counseling can be applied to the heart of the person.

My wife has often said that her clinical training in counseling provides her the tools to apply the truth of the gospel to the deepest roots of the person rather than simply applying the gospel to the branches.

Therefore, I believe that for some counseling sessions to be faithful and truly helpful, the counselor should be professionally equipped to apply the gospel to the root of the need.

Note: I would caution against going to a professionally trained counselor who does not saturate their counseling in the truth of scripture and find the ultimate cure for all issues in the gospel. All the professional training in the world will not provide true life-change for the soul if it is separated from the truth of scripture and the life of the gospel.

Kiss and Tell – An Emmaus Counseling Marriage Seminar

Kiss and Tell – An Emmaus Counseling Marriage Seminar

The couple stood at the altar with eyes locked on each other. They were just moments away from becoming man and wife. Nothing mattered more in that moment than the love they shared for each other. 

Fast forward 11 years to a different time. His eyes are downcast and hers are filled with tears of sadness. He has just admitted to an affair. The vow they made on that day 11 years prior seemed to all of a sudden feel like an empty promise. 

Fast forward a few years more. Their eyes are locked on each other once again. This time, there is a sense of trust and peace that flows between them as they share their hearts and lives together. The gospel is central in their marriage and it has everything to do with the rebuilding of their relationship. “To God be the glory” they gladly proclaim for indeed, it is only through his grace that they can look each other in the eyes with a love that is rooted in something much deeper than what they found on their wedding day.

This couple is not just some fictitious example of how marriages can be destroyed. It is not an attempt to scare engaged couples on their way down the aisle. We tell you this story because this is a true story from one of our own.

An Emmaus couple has walked this difficult road. While their marriage is well on the way to renewal, the main issues that led to the downfall of their marriage mostly centered around communication and sex.

In our very first Emmaus Counseling Marriage Seminar, “Kiss and Tell,” you will get to hear from this couple as well as our Emmaus Counselors and a small panel of married couples. 

It is our hope that you will walk away with a renewed sense of how the gospel deeply impacts your marriage, day in and day out. However, we also want you to walk away with some practical tools and insights so that your marriage can flourish for the sake of the gospel. 

Will you and your spouse consider joining us? 

Our counselors, Tish Hedger and Jesse Masson, will be presenting on intimate topics of communication and sex. God designed marriage to be enjoyable, intimate, and to reflect His glory. Since these issues continue to be primary reasons for marriage counseling, this seminar will focus on professional views, biblical truths, and practical steps to help build (or rebuild) the necessary foundations for your healthy marriage.

This marriage seminar is open to the community, for engaged or married couples looking to improve their intimacy. The seminar format will allow opportunities for questions and interactions. 

**REGISTER HERE**

When: Saturday, March 11 (9am-12:30pm)

Where: Emmaus Church (NO childcare provided)

Cost: $5/couple (Registration closes March 6)

How Gratitude Helps Grief

How Gratitude Helps Grief

 

My grandma just died over the Thanksgiving holiday. She was my last biological grandparent and 89 years old. Although my family could long foresee this coming due to her declining health, her death casts a new reality that will take time to adjust for many. Thankfully I was able to travel and visit her this past summer and say my “goodbye” to her then. Maybe I am still processing my emotions, but I currently do not feel like weeping. My feelings may reflect a healthy outlook as I know she proclaimed her love and faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior.

 

I am aware of how I feel in this moment. I also realize that others may feel differently about the same situation, so I must not project my emotions onto them. However, I think that it is possible to bring a healthy balance of grief and an “attitude of gratitude” into any difficult moment. In those many moments of loss (death, job, relationships, etc.), here is how to healthily join grief and thankfulness together:

 

  1. Realize it’s okay to grieve. Psalm 31:9 is a prayer to God noting the physical distress of grieving. This is a natural reaction God gave us (which I am learning for myself!) as part of a healthy process. So don’t try masking your healthy grief by pretending you are not sad in moments of sadness. Proverbs 14:13 warns that “even in laughter” the heart may be grieving! So be aware of how you (and others) are truly feeling.
  2. Quiet your inner rage. Grief and anger are two different feelings. Be discerning to not allow yourself to sin in anger just because you lost someone or something you loved. Proverbs 15:18 warns that a “hot-tempered man stirs up strife” but being calm quiets contention.
  3. Be still and know…your limits! Psalm 46:10 reminds us that we are not God, so we must trust in the One who is God. We can take hope and be grateful when we realize that situations are out of our control and in the capable hands of our Creator and Lord.
  4. There’s hope! First Thessalonians 4:13 proclaims that there is no grief for those of us who have a hope in Jesus. Good news for all of us who have lost fellow Christians here on earth as we know that we will be united again for all eternity. We can be grateful for the hope in Jesus, no matter the current woes!
  5. Blessings are gifts, not rights! I am not entitled to have a certain job, make a certain salary, have family near, or evade death. Instead, I do have the right to rejoice in all things as I know that God graciously gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11) and there is nothing to my merit which earns goodness or adds days to my life. The apostle Paul makes this clear from his dire dungeon when he writes, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
  6. “Attitude of gratitude” is infectious. With my wife’s help, I am learning to not be a curmudgeon when simple expectations don’t go the way I want them to happen. When I can express joy, I find my attitude is more selfless and grateful (not to mention my wife enjoys being around me more).

 

I think I am able to see the blessings my grandma was to our family, and how God worked throughout all circumstances. Ultimately I believe my grief can easily be subsided and healed by looking onward to the residual path of God-given blessings of His goodness. Thank you Jesus!

If you are interested in receiving clinical and biblical counseling, please contact myself or Tish Hedger at Emmaus Counseling

 

jesse massonJesse is one of our Biblical Counselors at Emmaus Counseling.  He received his Masters of Arts in Counseling from MBTS in 2014 and is a LPC in the state of Kansas.  Jesse and his wife Julie have 3 children and have lived in Kansas City, Spain and Iowa. 

How porn strips more than clothes

How porn strips more than clothes

I don’t know of anything that has ever been more blatantly immoral yet continues to increase exponentially in usage, than the epidemic of our porn industry. (Even the CDC reports that abortions are lessening in frequency.)

So what’s the big deal? It doesn’t hurt anyone.

Is this just a “religious” argument for morality?

What if porn is used to enhance my partner’s and my sex life?

Great questions. But they’re horribly skewed and illogical at their core. For there is not a single, selfless, good reason that porn exists. Porn does not even suffice one’s “sexual frustrations,” as some may argue. In fact, the viewing of porn does the opposite; it sets one up for future failures.

I do not have a single reference that summarizes all the ethical and mental health reasons to abstain from porn, but there are ample sources that provide such data. From a professional view, I can tell you that I clearly see a link between porn use and the negative effects on an individual’s mood, self-control, self-image, discipline, productivity, view of others, and sexual identity issues.

Pornography is designed to be visually (implicitly or explicitly) tantalizing by revealing more than the acceptable norms and mores in place (i.e. naked bodies are arousing because we are used to the norm of clothed bodies in public life). But does porn strip away more than the object’s clothes?

Yes. In fact, porn changes our neurological pathways in the brain’s functioning to see the person as an object for gratification purposes only. So we no longer see that (human) image as a person, but we then start to objectify real life people as a means to satisfy perverted desires.

The beginning of this detrimental direction is the thought, “What happens in privacy, does not hurt anyone else.” Not at all true. This is not a sin or maladaptive behavior that is simply a vice on a personal level. Porn transcends the visual screen into the mind as a false sense of comfort and you’re trapped thinking that it’s a personal, manageable issue. Here are some ways that porn hurts more than just you:

  • Sweet little lies. Porn gives you what you want (sexual arousal) without asking anything from you (such as responsibility, commitment, morality, etc.).
  • It’s addictive. Like any chemical dependency, porn kick-starts a rush of endorphins in the brain which gives you a boost of pleasure. However, it will soon leave you wanting more, and you will seek it again once you come out of your chemical slump. Addiction takes place as you need it more frequently – or potently (i.e. “hard” porn, BDSM, child porn, etc.) – to suffice your cravings. Porn ultimately dictates your mood, whether you recognize it or not.
  • Porn is your new pet. It will soon take your thoughts and energy away from other important responsibilities and relationships (friends, spouse, family) as you will try to get as much consumption whenever possible, justifying your neglect of other duties. Your productivity in daily activities will wither away.
  • Other as objects. With porn, you get used to seeing others as “objects of pleasure,” rather than human beings. You readily “auto-jump” to the sexualized scenario that porn has previously placed there in your brain with visual cues. Only this time, your neurological pathways are trained enough to conjure explicit images of others (for your sexual arousal) without the prompting of pornographic material.
  • Devalues your sexual being. It does not matter how you identify sexually, but porn does diminish what God created you for sexually (either celibate or sex within marriage). You think that you have the potential to express yourself to the fullest, but porn reduces you to a cheap (virtual) trick.

God did not create us as sexual beings to torment us with what we cannot have. Instead, we are fulfilled in obedience to his outlined plan in how we conduct our entire being – for his glory. Your or my sexual frustrations do not merit the right to find sexual release in deviant ways (via porn). But the discipline of reigning in sexual urges – whether married or single – is a discipline that puts others first and God’s glory ahead of your own pleasure. Our culture tells us that happiness is the indicator to our health. That is false, as it conveys infallibility of feelings.

On a personal level, I can also attest to how my past porn addiction was detrimental; to my mood, self-control, faith, productivity, and family-life. I have hurt my wife in the past with my porn use, but I am extremely grateful to how she has graciously shown me selfless love. Porn caused me to be selfish in the marriage bed and mental playground. Now I find greater joy in how I experience life without that addiction, and the ability to love my wife better when I think of her, not my perverted desires.

If you struggle with pornography, be educated, and seek accountability and counseling. If you know someone who is struggling with porn, be an empathic listener who can encourage the appropriate steps for change.

What are successful ways you have dealt with past pornography?

jesse massonJesse is one of our Biblical Counselors at Emmaus Counseling.  He received his Masters of Arts in Counseling from MBTS in 2014 and is a LPC in the state of Kansas.  Jesse and his wife Julie have 3 children and have lived in Kansas City, Spain and Iowa. 

An Interview with the new Emmaus Counselors

An Interview with the new Emmaus Counselors

This week, after months of prayer and work, we are pleased to announce that Emmaus Counseling is now officially open! I asked our two clinically trained, biblical counselors to sit down with me and share a few insights into how they counsel and what someone can expect when they attend a counseling session. I’m pleased to introduce you to Jesse Masson and Tish Hedger.

Emmaus Blog: So why did Emmaus Church decide to start a counseling center? Aren’t there already a lot of counselors in Kansas City?

jesse massonJesse: Yes there are a lot of really great counseling centers in Kansas City, but Emmaus Counseling meets two needs that we feel are underserved here in the Northland. The first is professional mental health care in the Northland is not as readily accessible. Secondly, we see the benefit of combining a Christian worldview with professional counseling. Research shows that the spiritual element in counseling is not only desired by a large percentage of clients, but it also aids the healing process. Emmaus Counseling is unique as it serves the needs of its church body, as well as counseling clients here in the Northland.

Emmaus Blog: It sounds like people may be willing to consider counseling from a church. Are there some things that make counseling at a church unique from a regular therapist’s office?

tish circleTish: You can trust at Emmaus Counseling that our primary goal is healthiness not only of your mind but in the integration of your mind and spirit. We are going to look to the Bible and the Holy Spirit for the primary source of strength and guidance in our counseling. We believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate counselor. We will be seeking him on the client’s behalf for any help and wisdom given.

Emmaus Blog: Jesse, you’ve been seeing clients since 2012. Where did you work before and what are some lessons you’ll be bringing to Emmaus Counseling that you feel will benefit your new clients?

Jesse: I worked for another great organization called New Leaf Counseling in Kansas City. During my 4 years there, I saw clients with a variety of issues. While walking alongside a couple on the brink of divorce, I watched them find perspective in their marriage as they began to refocus on the gospel while gaining respect and hope in each other. When I see a client addicted to pornography move from self-hatred to a deeper understanding of his worth in Christ, I’m reminded of why I counsel with such a holistic approach. As someone who has also spent a year in counseling as the client, I understand the benefit of having sound, biblical counseling to meet the need of real life issues. My counselor helped me pinpoint the source of my own personal issues and I trust that God will use me in the same way as I meet with future clients. 

Emmaus Blog: Tish, I know you see a lot of women dealing with a variety of issues from past abuse. What piece of advice would you give to women who have also suffered abuse in the past and want help?

Tish: Often times women don’t come to me for the abuse they experienced but for some other reason. They are looking for symptom relief for depression, anxiety, stress management, or relationship problems. The advice I would give is to be patient with yourself and realize that when it comes to matters of the heart, mind and memory the whole problem is usually entangled with different factors. But if there is unresolved abuse, it will almost certainly be one underlying factor that can bring much clarity and healing when resolved. Although the abuse happened, perhaps many years ago, do not be surprised if it’s still affecting you.

Emmaus Blog: Why don’t you both tell me a little bit about what a typical session looks like with you as a counselor. What can people expect?

Jesse: At the beginning of the session, I usually let the client share with me what is going on in his life. I let the client direct the conversation. I don’t just ask him to tell me what he is feeling, but rather we dialogue to dissect various sub-issues that are causing points of distress. Because I use a holistic approach, I also want to be very clear on what I don’t do:

This isn’t a time when the client is just going to come and ramble while I sit and take notes in a stoic manner. Nor is it a time when a client sits while I lecture him. Rather, counseling is a time to build a therapeutic relationship where the client can say what’s on his mind to an empathic listener in a safe environment. We exchange ideas to get to the root of the issue so that healing can take place.

Tish: The counselor is not a teacher, judge, or coach. But rather a sojourner on a journey towards healing. The path of healing for each individual is unique. The journey towards healing must be based on the personality of the client and their individual circumstance. The counselor’s role is to tailor a journey as unique as the individual.

Emmaus Blog: What is one thing you want people to know if they are considering counseling?

Jesse: Because issues are often built up over time, counseling is normally not a quick fix. It will take time and effort if you truly want to get better. Clients must understand they must be vitally involved. The client can expect to get out of counseling what he is willing to put into it. For example, a husband that attends sessions half-heartedly without being open and honest about his own issues will likely not see his marriage improve.

Tish: Like Jesse said, understand that it is not a quick fix. A counselor is really there to support, encourage and offer comfort and strength in the difficulties of life when there is sorrow and confusion.

It is our hope that those who need help dealing with issues will reach out and get help at Emmaus Counseling. Our fees are income based so that all can get access to gospel-centered counseling. To schedule an appointment, contact one of our counselors here.

6 reasons to choose counseling

6 reasons to choose counseling

Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone that you are reading this post. It’s understood that you are only inquiring to help a “friend” that you know who is experiencing emotional pain (*wink*). So here is some information that you can take with you to ensure the right decision to move forward in counseling.

Actually, before I get to that, let me say that I’ve “been there, done that.” Even after obtaining my counseling degree and professional license, I wasn’t readily willing to go to counseling myself. Whether it was my childhood scars, emotional calluses, or pride – I would rather offer the advice sooner than declare my need for it. But I can honestly say that after being in counseling as the client, I have a better understanding of my past and present, and how it affects my relationships with others (especially my wife). So if you are anything like me, there is great benefit to seeking out counseling.

Despite the declining negative stereotype people hold against mental health, it is still important that we understand why counseling is beneficial. Mental health practice can be likened to medical practice; not only do you go to the doctor when something is (bio-medically) wrong, but also for your annual check up – to ensure your normal health. Similarly, counseling is strongly utilized not only when emotions are dysregulated, but it can also be a healthy way to “check in” every so often for the sake of your mental health maintenance.

It does not mean that whoever reaches out for counseling is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, nor that a secret intervention camera crew is about to walk through the door. It does mean that the individual seeking counseling has a lot more courage than most of us. Think about the last time anyone bragged to the office co-workers about his upcoming counseling session because he doesn’t feel in control of his emotions. It can be scary to admit to someone else that you don’t know why you feel a certain way, that you’re addicted to porn, your marriage is no longer functioning, etc. Here are some things that may encourage you to choose counseling:

  1. You’re confused. Sometimes our life has us up-side-down without us realizing it. It’s difficult to navigate what exactly we are facing or how its even affecting us on a daily basis. This is a good time to choose counseling.
  2. You’re not Superman. Despite feeling like it some days or having a successful business career, that doesn’t mean that you are able to navigate healthy mental/emotional steps all by yourself in your personal life. Don’t struggle alone, choose counseling to help yourself out.
  3. Your daily life is not the norm. Do you feel low, have irregular sleep patterns, or have atypical thoughts consume your mind? This can be a clue that your mental health is suffering. Get back to your normal health with counseling.
  4. Your relationships are suffering. Are you easily agitated with others whom are normally close with you (spouse, friends, etc.)? Are you atypically withdrawn from social relationships? If this is your pattern, then it may strongly suggest that you should seek out counseling to regulate your daily relationships.
  5. You don’t have fun anymore. When your favored activities no longer hold pleasure for you, then that can indicate your moods are dysregulated. Finding a way back to your happy self again is a good reason to see a counselor.
  6. You’re addicted. Whenever there is something (gambling, sex, porn, alcohol, drugs, etc.) that you find yourself preoccupied by or pouring your resources into, that is reckless and unsustainable. You cannot be healthy when simultaneously not taking care of your present or future well-being.

Although these are valid reasons to choose counseling, it is always easier to have excuses for turning away from mental health. Time, money, projects, and work – all will slide into valuable priorities, but managing your mental health will lead to better management of your resources in the long run. Remember that it takes courage to seek out help. When you find yourself in counseling, it is not a moment of weakness, but rather the epithet for holistic health. You’ll thank yourself later.

jesse massonJesse is one of our Biblical Counselors at Emmaus Counseling.  He received his Masters of Arts in Counseling from MBTS in 2014 and is a LPC in the state of Kansas.  Jesse and his wife Julie have 3 children and have lived in Kansas City, Spain and Iowa. 

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