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When You Need Counseling

Children's Ministry Magazine

Sometimes all we need is a bit of outside help. Once you decide to pursue counseling, it's often tricky to figure out who to go to.

by Kimberly Gaines

No one is immune to problems -- including children's ministers. At times we may experience intense feelings that don't go away. We may feel overwhelmed by the workload or the stress facing us.

It's common to struggle with difficult issues in our marriage, with our children, with our finances, with a crisis that blindsides us, or even a new change in life, such as becoming a parent for the first time. Usually, with a strong network of support, we can work through these situations. But sometimes, we may need extra professional help.

If you experience five or more of these symptoms almost every day for two weeks, you may need to see a professional:

*Loss of enjoyment in formerly enjoyable activities,

*Significant changes in weight or appetite,

*Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night,

*Fatigue or loss of energy,

*Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, or withdrawal,

*Inability to concentrate or make decisions, and

*Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

The sooner we reach out, the better we'll manage. When you need help, determine the kind of counseling you need with these guidelines:

1. Assess your physical condition. First, see a doctor. Check to see if there's any physiological basis to what you're experiencing. A physician may find that a virus is the cause of your run-down feeling. Or he or she may find that you're physically in tiptop shape, which means that something else is going on.

Then it's smart to assess your lifestyle. Are you eating a balanced diet? getting the right amount of sleep and exercise? What changes could you make to improve your lifestyle habits? Sometimes starting an exercise routine or cutting back on fast food and sweets is the solution to our troubling feelings.

2. Examine your relationship with God. When Ahab, the king of Israel, approached Jehoshaphat for assistance, he was told "First we should ask the Lord to guide us." (1 Kings 22:5). The Lord is our counselor, and we should see if what's troubling us is really our need for a closer relationship with God.

*Take stock of your spiritual routine. How often do you attend church, read the Bible, pray, and worship God? Regular attention to these areas is important to your Christian growth and maturity. As a children's minister, it's sometimes easy to see these areas as "work" instead of "spiritual nurturing."

*Regularly confess and keep from sin. As Christians, we are to live by the principles outlined in the Bible. Sometimes it's easy to slip from those principles and not examine our current life-or our past. Admit any wrongdoing you've currently slipped into or have done in the past. Look at how your current problems relate to what you did in the past. Ask for forgiveness for these, correct the situation, and make a plan to keep from repeating these sins.

*Spend time with other Christians. You need support, guidance, accountability, and friendship on a regular basis. Sometimes a good friend is the best medicine.

3. Evaluate your support system. In 1 Corinthians 12:12, Paul describes the church as a body made of many parts. We all need support from other church members, and each person may provide a unique support. Examine these areas for potential support:

*Children's ministry support-Regular meetings and communication with children's ministry workers can provide assistance and close relationships. Hopefully, your senior minister is also supportive of your ministry.

*Group support-Along with regular Christian fellowship, seek out opportunities to meet in small groups during the week for Bible study and prayer. Form a group with people who support and nurture you the most.

*Counseling support-Most churches provide some type of individual counseling. If you feel comfortable, take advantage of this. Sometimes, however, it may be wiser to seek outside counseling so you can feel more at ease at disclosing whatever may be troubling you.

Once you've examined your health, your relationship with God, and your support systems, your next step is to consider other counseling options. If you want a Christian counselor, two types of counselors exist:

*Biblical counseling-This counseling is based on the belief that the Bible is the only authority, and God is at the center of all counseling. "I am the vine, and you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I remain in him, then he produces much fruit. But without me, he can do nothing" (John 15:5). Biblical counseling sees sin as the primary problem and developing a Christ-like character as the primary goal.

*Christian counseling-This counseling integrates biblical knowledge with secular psychological theory. Using the medical model of psychology, Christian counseling makes diagnoses based on symptoms. Counselors incorporate their Christian beliefs and use a variety of psychological approaches.

In seeking a counselor, look for one who has biblical knowledge, expresses the wisdom of God, is compassionate and bold, and firmly holds you responsible for your part of the problem.

Once you decide to pursue counseling, it's often tricky to figure out who to go to. Talk to a trusted church member, leadership staff, or the pastor. You can also get names from a Christian college, a Christian counseling clinic, or a Christian counseling referral line.

After you choose a counselor, look at your medical plan. With the predominance of managed health care plans, you may have few options for counseling. If your medical plan assigns restrictions you can't accept, look into receiving services from a biblical or Christian counselor who'll accept fees on a sliding scale.

No matter who you choose, remember the words of the knowledgeable king: "First we should ask the Lord to guide us."

Kimberly Gaines is a clinical psychologist in California.


Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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