Thanks to Kate Knapp, LMHC, for contributing to my Finding God at Work series on how she experiences God through her work as a therapist. Check out her free counseling videos or follow her on Facebook.
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Although I’m therapist, sometimes I feel in danger of being the bull in the china shop. I can see the damage in my clients’ lives, the hurt, and the likely reasons for it all, and I want to tell them where they went wrong and how to fix it. But even if I can diagnose the situation accurately, I can’t repair it. That’s not my job—not the job I’m paid for or the one God calls me to.
Hank and I sat down for our eleventh session. We’d spent the first ten wading through the issues he’d presented for while I waited for the real issue to surface. We’d talked about his faith, low level depression, and pending life choices. We discussed doctoral programs and his wife’s thoughts about what he should do. Then, during that eleventh session, out of no where—whamoo—an affair. For the past 6 months. His wife found out when a friend saw Hank with the other woman, who was a part of his education circle. His doctoral options were now looking limited and, more importantly, his marriage was a mess.
Being a therapist means helping clients fix their own lives, if they want to. Despite my belief in God, my education, or my love for them, fixing a deep problem like Hank’s affair is the job of my clients, their privilege, and not mine. Instead, as a therapist, I get to remind people like Hank of who they are. Hank is a man of faith, who deeply regrets his choice.
Hank decided to fight, to run through the debris left by his choices and run toward his commitments. He chose to engage this battle and I got to help him. From then on, our sessions probed the particular wounds he’d incurred by his choices, his wife’s hurt, and his now destroyed self-image.
When Hank began to get discouraged, frustrated, or weary of the battle, I would say, “Remember, Hank? You told me that you believe you’re called to honor your marriage vows. Has that changed? If so, we need to explore why.”
Therapists call this the working phase. It’s long and messy and never as straightforward as anyone hopes. My job as therapist isn’t to hand Hank a ten step plan for fixing up his life. Instead, my work looks more like the bumpers on a bowling lane. I focus his energy and efforts on the areas that will promote growth toward his stated goal.
With the Lord’s help I am able to take up my position as bowling-alley bumper. Quietly or loudly, whatever it takes, I encourage my clients to move forward. This gives the Holy Spirit room to work. Sometimes during my session, I hear myself saying, “Yes, Lord! I see you working, thank you. I see your love.” Following these encounters, I close my office door and feel the tears welling up because I know the Lord used me in one of His precious china shops.