Much of the sickness of our modern world lies hidden until it explodes in emotional disorder. The minister-counselor must be prepared for distressing encounters that tax all his wisdom, patience, and prayer. Often he must work with medical resources in search of healing.
A young married man made an urgent phone call to me one Monday evening. He was highly intelligent and good-looking. He loved his wife and two children. He was in his last year of work for a Ph.D. and hoped to become an educational administrator.
He was suffering from attacks of panic at night, guilt over obscene thoughts, and fear of losing his eyesight. He had been reared in a very strict sect that emphasized eternal punishment, and he had the highest Christian ideals. He believed that a spot he had on one retina could be healed in only one way—by instantaneous divine touch.
I was relieved to learn that the young man was receiving psychiatric help at the campus health center. I arranged to meet with him for regular counseling sessions. During the eight months these went on, I tried to help him lay hold of salvation by grace through faith. Although reared in a “free grace” tradition, he was really under the burden of condemnation. I prescribed many passages of New Testament reading, and we discussed these repeatedly.
We had conversations about handling bad thoughts and about trusting God through the eye doctor to preserve his sight. He told me about the therapy at the student health center, which was an effort to reach his emotions through muscle tension and relaxation.
After several months, he no longer had attacks of panic. He smiled more easily and became more optimistic. He began to feel he could cope with final exams and the professional responsibilities that lay ahead. He seemed to acquire confidence that God had accepted him through Christ, that he did not struggle alone, and that his eyes were going to be all right. Our last session was one of thankfulness and quiet commitment in prayer.
There are times in counseling when no special wisdom is needed to recognize the cause of disorder. The baffling part is what to do about it. This is particularly true in cases of unhappy family relationships.
A housewife came to my office from time to time over a period of three years in despair over her husband. She was a very sensitive person, eager for a spiritual emphasis in her home and Christian training for the children. Her husband, a rough, outdoors type, had very little concern for religion in the home. He occasionally attended church as a concession to his wife but refused to have anything to do with marital counseling.
One day the wife appeared at the church without an appointment. She sprawled in a chair in deep exhaustion. She had no strength left and had difficulty concentrating on a conversation, and she plainly needed medical attention. Her husband, a professional man, was reluctant to admit that she needed help. But he did agree that she needed a change. Finally she arranged a trip and in a distant city entered a hospital.
After a few weeks she returned home, somewhat rested and stronger. She tried again to achieve some compatibility in the home. This attempt failed. Before long, she had to go to a hospital for shock therapy. Now through a formal separation she has some degree of peace. The children are divided between her and her husband.
The distressing question keeps recurring: Could there have been a better way? A faithful group is praying for a better solution to the family’s problem. God is the God of patient process, and there is always the hope of intervention that will succeed where man has failed.
Sometimes people have curious disorders that defy understanding. One is a strange drive toward failure.
An excited young man called one evening. He said he had been smoking marijuana daily but was scared and had resolved to kick the habit. For several months we had fortnightly sessions. He came from a church-related home and was attending college in our area. He had been withdrawing from people and could not concentrate upon his studies.
I stressed the possibility of a whole new direction for his life. He seemed pathetically eager to experience a personal relationship with Christ. As the weeks went by he expressed amazement at the way the Bible was speaking to his needs. He broke completely with smoking “numbers,” as he called them. His grades improved markedly. He made the college baseball team and seemed to have new purpose and confidence. He established a warmer relationship with his parents by mail.
He was unable, however, to find a Christian friend for regular prayer fellowship and discipline. What he told me about his inability to find supportive fellowship pointed to a tendency to be a loner and to get discouraged. After a time he began to miss appointments. I conferred with a friend in the college administration and with the help of the baseball coach we tried to develop a pattern of support and responsibility that would motivate him to succeed. His father came to see him several times and showed love and patience.
But despite all this effort, the young man was unable to hold on to a positive attitude. He felt he could not graduate, and he dropped one or two courses so that in the end he did not graduate. At no time did he show hostility toward any of us. He was compliant but dreamy and indecisive.
He is now living at home in another state, taking some college work and receiving professional counseling. He seems to have a strange will to fail, along with an inability to sustain effort, though in both studies and athletic work he has shown considerable ability. Yet he retains a certain idealism and wants to be in service-oriented work.
These examples reveal some of my basic convictions in counseling: (1) Conflicts and anxieties must be brought to the surface and faced squarely; (2) everyone needs a clearly defined relationship of trust with the Lord Jesus Christ; (3) the Spirit of power, love, and self-control is always the ultimate resource in therapy; (4) the patient needs the ability to use prayer and the Scriptures, always with reference to the supportive community of faith; (5) all available human therapeutic resources should be used; (6) pressure should be eased as much as possible during the early time of recovery; (7) some people have to live with a very limited ability to take strain; (8) the Christian counselor looks beyond the first months and even years of healing effort to Him who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”—The Rev. CARY N. WEISIGER III, minister, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, California.
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