Monthly Archives: January 2015

Dealing with Grief

Recently a Facebook friend of mine has been posting about appropriate ways to handle situations where people are grieving. I was happy she did it, because she addressed some of the ways that we can be unhelpful to people when they are going through difficult times. I think that most of us truly do want to help and have the best intentions, but sometimes we say things that send implicit (hidden) messages to people that they should get over it and move on. While we certainly wouldn’t wish for anyone we love to be grieving forever, it’s important to give people the time they need to go through the process. It’s natural to feel sad, upset, angry, and frustrated at the occurrence of a loss. So, what do we need in the face of grief?

1. Time- It is a natural human response to a loss to feel the need to get away for a while. Sometimes, people don’t feel like being bothered, and sometimes they feel fine. There is no prescription for grief and everyone’s process is different. Give yourself time to feel the loss and throw all the stuff about how you are “supposed” to grieve out the window. Often, people can have a delayed response. So, it could be really meaningful if you drop and email or call 2-3 weeks after a loss, when most other people have gotten back into the swing of their lives.

2. Support- Support can come in a lot of different ways. Some people just need someone to sit there while they cry. Some people need to talk about the person that they lost, look at pictures, and reminisce. Some people need instrumental help- food, laundry, washing dishes, opening mail, etc. If you’re going to offer something to a person who’s grieving, do it. If you aren’t really willing to do “anything” they ask- then don’t promise that. If you aren’t actually going to answer the phone at 3am, don’t say “I’m here whenever you need me.” Sometimes, people don’t know what they want. Offer some choices of things you can offer, or just do it! People who are grieving may need to be gently reminded to eat, sleep, go for a walk, or shower. If you need to do this, do so in love and understanding.

3. Space- Give people the space to feel their feelings about the situation. As church folks, we are famous for giving people all these churchy phrases that are supposed to help people feel better: “They are in a better place.” or “Don’t cry. It will be ok.” or “Be strong.” Sometimes, people don’t feel like being strong, they don’t want to look at the big picture of God’s plan, and they don’t want to think about anything after the minute they are currently trying to survive. This was one of the things I remember being most frustrated about after my dad died. People were telling me how good of a man he was, how he was now with God, etc, etc. All of those things were true, and I still believe them. But, the day after his death, they were the furthest from my mind. I really just needed someone to hand me a tissue and tell me that they were sorry it happened. That’s all.

4. Pray- Combine whatever physical acts you do with the act of prayer. Just as we need it every day, people who are grieving need more than ever to feel God’s comfort. It can be hard to understand or make sense of your loss. Sometimes people feel angry at God and that’s ok. Just remember that God’s protection and love is bigger and better than any a human can give. It might feel like too much for the grieving person to pray for themselves at that time, so your prayers are important.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed the well known model of Stages of Grief. What we now know is that while these don’t necessarily go in a certain order, they are common reactions to a loss:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

So, if you find yourself or a loved one having these feelings after a loss, remember, what you are feeling is normal. Don’t try to force yourself to feel something else, or “get over it” before you’re ready. Try to take care of yourself and move through the process naturally. When we move to the place that we have accepted the loss, we can begin to figure out what life looks like without our loved one. But, this is only after we give ourselves the time we need to grieve.

Note: Feeling of sadness, crying, etc. are all a part of the grieving process. While there is no prescribed time, most people are able to return to some sense of normalcy within a few weeks or a month. Things will still be hard, but they often feel less overwhelming and impossible. If it’s been several months and things don’t seem to be getting more manageable, it might help to reach out to a professional for support.

More next week on Recovering from Grief. Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

Church or Clinic? Who’s the right counselor for me?

I get lots of questions about the differences between psychotherapy, Christian counseling, and pastoral counseling. Choosing to go to therapy can be a big step because of the pervasive stigma we have about mental illness, and beliefs that we are somehow weaker or less faithful if we need help. I have some thoughts, but check out this article from Counseling Today as well:

To whom shall I refer? | Counseling Today.

So, who’s the best person to go to when you have a concern? Here’s a general breakdown. For believers, often a first step is a pastor or minister. These folks are often well equipped at what we would call “pastoral care” or “soul care.” Many ministers have received training on how to help people experiencing grief, bereavement, or struggling with spiritual concerns or questions of faith. They might also be able to help you manage minor relationship difficulties or times of stress. Pastors and ministers can offer spiritual guidance, but often refer to a psychotherapist when there seem to be more severe symptoms or difficulty functioning.

When your struggles get to the point where they would represent a diagnosable mental health condition or are having an impact on your daily functioning, it’s best to go to a licensed mental health provider. Still, you have options. There are some mental health clinicians who are also trained in issues of religion and spirituality and work with clients with both of these worldviews in mind- these are called Christian counselors. Christian counselors hold the spiritual experience at the forefront of work with mental health concerns, and are able to seamlessly incorporate issues of faith into mental health treatment. They are often particularly interested in using biblical principles as guidance for the course of treatment. They might even be licensed or ordained ministers. This is a great option for folks with current mental health symptoms who believe that spiritual/religious beliefs are central to their concerns. Most Christian counselors will identify themselves as such on their marketing materials. VIPCARE is a great resource in the Richmond area.

A related field is pastoral counseling. These folks have training and clinical skill, but may not be licensed mental health professionals. Most states don’t have a licensure category for Pastoral Counselors. Instead, they may serve as chaplains in various organization such as VA hospitals or other medical facilities. They may also have a national certification as a pastoral counselor and/or a certification in Clinical Pastoral Education. Ministers and pastors might also have some specialized training in providing pastoral counseling, which is a  brief, solution-focused counseling model where spiritual and religious concerns are brought into the treatment planning.They are also trained in a way that they could work with people from a variety of religious traditions, not just Christians.

Then, there are folks who a trained secularly. These counselors will have a state licensure such as social worker, psychologist, professional counselor, or marriage and family therapist. A licensed therapist may or may not be a Christian, or be able to understand your religious and spiritual concerns. All licensed therapists should have training which allows them to work with people with a variety of cultural and religious beliefs. Mental health professionals who don’t identify as Christian counselors could still incorporate your beliefs into your treatment possessing this level of cultural competency, and they may or may not understand your beliefs at a personal level. Still others might be able to help you integrate these concerns into your treatment despite their personal beliefs. With secular therapists, it’s ok to ask if they feel that they can help you incorporate spiritual concerns. Keep in mind that people don’t have to share your beliefs to understand and appreciate them. However, if you think that would help you to feel more comfortable in therapy, it’s fineto have that as a preference.

The bottom line is that whenever you are at the point where you’re seeking help, you reserve the right to ask all the questions you need to find someone who is a good fit for you. No matter who you go to, they should be able to explain to you how they believe people change and get better, and how they feel they can help you in particular to feel better.You also have the right to seek out another provider if one doesn’t seem to be a fit, though I encourage you to be open about your concerns, as it may be something that can resolved without starting all over. Here are some questions you might want to ask a therapist/counselor when beginning to work with them:

  1. Do you take insurance? What do you charge?
  2. How and when were you trained?
  3. What kind of therapy do you practice? How do you believe people get better?
  4. How will we incorporate my religious/spiritual beliefs into my treatment?
  5. What will we talk about? How will we decide what to talk about?
  6. What happens if I have a crisis?

These are just some questions to get you started, but you may have others, and that’s fine. You have the right to advocate for yourself and get what you need! The important thing is to find a therapist who can understand your world view, help you address some concerns, and ultimately feel better. Check out my Find a Therapist page if you’re ready to start your journey to wellness! Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

What’s the Point of Church?

I ran across an Article recently on the “Spiritual Openness of Younger Unchurched” that basically challenges the notion that Christianity is dying in America. The article makes the argument that while church attendance is declining, young adults in particular are actually open to the idea of spirituality and religion, but seem to be resistant to the idea of church. The article provides these statistics from a Lifeway Research study:

The overwhelming majority believe the church is full of hypocrites (67% of young unchurched). A significant group, approximately 39%, believe their lifestyle wouldn’t be accepted at most Christian churches. Finally, about 90% of young unchurched think they can have a good relationship with God without the church.

I have to admit, I’ve heard plenty of people say something to the effect of “I don’t do church” and I would bet, it’s because of these things- feeling like church folk say one thing and do another, or feeling like they would be judged at churches. Still, there are others who feel that they can have a great relationship with God without needing to go to church. However, according to the study these same people were open to hearing about God, going to bible study, or joining a small group. So, it doesn’t seem like a resistance to God, maybe just a resistance to church. Though I’m not in the camp of folks who believe this, I can understand the sentiment. So, what does this mean? Do we not need church anymore?

I would say that yes, we do. But, it’s high time that we start taking some of the criticisms of the church critically. Why would people want to come to a place where they feel they will be judged by people who do (or have done) the same things? What’s the draw? For me, the draw is connection; not just to God (you can get God alone), but to others who you know share the same values and are along the same journey. But, just like any other organization with humans in it, church can get cliquish, complicated, political, etc. These are the things that can sometimes get in the way, especially for people who are new to church. I also think that we have a really limiting definition of church. My pastor preached a sermon last week about the importance of what we do outside the church walls- what we do at work, at the grocery store, and at the gas station is also a representation of the church. What if our behavior at the grocery store made people want to come to church?

I love my church and THE CHURCH and I see the benefits of it. I also understand why some people won’t step foot near a church. We all have our reasons. The part that is most disheartening is that there are people who are yearning for Christ, but can’t get what they need because we humans are in the way. There are so many people who need connection, home, family, support, and love. We have the opportunity to be just what people need, if we get out of the way. My hope is that church can be a place where everyone can get their questions answered, feel as though they are an important part of a community, and be spiritually nourished. I think a lot of the responsibility is on us to walk the talk, to be people who exemplify Christ and draw people to God just like moths to a flame. We should be that contagious! This extends not only to our conversations, but also to our social media presence, our demeanor at work, any time we are around others. It means that we can endeavor to be forgiving, loving, understanding, and kind. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even at the end of a long day. This idea is not new at all, but I believe many of us have lost our way. Here are some scriptures to remind us:

Matthew 5:14-16:  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

1 Peter 3:15:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

John 13:35: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

So, let’s endeavor to be the kind of people that people will follow to church! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!