God and Psychotherapy, Part the Second

I'm not sure I have the energy to make this post quite as eloquent as the one about angel-guy and reality, but as I witness the ongoing intersection between therapy and faith, I feel compelled to share.

Actually, this post will be more of a musing than a story (thus perfectly befitting the title of my blog, for perhaps the first time? do I often muse? how can one tell?) (I might not muse, but I certainly digress). ANYWAY...

I've noticed that clients seem reluctant to talk about their faith in session. I've had several who, just in passing, have mentioned something about God or religious beliefs, or some Christian song that they enjoy singing. Because I love Jesus and was trained at Regent University, I'm usually on that like a hawk. "Oh, are your beliefs about God important to you?" "Oh, do you enjoy singing Christian songs? What are your beliefs about that?" It is glorious when this occurs, like a sudden, unexpected beam of light shining down onto my therapy couch.

I'm always amazed when my clients seem surprised that I should ask. Those who have opened this door have turned out to identify as Christians, and to report that their beliefs are of core importance to them. How could such a person claim to desire healing without incorporating such a central component of their humanity? It blows the mind, really. Have we, as a field, professed so much hostility toward religion that our clients, the very ones for whom we exist, feel afraid to mention their love for the Lord?

One feels inspired to cuss. Or would, perhaps, if one weren't such a thoroughly sanctified girl.

I have one client in particular, whose name is startlingly appropriate to this story (we'll call her Faith, not her real name). She has been struggling with overwhelming guilt and shame related to her daughter's experience of abuse in the past. Faith has been stuck in a very deep depression for over a year, and to make matters worse, is somaticizing her distress as physical pain throughout her body. She feels little relief from her pain, even with medication and a sporadic exercise regimen. It is difficult for her to function from day to day because of the staggering weight of her guilt and sorrow.

I was trying to help her identify activities that lift her mood, even a little. She mentioned reading, and I asked what she enjoys reading. Her reading material of choice includes books about God, love, and becoming a better person. Choosing to believe that she was not referring to anything Olsteen-related, I asked about her interest in God. Does she have a relationship with God? Is this important to her? How has she experienced God since she learned of her daughter's abuse? Has she felt a disconnect between what she knows about God, and the way she feels her relationship with him is now?

Well oh my stars. If this woman didn't just light up at the mention of her God. We didn't solve world hunger, or even permanently do away with her depression, but we had such a conversation as has rarely graced a therapy room. It turns out she has felt very distant from God lately, and this is very distressing for her. She believes in Jesus, but it is incredibly difficult for her to let go of the guilt that comes from blaming herself for her daughter's abuse.

Does this not change everything about the way we will move forward in therapy??

In fifteen minutes we moved from a cold, stuck, barren place in which Faith has little hope for ever improving, to a warm, beautiful, living place in which Faith remembers her love for God, her passion for beauty, and her gift for writing poetry. Next time I see Faith, she will bring her old writings and we will speak of the only thing that is really True. Before she left that day, she smiled for at least five minutes and complimented my hair.

And all I did was agree with her that God exists, and He gives us good things, and that sometimes what we know about Him is very different from the way we experience Him. I gave her permission to speak about that which is Real in a way that her guilt and depression never will be. All I did was spot an unlocked door, and nudge it open enough for us to peer through together. And I do believe we'll be walking through it in the near future: the door to forgiveness and hope.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. With depression as significant as Faith is experiencing, progress tends to be slow and recovery is not always complete - i.e. some symptoms and/or some tendency to relapse will always remain. I blame the genetic component of mood disorders. But if we can reduce the heavy burden of guilt, I would imagine that we will see some level of improvement.

You know, it's interesting. That morning, as I laid in bed struggling to wake up and leave my warm (canoe-shaped...but that's a different post...) cocoon, I said a prayer for the clients I would see that day. Wednesdays are my full days, and I am there roughly 11.5 hours, so it takes a fairly strong kick in the pants to get me going. I find that it helps to minimize my stress and fear of exhaustion if I pray over that day's workload (go figure). And I prayed for Faith, who previously had been a bit of a frustration to me because of her stuck-ness. And lo and behold, the Lord saw fit to enter into the healing process that very morning.

I love my job.

[editor's note: I guess this turned out to be both a musing and a story. I have such a gift for smooth transitions and combining literary genres.]

Get It???

[ht: www.basketcasecomix.com]

Operation Snowball

Joel and I sat down to a long-overdue business meeting this morning and hashed out our budget. Actually, our first step was to list our one-year goals as a couple, including family, financial, personal, and professional goals. These goals may or may not have included "no more back pain!" and "get a normal job!". I won't tell you which goal was whose.

This was a great experience. I'm reminded of a well-known piece of wisdom: Begin with the end in mind. If you don't know where you want to end up, how will you ever get there? It was neat to envision where we want to be in another twelve months. We also hope to do the same with five-year goals and perhaps longer-term goals than that, but this was a good start.

When we had listed our financial goals in particular (though some of our personal goals are related), we realized that our next priority had to be examining the budget. We have been sorely remiss in not evaluating our financial situation monthly, or even bimonthly, in the recent past, with the result that we weren't entirely sure where we stood in relation to our financial goals.

Enter Operation Snowball.

I don't know whether you're familiar with the Snowball philosophy of getting out of debt. It's from the Dave Ramsey school of thought, I believe (if not him, then someone similar with perhaps a different hairstyle). You write a budget that involves minimum monthly payments toward each of your debts, and look to see whether you have a monthly surplus or deficit. We found ourselves extremely fortunate to have a modest monthly surplus - the advantage of going from one income to two, and downgrading our housing for this year. This is where the Snowball philosophy kicks in.

As we looked at putting all of our monthly surplus toward the debt with the lowest monthly payment, we realized we could be rid of that one by January (!!). Roll the monthly surplus and what we had been paying toward that debt into a payment for the second-lowest-monthly debt, and we can be rid of debt #2 by May! Wow, this is really working! And miracle or miracles, when we take all of the monthly surplus + debt 1 payment + debt 2 payment and put it toward debt #3 each month, we'll be done with that one a short time later. Voila, financial goals #1, 3 and 4 passed and surpassed with style.

We are really, really motivated to stick with this, but we sometimes have trouble with willpower. Therefore, we decided to dub our aggressive budget plan "Operation Snowball". Any time we feel tempted to splurge on something outside the budget, we will squint menacingly at one another, yell "Operation Snowball!" and exchange fist pounds (the exploding kind). Should you ever witness this, you are welcome to participate by throwing your hands in the air and waving them like you just don't care. Perhaps then we will be able to resist the siren song of the strawberry kiwi Gelato from Rita's.

I'm not so optimistic about resisting the Sesame Chicken from Zhuang's Garden, but like I always say, baby steps, people.