Mt. Counsel

I’m a big fan of seeing a counselor.

(Also, I’m a hypocrite for saying that.)

Everybody has problems to deal with. Lots of people have much bigger ones than I do. To get geographical about it, some people have to scale the Rocky Mountains; but even the smaller, rounded, wooded Blue Ridge Mountains are hard to shove out of the way.

DJ and I first saw a counselor during Year 8 of our marriage. We’d come up against a mountain and weren’t sure exactly how to get around it. A few sessions with a trained, unthreatening, non-preaching counselor showed us that we had no idea how to talk through conflict. She gave us ways to approach a difficult subject, helped us figure out our different mindsets, and completely solved our whole problem!

Which you of course know is a black lie. Five years later, we’re still practicing. But it definitely changed our marriage for the better.

A couple of years ago, DJ found himself exhausted by stresses at work. This is the man who always follows recipes, or stops and asks for directions. (Heck, he stopped on the way to the hotel after our wedding to ask for directions.) So as soon as he realized it was too big for him to handle, he made a few appointments with the counselor on his own. It didn’t fix everything, but it gave him a handhold to scale the mountain.

And then there’s me — the hypocrite.

It was obvious I was having some problems. I spent four or five years desperately unhappy at church until we finally moved to a different one, and all of us were able to relax. At which point I developed the inability to sit through the service. Simply looking over the bulletin made me panicky. I’d flee to another room, put in my earbuds, and journal about ideas for novels. Finally, at the end of this January, I just stopped going to church altogether.

DJ understood that I needed the break. But, he pointed out, it’s not like this reaction was getting better. He really wanted me to see the counselor. I agreed to make an appointment. And I did! Two months later. 

Because I’m a big fan of counselors… for other people. Not for me, necessarily.

Yesterday, I drove through the beautiful spring snow (grrr) with a knot in my stomach. Fortunately, the session turned out to be non-soul-wrenching, nonthreatening, and completely unsurprising. I knew why I was having trouble, and she listened, asked questions, and confirmed it. I didn’t need revelations; I just needed the chance to talk it out and better understand what was triggering me. 

We finished with me feeling better about the whole situation, especially since she agreed that it was probably a good idea for me to not to attend church until I felt ready. “Great,” she said. “I think we’ve scratched the surface here.”

“No,” I said quickly. “That was great. I’m just fine now.”

“When would you like to come back?”


“How about in two weeks?” I sighed.

— SJ


8 thoughts on “Mt. Counsel

  1. Oh I can relate….Too often I wear friends out turning them into therapists. I just really never want to be needy so I pretend I’m not.

  2. Way to go SJ!! Way to do the Hard Thing That’s Good For You. I am a hearty supporter of counseling for all, especially those with our backgrounds…..

  3. I am really glad you shared this. And can identify with the concept of triggers and counseling being good for other people. 😉 The odd thing is mine never tells me to come back. Or if she doesn’t I miss that part.

  4. Toni, I know. Obviously it’s all fixed after that one conversation OBVIOUSLY! Especially if I got through it without crying… let’s stop while we’re ahead, okay?

    Rachelle — I too want to be collected and strong and handle life’s problems with an ironic witticism. And that kind of doesn’t always work well.

    Deige, I was going to call you yesterday to let you know where I was going, then felt kind of like a wounded animal who would rather go off and die alone. Not that I having an overreaction to the entire idea.

    And as you know, Kristin, the problem is that those of our background ALSO have it pounded into us that if we’re living the right way, we don’t need to go to a counselor. So if we even consider it, it’s admitting that something is badly wrong with us. You know, just to complicate an already complicated emotional tangle.

    — SJ

  5. We had a whole series of counseling sessions before our marriage. With a REAL counselor, not a pastoral sort. I think it was one of the best things we did. It really was fun too, learning about how the other thought and handled conflict. We learned some interesting things from the personality tests that we have had to re-visit throughout our marriage. (Such as that we are opposite from the stereotype on love and respect.) So I am definitely a fan.

  6. A great post. Sara, My admiration and respect for you continue to grow as I am entertained by your writing. I have spent many an hour with a very good counselor. I like your metaphor of a handhold to help scale a mountain.

  7. Ugh. I totally get the knots in the stomach thing. I always feel that way before seeing my counselor. But then I always feel lighter after our session. More centered. Stronger. More hopeful.

    And then I repeat the cycle the next time. I thought I was going to a counselor to break these sorts of cycles. 😉

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