A Deeper Look Into Counseling as Discipleship

How is counseling like discipleship?

Counseling and discipleship are both relational opportunities that help us learn about ourselves and grow closer to God. The word “disciple” means to be a “learner” or “follower.” We know that Jesus had many disciples who followed him and sought to obey his teachings. Paul describes the reality of being a disciple: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Just as a discipleship relationship equips us to grow in Christ and live in light of the Gospel, counseling too offers us a relationship that helps us connect more deeply to ourselves and God.

But why do we need these sorts of relationships in our lives? The Bible tells us that we were built for them. In Genesis 1 & 2 we see humanity before the Fall, and everything is perfect. God says everything is good, but one thing is not good—Adam is alone. Adam isn’t lonely because he is imperfect. His ache for relationships is the one longing that is not from sin; this ache was a part of his perfection.
God made us in such a way that we cannot fully exist and thrive in this world without relationships. To need and desire deep relationships is not a sign of weakness or spiritual immaturity but of health and maturity. If you want closer relationships, you aren’t dysfunctional; you were built this way. However, we often feel let down by our relationships. Maybe we’re tired of putting ourselves out there or we don’t even know where to start.
What happens when we don’t have relationships? God made our hearts to be like plants; the only way a plant can thrive is to get ingredients that it needs to live. But if you put a plant in isolation, it will get worse every day it is in the dark. When parts of us are cut off from one another, they won’t grow.
Even though it seems that we are more connected than ever before, the epidemic of isolation and loneliness has never been greater. A recent study revealed that social isolation can be as harmful to our health as obesity or substance abuse. Neuroscientists have identified regions of the brain that respond to loneliness, and research shows that lonely people are more likely to become ill, experience cognitive decline, and die early. Loneliness isn’t just about people who live alone either: 65% of parents are classified as lonely and up to 69% of mothers have indicated loneliness as a significant concern. And men tend to be lonelier than women. It doesn’t matter who we are or how busy we are, we can still feel utterly alone.
God was right to call out “Where are you” when he sought out Adam and Eve in the Garden because isolation and alienation will kill us. If there is sin, pain, or emotion that is inside us but never brought into relationship, it won’t change or go away but get worse. Our pain will either be transformed in relationship, or it will be transmitted in some other way into things like anxiety, depression, or out-of-control behaviors.
So, what is the answer? Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “If a picture is worth 1000 words, then an experience is worth 1000 pictures.” When we experience a relationship that allows us to be known in our pain, we begin to heal and grow. Discipleship works this way as does counseling. One of the greatest gifts counseling offers is a safe and trusted relationship where we can be known. As we learn about who we are, make sense of our pain, and gain tools to navigate our relationships, we will grow in strength and resiliency.
Relationships aren’t easy though, are they? We need skills to learn things like patience, empathy, boundaries, and forgiveness to enhance how we do relationships. Counseling not only helps us connect to ourselves but also gives us a safe space to learn and practice these skills so that as we move into our relational spheres we can do so with more openness, acceptance, and freedom. Pastor Tim Keller said this about relationships: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
May is Mental Health Awareness month. We hope that these reflections have encouraged you in whatever season you find yourself. The Barnabas Center exists to help you find healing, understanding, and hope for your life through professional counseling. If you find yourself in a place of loneliness, doubt, or struggle, or if you want to grow in your relationships, we count it a privilege to walk alongside you in your journey. Please contact The Barnabas Center to connect with a counselor or to learn more about our individual and group counseling services.
Leslie Peacock