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What is 'Talk Therapy' and why do I need it?

Many people are confused about the concept of 'Talk Therapy.' "I don't need to talk to someone about my problems. I can work them out for myself," they say. Or people will advise others to get therapy, "You need to talk to someone so you can get it out of your system."

Well, there may be times when talking might get it out of your system, and you can 'vent' a little, but that's not what 'Talk Therapy' is all about.

There are many things that happen in a therapy session, and different people respond in different ways, so to say 'This is talk therapy' and give it a simple definition would be doing the many therapists out there an injustice. I will tell you what Talk Therapy is to me:

Is Therapy Biblical?

Yes. Truly, if it wasn't, I wouldn't do it. Do I believe that God has all of the answers? Yes. Do I believe that through prayer and a relationship with Jesus, all problems can be addressed? Absolutely. That is exactly why I do what I do, and why I do it the way I do it.

Second, although I totally agree that the Bible has all of the answers, and that the relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the answer, it has also come to my attention that there are many different levels of understanding of a person's faith and Christian walk, and many who suffer don't know how to find the answers they seek in their faith. My focus with my therapy is to help them find those answers Scripturally, and to enrich their relationship with Christ so they can find that supernatural peace and healing He offers.

Having said that, let me make it clear that I believe that traditional psychotherapy is not Biblical. It is totally focused in the wrong direction. It does not draw a person to God, and in the worst case, helps them become more and more independent of Him. My focus is to draw a person toward God, and teach them how to find their peace through Him. We do that with the Bible on our laps.

My approach to using the Bible is not to beat people up with it. I don't believe that's what Jesus wants from us. What He wants is for our deep and penetrating love for Him to be the source of our motivation and power to be obedient - not to appease Him by obeying the rules, but to experience Him and have that abundant life He wants for us. The abundant life is more of Him. My focus is to help people find Jesus in the pages of their Bibles.

Through this approach to therapy, I have seen more miracles than I could ever have imagined.

Go to my blog post "Is Christian Therapy Biblical?" for Scripture references and more details.

The Relationship:

First of all, it is an opportunity to get into an emotionally intimate relationship with someone who is totally objective about your situation. As we talk, we get to really know one another. We learn from each other and we come to understand one another. It is my goal to try to really understand your situation. Many times, just finding someone who cares enough to really want to understand can be healing in and of itself. I want to 'get it,' and I want you to know that I do.

I think of it this way: See yourself as living life in the middle of a deep dark forest. I could stand on the edge of the forest and yell into you and say, "Come this way! Follow my voice and you'll find your way out!" I could do that, and you may eventually find your way out, but that doesn't give me much of an understanding of what it means to be in your forest. Because of my ignorance, I am of much less help guiding you out.

Instead, I listen for your voice calling to me, and I come in and find you in the middle of your forest. Then, side-by-side, we walk out together. Sometimes we make it out quickly, and other times there are many obstacles we have to navigate, but we're doing it together, you, me, and God, as a team. Before I can help you get better, I have to understand where it hurts, and that's where the relationship comes in.

When you and I talk, my goal is to help you get better - not just feel better. The difference is that for the rest of your life, you'll be able to navigate your way through new obstacles and problems from a healthier perspective and a better foundation. When we meet, much like your experience with a surgeon might be, there may be days when you leave feeling better, and there may also be days when you leave feeling exhausted or in some pain. If it has been a successful session, though, in spite of the fact that you might occasionally feel a little exhausted, you are actually better on the inside - and that, in the end, is the goal. Surgery hurts, but you know when it's successful because you feel better in the long run.

The Perspective:

Much of what I do in therapy is to help people see themselves and their circumstances differently. I tell people to think of the therapy experience as driving a car - they have the steering wheel in their hands and their feet are on the pedals. They decide whether we turn right or left, we go forward or backwards, we go fast or slow. The car is under their control. What do I do? I'm the windshield-washer. I help you see the road ahead of you more clearly, and I might help you see out of your rearview window more clearly, also. I will help you see yourself through God's eyes as laid out in Scripture. My goal is to help you see things differently to help you change the way you think - more in alignment with how God thinks - so you just naturally change the way you feel and act and relate. The biggest shift is often in how you see yourself.

Think of a train. Your thoughts are the engine at the front of the train. Your feelings are the caboose at the end. If the engine takes a turn on the track, it may take a while for the caboose to experience that turn, but eventually, it just can't help itself. As you change your thoughts, difficult though that might be at first, eventually, your feelings won't be able to help themselves but to follow.

There's another picture that may help you see the process. Much of our emotional and behavioral reactions to our environment are driven, not by the circumstances themselves, but by our own beliefs and baggage. We just naturally filter the circumstance through those beliefs and baggage, and we react accordingly. Think of how water goes through the coffee grounds in a coffee pot. Although the water is certainly impacting how the coffee will taste, the big deal is the coffee grounds. Put in bitter, old, stale grounds, and the coffee will be awful. Change the grounds, and the coffee is transformed. The same is true in how we react to our environment. As we change the 'filter,' namely the way we think about the circumstance, we change our emotional and behavioral reaction to it. (If you have a copy of my book, check out the section called "Thoughts and Feelings" on page 19 for a specific example as to how this works.)

As you start to see things more in alignment with the way God does, you start to handle your life situations differently, you start to regard your circumstances differently, and you get stronger. As you draw closer to God through exercises you do throughout the week, your perspective of your circumstances will slowly shift, and you will start to experience that peace that Jesus promises.

The Team:

I see us - you, me, and the Holy Spirit - as partners. You and I are co-analysts under the leadership of God. We talk, think out loud, question and reflect. I try to understand your situation better, and by explaining it to me, you may see things you hadn't really seen before. I ask questions that may take your thoughts into a direction they hadn't gone before, opening up ways of thinking that you hadn't had before. I may make suggestions as to things you might try. You can decide to try them or not, and if you do and they work, great. If they don't work, then we may try something else. But whether you even try them or not is up to you and God.

You and I are partners. God is in charge and you're the senior partner. I work for you. You're driving the car.

What it's not:

'Talk therapy' isn't just talking. That may sound silly, but that's what people think, so it's worth saying. I've had people tell me that if they want to just go to someone and talk, they can do that with their dog or the telephone pole. If that was all it was, that would be absolutely true. Saying it's 'Talk therapy' means that it doesn't have other fancy techniques like Art Therapy, Meditation Therapy, Aroma Therapy, Music Therapy, and a whole lot more. We just talk, although there may be occasions where some of the above therapies come into play. Predominantly though, we talk. It isn't just you talking, though. We both do. I should start calling it "Communication and Interconnection Therapy" rather than "Talk Therapy." That's a lot closer to the truth.

If this doesn't make any sense to you, or if you have questions about it, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. I would love to hear your thoughts.


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Open Heart Christian Counseling
Sue H. McHenry, LCSW-C
Williamsburg, VA 23185
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