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To Find the Right Counselor, Rethink Your Idea of What a Counselor Is

To Find the Right Counselor, Rethink Your Idea of What a Counselor Is

The conversation around mental health has slowly drifted into the mainstream conversations, but many people still have concerns and questions about what good mental health actually looks like. What does it mean to achieve greater mental well-being? How can you achieve better mental health?

There’s still a lot of questions and stigmas around mental health, and expert Brittney Moses wants to help make mental health more achievable. She sat down with RELEVANT to discuss how you can finding not only a good counselor, but the right counselor for you, what strengthening your mental health actually looks like, and how the Church can help people prioritize their mental health.

This conversation haas been edited for length and clarity. 

RELEVANT: What would some markers be or some good intentions be for people who want to get in better mental health shape, but don’t even really know what healthier would look like for them?

Brittney Moses: Yeah, absolutely. The first thing that comes to mind is what I call this intuitive wisdom, which means that you are paying attention to what is working and what is not working. I think that’s something that we overlook because we’re so busy in our day-to-day, and we’re so hung up on these day-to-day tasks and moving forward, that we’re not paying attention to what are the things that when I do these things, I notice that I’m in a more grounded state, in a more focused state. I’m more connected. I’m better connected to myself, to God, to others. I am more my full self. I am feeling more alive. I am functioning better in my relationships and my work, in my day-to-day life. And these things, I notice when they’re operating in my life, they allow me to live in this way.

If you notice that when you do get up for a morning run every morning, that you notice your mind is clearer for the day when you work out, or you notice that when you are hydrated or eating certain foods and not eating other foods, that you are more energized and clear minded for the day. Everybody’s going to have different things that help them feel better. My first instinct is to say, get into the practice of paying attention to what works for you. When you are doing these things, what does help you feel better from the inside out?

Again, building supports around social wellbeing and making sure that you see your friends and family, and prioritizing that creative expression, or if you’re not creative, fitness, exercise, healthier nutrition — all of these things help, but I don’t like to overwhelm people. So I say, just pay attention to those things that are working, and try to do more of those things, and make it a point to a priority to do more of those things.

How can you know when a counselor is or isn’t working out for you? 

One of the things that I always want to point out is that, when it comes to therapy, in essence, you’re learning this person for the first time. They’re learning you for the first time. So it’s going to take some time to build that therapeutic relationship, what we call a therapeutic alliance. And, there is an assessment that’s taking place at first just to get to know you and what your goals are and what your backstory is. Right. So, that’s going to take a little time. So, I always say, give it some time, give it at least a couple of months, give it at least a few sessions, and pay attention to if they are also paying attention to what your needs are, I would say.

It’s a bidirectional relationship. So I would say first, if something’s not working, try to communicate it with your therapist or counselor. They’re learning you as well. See how they respond to those needs. If you notice that it’s just not working, there’s just still something that’s not connecting there, then you have the autonomy to seek someone who is a better fit for you.

I think that with any kind of health profession, any type of career like that, you might have someone who believes that you’re struggling with this, or maybe this might be a diagnosis. And if you’re not feeling completely sure about that, then again, in knowing your own health and wanting to be responsible with your own health, you have the autonomy to seek a second and even third perspective, to see if they all line up. Yeah. You can advocate for yourself, is what I’m saying. You have the right to advocate for yourself.

Therapists are trained to be understanding and empathetic and to be able to adjust to what’s working and what’s not working. And so, that would also be true of the relationship that you’re having with them. And hopefully, they will be able to understand and adjust to those needs. Because I believe any well-intentioned counselor or therapist is wanting to meet you where you are, but they just might be missing something or some information that they can only get from you.

Is there a healthy, effective way to bring up to a loved one that we think they should seek counseling, but doesn’t sound like you’re calling them insane or being judgmental to them? 

Yeah. Definitely always coming from a place of humility and empathy, and seeing it as yourself partnering with this person, partnering alongside this person toward finding resources. So, sometimes if it is a friend or family member, a loved one and they’ve come to you and they’ve shared that they’re struggling with something, or you’ve noticed that they’re struggling with something, it can be something as simple as, “Hey, I don’t know all the details. I am not trained in this. I don’t know all the details of how to deal with this. However, I am here for you. And I am willing to walk with you to find the support that you deserve. You are worthy of that support if it’s something that you’re really struggling with, and I’m willing to walk with you to find someone who is better trained and better skilled in this area.” That can provide some relief because you deserve some relief.

I think just continuing to remind people that they’re worthy of support, because I think that a lot of times, even the best of us have convinced ourselves, “This is my pit and my burden and my problem to work through. And I don’t want to burden anyone else.” And we get into that mental frame. And just reminding them, “Hey, you’re worthy of support.” It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. You’re human and you’re having a human experience. And something that I like to encourage people with is that when people do get the right treatment and when people do find the right support, then they do see relief. Then they can see relief and life can feel different than what it does right now. So, I think just continuing to provide that worthiness of support and that there are real and evidence-based resources that can help, and life can feel different. And providing that hope is a real encouragement, for sure. And I think it’s just coming from that heart posture.

One common Christian perspective is that Christians shouldn’t necessarily take time for ourselves or pay attention to our wants, instead focusing on what others want and need. That often reflects in neglecting our mental health needs. Is there a better Christian perspective that maybe we’ve missed in some of our Christian conversations around this?

I think a lot of us were just so far on that other spectrum, and we just all need to get to this place of balance, realizing that, we hear it all the time, you can’t pour from an empty cup when you are grounded mentally, spiritually and emotionally, you are in a better position to help others. And, I think about the scripture and Psalms where it says there is victory in an abundance of counselors. There is victory when we have that support. And I think it’s so great that the word victory is in there. There is a way to overcome it with the right support, with the right help. Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. All of this language, that points to the fact that we need to be grounded.

We need our support systems — that’s God’s intention for us, that’s God’s will for us — so that we don’t burn out. Right. We had this culture that is just like burning out in the name of sacrifice, people pleasing in the name of love. All of these things with no boundaries. And yet Paul says, “Decide how much you can give, and then give from a generous heart.” The decision is the boundary. By deciding how much you can give, that’s also deciding what you are unable to give, that’s deciding what your capacity is, so that you are grounded yourself.

And so, I think that there is a very clear biblical case for staying grounded and for having boundaries to be of better help to others. And it’s just one that we need to take hold of, because we’ve just been on this other swing of the pendulum for so long. But I think that our generation is changing that, you know? And then I’ve seen it swing to the far other side where it’s just like, this selfishness where it’s like, don’t care what anybody thinks, and do you, and cut this person off and cut them out. And, you’re just like, “Well, there’s balance here.”

Like you said, it is still very healthy and biblical to give, to serve, to live as a one body where we’re all playing a role and we’re all the support to another, but doing so in a way that is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually mature, I think ends up being good for everyone in the long run.

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