Pastor, you can’t help everyone
I know the title of this piece seems a bit jarring, but I titled it this way not because of a pastors inability to care for his flock; but because of the dangers that come with the literally trying to help everyone. Those dangers being increases in relational stress and idolatry that inevitably lead to increased rates of isolation, temptation, anxiety and depression.
My hope is to point out that you can’t help everyone as a pastor. The demands of your congregation do not take precedent over the worship of Christ.
Jesus is first
Many pastors who are called into vocational ministry, go in with the hope and desire that they will be able to love and care for the church through the teaching and preaching of God’s word. They envision proclaiming God’s word to people of a local church body where they receive hope, grace and a new joy. They want to put Jesus first. What they don’t anticipate are the relationships and the people in their church that will require their time and how some of these congregant demands move Jesus into second or even third place. In this type of church culture ministry gradually becomes more about making sure certain people are happy within the church body. This transformation is often covert and subtle. Pastors rarely get an individual or group of individuals in a church that will directly demand him to meet all of their needs right up front. This transformation happens over years of ministerial work through meetings to discuss how leaders and or congregants are unhappy with the pastor for something he did or didn’t do. Pastors are worn down by the demand to meet the needs of vocal toxic congregants, who’s purpose in church is more about them than worshipping Jesus as King.
It is through this type of church culture Jesus is moved into a tertiary position and the demands of the church become the primary variable that is appeased or even worshipped.
People Pleasing is Idolatry and leads to Anxiety and Depression.
We know and understand that anytime someone or something is put in the place of Christ as a functional savior, we are engaging in idolatry. Back in the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites had a prayer called “The Shema”. This was a prayer they would say corporately that would rightly orient themselves to God and correctly position Him as supreme in their lives. But we know the Israelites struggled mightily with trusting God and His character. We see many instances of God’s people taking matters into their own hands and creating emotional, relational and physical damage. The Israelites didn’t have a problem with a Good and gracious God, they had a problem with an idolatrous heart that desired to be god.
Fast forward to today, while we may be more technologically advanced than the Israelites we really aren’t that different than them. We would prefer to be god, then to let God be God. When a pastor is stuck in a cycle of focusing on putting the needs of vocal toxic congregants first and base the church health on if they are happy, this is people pleasing and idolatry. This is putting Christ second, like the behavior of the Israelites. This behavior, unfortunately leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The anxiety shows up in the form of worry that you as pastor will not be liked or well thought of if you don’t respond to the demands of the few. The depression shows up in the form of low self-esteem in that you are not worth anything unless you are focusing on making sure your congregants are happy. This type of anxiety and depression will rob a pastor of their primary identity and their joy in Jesus.
You cannot help everyone
This leads me to wrap up this piece by saying again, “pastor you cannot help everyone”. I say this to cause you to evaluate how you are engaging in relationships within your church. I say this to cause you to evaluate why are you doing what you are doing. I say this to cause you to evaluate where Jesus ranks within your church.
I say and ask all these things not so you will take a strong stance and say you won’t help anyone or that you will continue to help everyone. Pride exists in both of those responses. I am focusing on these things because as a pastor you are called to be under shepherds of God’s flock and you cannot do that if you have significant anxiety and depression stemming from people pleasing. As a pastor you will always be called to walk a balance filled with tension, but to know and remember that Christ is where all your needs are met. This isn’t to say you won’t have moments or worry or low self-esteem in your ministry, but your ministry won’t be marked by chronic anxiety and depression.
Jesus gives you tremendous hope in the sermon on the mount Matt 6:26-34. Jesus acknowledges and addresses your anxiety. He reminds you of who is in charge. He illustrates your worth to God. He treats your anxiety and promises to be God in your life. Toxic church members certainly need the love of Jesus, but they are not where your identity is found..
“You cannot help everyone” should be a phrase that gives you freedom to focus on those that God has genuinely placed in your path to help (through wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit) as well as being able to function in your primary identity, which is worshipper and child of God.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33)
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
The lock downs amid a global pandemic have been hard for virtually everyone There is zero sense of normal. Most everyone is holding on to the figurative steering wheel and white knuckling it. Amidst all this turmoil, people are attempting to thrive. They are trying to connect with one another and taking their mental health more seriously than they ever have. In some ways, this moment in time is giving people an opportunity to pause and reflect.
That being said, there is a group of individuals that are not fairing well and that is pastors. With pastors having to make the tough decisions to move to online church, the demand for soul care of their congregants has increased significantly. In some states, pastors were not given a choice about closing their church indefinitely and faced the backlash from it. Pastors work an incredibly hard job. There is no sermon they will preach that will be good enough. No counseling session they give that will be restoring enough. No amount of time they dedicate to the church and the body that will be enough. This is the landscape that many church planters face and current pastors know. This reality for most pastors has intensified during these lock downs.
Many pastors go into ministry because they sincerely love Jesus Christ and the church. But as time goes on and they go longer in ministry, the wear of the job becomes more than one pastor can handle. Between leadership meetings and demands of congregations, when and where does a pastor have time to get his emotional and mental health needs met? The answer unfortunately is they don’t. The role of pastor has a reputation of almost being an individual without sin who has endless energy. The pastor is seen as someone who has their life together and in biblical terms is above reproach. Tragically, this reputation plagues many pastors; to the point that they feel they have to fulfill these expectations 24/7 and there is no room for rest or any grace if they make a mistake.
This leads to suffering in silence and to a lack of trust. This leads to a belief that their internal suffering must be from a lack of faith. In short, they become anxious and depressed.
Pastor suicide is on the rise and while not every pastor who suffers from depression, contemplates suicide they are indeed in emotional turmoil. Many pastors who deal with anxiety and depression in silence do so because they may lose their jobs if they are found out; others remain silent because their church does not acknowledge, minimizes or dismisses all together the existence of mental health issues.
If you are reading this and you have a church you call home, know this…your pastor is human and sinful and absolutely needs your support, prayer, and grace.
Pastor if you are reading this and it resonates, know this…you are seen, Christ loves you, your people love you and the sacrifices you have made and the work you have done during these lock downs are greatly appreciated. Do not isolate but go to Christ and accept grace.
-Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Mental Health View of Touch
It’s almost impossible to find someone today that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic and current lockdowns. People are dying, financially struggling, religiously and politically divided. Some would say these hardships are necessary for progress and advancement, while others would disagree.
What does seem to be universally felt and agreed upon is the need to be in physical community and be touched. I’m not talking about being touched in a figurative way, like when a friend you haven’t talked to in years reaches out and wants to take you out for lunch; but physical touch like hugs, kisses and being close to one another.
While technology has afforded us some form of safety by allowing us to stay in touch with loved ones, it is no substitute for actual physical contact. The truth is that while we may be engaging in protecting ourselves from physical death, we may be ensuring mental and relational death....which one could argue would still result, down the road, in physical death.
This is not a position piece on politics, but it is a piece on the importance of touch and how we’re made and function. Whether you believe in creationism or Darwinism, there is no denying that human beings thrive in community. Human beings function better mentally and emotionally in community.
As a mental health counselor, I meet with countless people struggling with depression. One of the more notable symptoms of depression is isolation. One of the treatments for depression is developing a support group of people who can be there when depression is heavy.
Why does the DSM 5 continue to focus on social and community supports as evidence based treatment?
Every Continuing Ed course for mental health therapists I’ve attended have always stressed the importance of having social supports and being in a positive community that can help hold you up when you’re in the midst of a mental health struggle.
Every medical doctor I have worked in collaboration with regarding mental health treatment planning for a client has always emphasized, to the client, being in therapy as well as being supported by friends and family. All of these medical authorities and resources all seem to agree that community and being in positive relationship with other people is significantly important to an individual’s mental health.
Physical touch, kisses, hugs, warm embraces allow us to feel accepted and acknowledged. When we lack that, there is an increased absence of acceptance and acknowledgement. Physical touch increases our confidence. When we lack touch, we see increases in low self-esteem. Physical touch helps us communicate and when we lack that opportunity we see increases in frustration because we can’t communicate affectively (I.e a child who can’t form sentences and is trying to communicate something important to his/her parents).
Physical touch is an important part of existing that can’t be dismissed or diminished. A child who is physically neglected can grow up with a proclivity to live on the fringe; simply because they do not know how to be in community. They often suffer from chronic depression and anxiety and in some severe cases suffer from a personality disorder.
Physical touch is hardwired into our brains and necessary for surviving and thriving.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
When to Report Child Abuse
Reporting child abuse of any kind is certainly a difficult topic. Identifying what passes for abuse can be an even harder one. I have heard stories in the past where a care giver was unsure if what they were seeing constituted “abuse”, so the abuse went unreported. Another reason why abuse may go unreported, is because a family may be trying to protect the perpetrator who happens to be another family member.
Understanding why its important to advocate for children, especially in abuse situations will be helpful in reframing your views on reporting child abuse and child advocacy. Children often lack the ability to advocate for themselves due to emotional and psychological development. When abuse happens in a child’s life it interrupts their emotional and cognitive development. Children are often placed in situations and scenarios they don’t understand, because a parent or caregiver forced them there and by forced, I mean did not factor in their opinion on the matter. Abuse in a child’s life leads to a higher probability that they will have anxiety, depression and possibly other psychiatric symptoms. So understanding that children are unable to advocate for themselves in ways that adults are, should help in changing your perspective on early reporting.
Secondly, understand that when you report you are being protective and preemptive. You are saying, “No” I will not allow this child to be abused anymore” and you then are stepping between the child and perpetrator and helping to prevent future abuse. I understand that many think and believe that if you report abuse to CPS, they will come and take the children away. CPS looks at every case individually. They examine the severity of the abuse, the duration, the type of abuse, the age of those involved, how long people knew the abuse was occurring, etc. CPS wants to make sure that the child is being protected from those who seek to use and abuse them to meet their needs. That is why they exist.
Third, it’s important to understand the different types of abuse that are looked at. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services there are 6 major areas of child abuse and neglect:
You and your kid may not have experienced the above situations, but there are situations that cause parents to ask, “Is this abuse?” and “Should I report it?” I understand your hesitation, especially when the behavior that may be considered abuse is not black and white and doesn’t fit the above definitions. Ask a mental health professional. Take a course in understanding abuse and the signs of abuse. Call CPS and report what you know or suspect. By reporting early, you are ensuring that the child will no longer undergo further abuse, you are advocating for the child’s development emotionally and cognitively and you are helping to potentially decrease the possibility of the child having severe mental health issues later in life.
The bottom line is child abuse is destructive. Children can’t advocate for themselves. Reporting is important. Do not be the person that protects the abuser at the cost of the child.
Early reporting helps the abused and it helps the abuser.
If you would like to read further, check out the link:
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
What can I say about rest?
Well it's something I've never been great at. Even after ten years I'm still learning to rest. Probably even more of a lesson that I'm learning is being content. Somehow those two are inextricably linked. Rest and contentment.
Over the course of the last ten years there has been lots of accomplishment, lots of pain and growth. All of which were and still are blessings by the grace of God. Probably the hardest thing to do is sit be quiet and be content. My mind is constantly moving thinking about the next step or five. But nevertheless this is where God has called me. Being content means I get to actually enjoy what I've accomplished. I get to enjoy what I've bought. I get to enjoy what I've been given.
This concept of contentment has been tremendously helpful for my anxiety and depression. By taking an inventory of my life on what's positive and what God has given me, I'm able to slow down and enjoy the day. This has become an invaluable lesson. My wife has commented that I'm a better husband when I practice contentment. My daughters benefit more from their dad when he is focused on them and not accomplishing or acquiring something all the time.
Rest has been another critical component to my mental health, really overall health. This has been a hard fought lesson. Rest has not been something I do very easily. I've always thought if I wasn't doing something, I was being lazy. This thinking has led to me being more tired, getting sick more often, being angry, having no energy to do anything.
So, here I sit writing this piece while celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I can officially say that I rest better and practice contentment more often, but certainly have more to learn. Rest and contentment is a choice and not something to be approached from an obligatory place. You get to rest, not you have to rest. You get to be content, not you have to be content.
Is it possible that when you shift your thinking to choose to rest and be content you impact your anxiety and depression in a positive way? Possibly? Maybe there's not a one-size-fits all answer to this, but should be an on-going dialogue.
Well, that's all for now. Till next time
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
The Poison of Comparison
Maybe it's worth noting that all of us are guilty of trying to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe you've convinced yourself that you don't care what others think of you or that you are individualistic.
For many of us we spend an inordinate amount of our thought life comparing ourselves to others. We measure ourselves in terms of money, accomplishments and wealth. We delude ourselves into thinking we are Type A personalities and we are just being "goal oriented"
But that's not really what's going on. We are slowly poisoning ourselves through comparison. We must have what is popular and in. We must be liked. We must accomplish. We must be powerful. We must be loved and admired.
How many of us are responsible for creating anxiety because we are trying to create an image that we believe others will like? How insane is that thought?! We create the very cognitive audience to which we bow down and say, "yes masters", I will change my actions, behaviors and even physical image to make you happy.
Who among us is left with depression because the cognitive distortions of what others expect of us are relentless. They are never satiated, because they are often fragments and insecurities that have been given too much power in our lives....by us.
It is not advantageous for you to compare!your life to someone else's. To look upon someone else's existence and believe they have it better simply because they seem to have a more favorable outward appearance. Solomon, credited as the wisest man in history was famous for saying in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. Comparison is nothing new. Yet we are surprised at when it causes clinical anxiety, depression or a variety of mental health issues.
Our desire to please is a core issue that simply isn't being addressed. Be real with yourself and ask tough questions. Am I poisoning myself my constantly comparing myself to others? Am I creating the perfect environment for anxiety and depression to grow?
Not being a people pleaser and being content with what you have and who Christ made you to be is a life long journey. But at some point you have to make the first step and begin that journey.
Stop drinking poison. Look to Christ
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Do you remember every little interaction and words people say? Do you often give friends family and co-workers the "cold shoulder? Do you often explode without much notice? Do others describe you as a bitter angry person? Do you lack community in your life, because you've burned all of your relational bridges?
Do you think you are often right and others are wrong? Can others call you out on your BS?
If you identified with any of these questions you might be an emotionally aggressive person. People in your life don't know what to do with you. They won't be honest with you because they fear you will have a hostile response. They are tired of being the target of your passive aggressive emotional tirades.
Now I understand that you may feel that there is legitimacy in your anger. You may even feel victimized, because your friends and family don't understand you or for some other reason, that you likely don't even remember.
But is that reality, is that what is really going on? Step back and take an objective evaluation of your behavior and responses. If people in your life cannot be truthful with you, ask "why". If your friends and family keep interactions brief with you and the conversation topics light, there is a good possibility that you've abused them with your emotional immaturity.
Now some bad stuff may have happened in your life and you got dealt a terrible hand, but does that give you license to victimize the people that care about you with your emotions?
That's a rhetorical question, the answer is unequivocally No. You have a responsibility to treat others fairly and lovingly.
You likely have emotional baggage and need professional support to sort it out. You cannot expect the people you're abusing with your emotions to be your counselors. That is ridiculous and inappropriate. They are there to support you, love you and listen. They are not meant to psychiatrically and therapeutically treat you.
You owe it to yourself and those around you to find a good therapist and start working on your issues. You don't want or need to spend the rest of your life being bitter, believing you're a victim and holding others emotionally hostage.
Take responsibility, seek help today so you can have better relationships. Being angry is no way to live.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
My goal is to always write from the heart and to incorporate professional knowledge and personal conviction. I have been very passionate and determined to write as much as I can on anxiety when it comes to the Christian faith. This picture of someone having a theology like a vending machine has been something that I have been thinking on for sometime. It hasn't been until now that I have been able to make a connection with that illustration and the very real issue of anxiety.
What do we know of vending machines? They're big metal boxes located in convenient places with a variety of snacks that are a quick fix and will temporarily fill you up. Provided you have the money, you usually have at least 10 different options to choose from. The commitment and price is low enough for many people to not think twice about purchasing a candy bar or bag of chips. After all, it's like what....a $1.25-$1.50 for chips. Nothing that's going to break the bank or cost you lots of time.
What do we know about anxiety? Anxiety can happen for many reasons which include divorce, drug use, abuse, chemical imbalances, improper body functioning, death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc. Anxiety can create feelings of despair, worry, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide. Anxiety can push people into isolation and loneliness. Often times good professional counseling and medication are required for stabilization.
So how does a vending machine and anxiety connect? Helping someone with anxiety, chronic anxiety is tough and there are no easy answers. It takes commitment and sacrifice. Unfortunately, many Christians adopt a "vending machine" approach to helping the person with anxiety. It is easy to give a verse out, pat yourself on the back and say,
"I did my Christian duty. If they don't change it's because they don't want to and aren't trusting Jesus enough."
Vending machine theology doesn't require heavy commitment. It requires minimal understanding of who Christ is, doesn't cost a lot in time and won't be all that sacrificial. This theological approach is not dissimilar from believing in magic tricks. Just say the magic words and you'll get the desired outcome and if no change happens, blame it on the individual you are carelessly throwing verses at. This approach is lazy, unkind, lacks grace and any understanding of what anxiety is and what the person with anxiety is going through.
As a believer in Christ, our duty is to love those who suffer all afflictions and walk with them for as long as we can. Don't just throw verses at someone with anxiety, be in their life, walk with them through their emotions, show them Christ in your actions and words. Be a student of God's word. Understand his character and promises. by doing this you'll be an incredible testament to God's power and grace and a blessing to those with anxiety.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Anxiety is a disorder that seeks to control us, as I've said in previous posts. When emotional pain is present we would like nothing more than for it to go away. Many of us Christians may even pray, "Lord take this from me" or something like that. Its hard to imagine in a moment of great emotional turmoil that God is allowing it so that we may learn to trust in His good character and promises.
Sometimes our circumstances are caused by variables that we could not control and sometimes they are self-inflicted, which ever the case may be, it does not remove our responsibility and opportunity to draw close to Jesus. In the midst of difficult circumstances. The Bible is filled with examples and testimonies of lives that went through incredible pressure and stress. One of those lives was Joseph in the Old Testament. Let me ask the question, "What can we learn from the life of Joseph in the Old Testament"?
We know that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. We know that he was accused of trying to seduce his master's wife. We know that he spent an unknown amount of years in an Egyptian prison without any knowledge of when he would be freed or if he would be executed.
Jospeh endured and suffered much at the hands of his family and almost anyone else he came into contact with.
What the Bible doesn't elaborate on is Joseph's thought process through all of his hardships. It doesn't detail how he was feeling after just being sold, by family into slavery. It doesn't talk about the hurt he may have experienced being wrongly accused of seducing Potiphar's wife. And the Bible doesn't talk about what Joseph's thoughts were while sitting in prison, awaiting his fate.
Joseph faithfully trusted in God in his circumstances for his life. This task must've been difficult, because there was no immediate relief. If I was in Joseph's situation I would be scared, anxious, nervous, fearful and distrusting of God...if I'm being honest.
Joseph's life serves as an example of how we can respond to anxiety with faith in Christ. Jesus may not deliver us from emotional pain, like we'd like but He won't leave us and will faithfully provide for all of our needs.
My hope is that anxiety will not be slavery, but allow you to respond to Christ's calling as an invitation to surrender and trust.
1 Thess 5:18
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
What Does the Bible Have to say about Anxiety?
Christians are not immune to anxiety. Simply asking Jesus to be your savior does not miraculously free you from stress and worry. This is why it's important to know and understand what God says regarding anxiety and what he promises.
First, I feel inclined to say that anxiety is a real psychiatric/medical disorder that affects millions of people every year, christian and non-christian. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Anxiety exists, because we live in a fallen world that is sinful. Our world does not work as it should. It is completely possible for a Christian to have anxiety and not be because of choices they have made. It is important as a body of believers we understand this, that we have compassion on our brothers and sisters that suffer in silence. Anxiety does not carry the same consequences as a terminal illness; yet we should be just as sensitive.
For the rest of this piece I'm going to camp out in Matthew 6:25-34
“"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,” “yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'” “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” “"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Over the years I heard the last portion of this scripture thrown at the brother or sister who is experiencing anxiety, as if saying don't be anxious about anything, relieves the anxiety. It's important as Christians that we not proof text and toss a piece of scripture at someone in pain and call it good.
First things first, Jesus says don't be anxious. In as much as that's a command, it's also an acknowledgement. Jesus knew you would be anxious and here He is acknowledging the pain you are feeling. Second, Jesus backs up his commands with promises by saying He will provide for all of our needs. I believe those needs encompass relational and emotional components. Third, Jesus uses birds and flowers to illustrate how He provides for us. I don't know about you, but I don't worry about how birds are going to take care themselves or how flowers will survive. They make very little impact on my day, yet God uses these pieces of his creation to illustrate his provision. If God can and does provide for birds and flowers, how much more will he provide for those that are made in his image? Kind of a rhetorical question:)
Fourth, Jesus gives you a focal point and that's him. Anxiety wants you to focus on what you can't control, thus creating more anxiety. Jesus wants you to focus on Him and how He is in total control. As a Christian, all of life should be centered around Christ anyway. Stress is going to happen because life is broken. Anxiety doesn't always have to be a bad or crippling thing, but a glorifying thing where you work out your faith in Jesus, grow in how you trust him and ultimately experience his strength and sovereignty more fully.
You can have anxiety for a myriad of reasons, but it shouldn't stop you from worshipping Christ.
The Bible teaches that anxiety is real, we will experience it; but we can trust in the promises of God that He will take care of our needs like he takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.
Next time you experience anxiety, I would encourage you to view it as an invitation to draw closer to Jesus.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Why Does Anxiety Happen?
Why does anxiety happen? There can be any number of answers to this question. Certainly the way the body functions can play a significant part in anxiety being present and possibly chronic. An irregular neurotransmitter production can cause imbalances that may increase the likelihood of anxiety.
For many of us anxiety can be present for numerous other reasons. Some of which can be relational dynamics, transitions big and small in our lives, career choices, parental challenges, academic pressures, etc.
What I have found in my years of working as a mental health professional is that a persons' anxiety is often present because they are trying to control something in their life that wasn't meant to be controlled. Many times the root problem of anxiety goes unidentified for years with treatment only addressing symptoms.
If you've been in counseling for any length of time you may have heard the terms, "positive and negative coping strategies". We all engage in trying to reduce emotional pain in our lives through application of said strategies. Some do it positively and some do it negatively. The problem I have with simply focusing on identifying the negative coping strategies and replacing with positive ones is that, at the surface it is only dealing with the behavior.
From a biblical counselor's perspective in addressing anxiety, a persons' identity has to be a foundational piece. The Bible teaches that as a Christian you are made new in Christ and given a new identity. This is not to say that as a believer you will somehow be spared anxiety or depression, but it should give hope as to where you can put your faith and anchor your identity.
Anxiety is tough enough and you certainly don't need to be defined by it or someone who is just getting by. Make an effort to answer the questions, "Who Am I" and "What is my identity ?"
It’s that time of year again when kids groan and parents rejoice. The summer has been long, parents have done everything they can to keep their kids occupied and out of trouble. Summers are often filled with lots of vacations, staying up late and kids getting much more freedom than during the school year. By August, most parents are tired and ready for their kid to be back in school and get a “normal” routine underway. This however, can be quite challenging and if you’re a parent reading this you know what I mean. Most mental health professionals and agencies see a spike in the need for services right around the start of the new school year. Often the type of service that is needed is behavioral.
Why is this?
Kids have a hard time transitioning, especially if it’s from doing something they love (i.e. staying up late, playing with friends, vacation, etc) to something they don’t love (i.e. school). The beginning of the school year can really be shock to their system. They have to be up early, eat a full meal, learn new rules, meet new people, understand their academic responsibilities, be disciplined in doing their homework, accommodate to afterschool activities, participate in family time, go to bed on time so they can get a good night’s sleep just to do it all over again. For us parents, this seems like no big deal, because we have had to be responsible for a great many things for a lot longer. We’re used to carrying that weight. But for the average kid, this is A LOT and can be overwhelming.
There will always be outliers and exceptions to the rule. There will always be kids who are more responsible than their age and are able to handle more than their peers; but they can’t be the standard of measurement. Being overwhelmed, stressed and anxious can look different for every kid. Sometimes their stress comes out in verbal and physical aggression. Sometimes they will become more isolated and not open up, giving off the perception that they are depressed or overly sensitive. Certainly these are not the only ways kids will seek to deal with their stress, these are just examples I have seen in my practice.
Kids with behavioral challenges don’t necessarily have a psychiatric issue, they may be just dealing with an overloaded plate.
Things to look for as a parent of a kid going back to school:
1. Are home expectations reasonable?
2. Have you overloaded your kids schedule because you want them to achieve and have lots of memories?
3. Are their academic expectations reasonable? (Talk with their teacher, develop a rapport, communicate what your kid can and can’t handle)
4. What’s your communication style like with your kid? Are you staying consistent with your messages? Are your messages always negative? Are you trying to be more of friend? Are you too strict?
5. Does your kid feel like they can be a kid in your home?
6. Is there a lack of structure in your house? This can be a significant reason why behavior challenges occur. When a school environment has more structure and the home environment doesn’t behavior challenges will happen because there is a sharp contrast between the two environments.
Really the goal here is to be intentional with your kid and better understand what they can handle, what they are good at and what they can grow in.
So you’ve decided to go to counseling...
I want to encourage you that this a good thing. Something that you shouldn’t be ashamed of. Think of it as going to the gym to improve your cardio and overall physical health. Counseling is that thing that allows you to address aspects of your life in an objective environment without the speculation and judgement from subjective relationships. Using the gym analogy again, is it wrong to improve your cardio health? Is it wrong to increase your strength from weight lifting?
Maybe you’ve had a doctor or someone you know in your life express concern for your physical health and tell you to get in the gym. Well going to a therapist should be no different, you get to address distortions, lies and various other mental health issues you may be living with.
Everyone likes being able to be someone that fixes themselves. The reality is you can’t “fix” yourself without help.
Now to answer a question that you may have had, “Am I crazy because I need counseling?”
We all need maintenance in our lives physically and mentally. You don’t need to be ashamed of seeking counseling.
You may have questions as to what to expect in counseling and if you don’t, you should. Questions are good to have for your therapist, because not every therapist will connect with you.
Know what type of issue you have that is prompting you to seek counseling (i.e. depression, anxiety, trauma, grief/loss, marriage, communication, etc.).
Know what type of therapist you work well with and why. Do you work better with a male or female therapist? Do you need a therapist who will listen more or do you need a therapist who will help provide direction?
Know what per-conceived ideas you have coming to counseling with. Often your ideas about counseling will be influenced heavily by friends and family who have been to therapy. If these therapeutic experiences have been negative for your friends or family that will influence how you look at therapy.
Therapy is about working with you and where you’re at, not about fitting you into a prescribed therapeutic box. For this reason, therapy can feel not always linear and may require several session to determine how a therapist will work with you.
Know that not all therapists approach the same issue of depression from the same angle. Therapists like to use a wide array of therapeutic focuses (i.e. Cognitive Behavior Theory, Psycho-dynamic Theory, Family Systems, DBT, etc.) These approaches are not meant to confuse you, but rather frame how the therapist will work with you. That is why it is good for you to ask what the therapist’s approach is. Is it singular or is it eclectic?
I want you to know I support you in seeking therapy for yourself. What you are doing is a courageous and humble thing to do. I say courage, because there is darkness in everyone’s life that can be scary to face and I say humble because coming to therapy is you saying “I can’t do this on my own and I would like some help.”
Keep moving forward, you are doing a good job
We all have dealt with someone in our lives that needs professional help, but won't accept it or go get it. By professional help, I mean psychotherapy. These people are usually friends, co-workers or family. Often times family members are the hardest to handle, because there are all kinds of blurred lines on how to care for them.
For most of this blog post, I will be focusing on family members who need professional help and the family members who to try to help them.
Family is a wonderfully complex messy thing. Some of our most memorable moments (positive and negative) are with family.
Unfortunately there is more often than not one family member that requires help beyond what a family can offer/give.
We all have family and should attempt to be involved in their lives. That being said there are individuals that simply don't want professional help for one reason or another. Maybe they don't think that they're that bad. Maybe they don't want to be viewed as crazy or maybe they are relying on other family members to handle their instability. Whichever the case may be, it is exhausting trying to help a family member who doesn't want to be helped.
I want to suggest several ways to help in this type of situation:
I understand that these may be harsh words for some to hear and they will struggle with thought that they may be standing in the way of their family member or friend getting the help they. But good intentions are no substitute for good competent professional help.
We are not meant to be able to help absolutely everyone and know how to function within a crisis. Some of us know how to do this better than others.
It is humility to recognize that you cannot always help and it is healthy to create boundaries so you don't experience burnout and can't take care of yourself.
What is healthy and normal when it comes to communication in marriage?
This is a question that I frequently find myself asking. This is a question that spouses often ask and rationalize that the way they communicate is normal and "all" married people communicate the same way.
I want to suggest several communication habits that are not healthy nor are they normal:
It is paramount that marital communication have grace, forgiveness and humility. Marriage is not a formula, where if you follow a specific equation you will end up with the same outcome each time. People come from all kinds of upbringings and can have complex baggage. What you've been through is different than what you're spouse has been through and the same is true for other married couples. There may be similarities in your stories, but there are still unique differences.
You cannot control your spouse, but you can show grace. You can forgive and you can be humble, over and over and over again. This has all the possibilities of producing friendship, genuine love, authentic companionship and a strong marriage.
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