Demystifying Counseling (Once and For All)
Four unique reasons why therapy can build healthy and fruitful leaders.
A lot of my good friends are counselors, but I also know a lot of people who are suspicious or critical of the field of therapy.
I think I get it. Counselors can be really hit and miss. I’ve heard stories of therapists who put unhealthy pressure or create a dependence on their clients. Some meander or don’t seem to be doing much at all. Counselors come from all kinds of philosophical backgrounds and approaches, with which we might disagree.
But the more I research and write about leadership and growth, the more I cannot ignore the unique and vital role that therapy can play. Here are a few brief thoughts I’m processing, that might be a different take than you’ve heard in other discussions. I’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences!
The Importance of the Past:
Therapists are professionals who understand the role of our past. Our past has shaped who we are today, just as our actions today shape our future.
As I study leadership growth, I’m finding that we only grow as we address every part of ourselves, and the past is a vital part of who we are. Just the other day, our leadership team had a rich discussion about our cultural backgrounds and whether or not we were encouraged to speak up and assert ourselves. As I heard stories of those who felt “shut down” as children, I felt like I understood the personalities and struggles of these leaders so much better. My heart was filled with compassion, and a new desire to know my teammates better.
We simply can’t advance and reach our full potential as leaders unless we make some sense of our past, and heal in ways we might need.
But who can help guide us through our past, with some level of knowledge and training? There aren’t many people who are trained to do this with knowledge and expertise, other than therapists. So it’s not as much a matter of whether we need a counselor per se… the bigger need is for someone who is trained to help us understand and process our past, so we can grow as people and leaders. It just happens that this is what counselors are trained to do.
The Importance of Memory and Vulnerability:
In exploring our earliest memories and formative years, therapy brings us to a unique place of openness and vulnerability.
In our current lives, we tend to control or want to shape and manipulate things. It’s hard to separate ourselves from our decisions and actions. We tend to want to defend and protect ourselves.
When we think and talk about our childhood, I think we enter into a different mode. We’re asked to think about a time when we didn’t have complete control. So much of what we went through wasn’t even up to us.
We are so vulnerable that we don’t even have full control over our memory’s capacity: we don’t remember everything that’s happened to us — I can’t remember much of my life before the age of five, for instance. But as we remember and reflect, we’re often freed to focus not on what we did right or wrong… but how we might have become the way we are today. It can be an incredible “humanizing” and healing process.
The Importance of Mentors, Grace, & Confidants:
The best therapists are mentors in our lives, who we let guide us, and in whom we can confide.
Too many leaders try to go it alone, and think that reading a book is enough. But there is no replacement for relationships! And there’s no replacement for the invaluable role of mentors in our lives. The reality is that we spend more of our time mentoring others as we grow older. Roles and expectations shift, and we often forget how much we need others to pour grace and affirmation into us as we lead. Counselors can play a role in being a regular source of grace and wisdom in our lives.
And there’s the confidentiality issue. Who can we tell about things? Too many leaders feel stuck, and end up not telling anyone about what they’re struggling with. Good counselors can be confidants.
The Importance of Healthy Models:
Therapy isn’t downloading information or content, but gives us a real-life relationship that is a model we can apply to other relationships in our lives.
With a good counselor, we learn to trust, share vulnerably, confront, be truthful, take steps of courage and faith, and much more. These may sound basic, but many leaders never learned to do these things in their families or cultures growing up.
One final thought. Sometimes I’ve heard jokes about how counseling is “paying money to have someone sit and listen to me.” Clearly I think there’s more to therapy than that : ), but consider this. If the joke was true, and all a counselor did was sit and listen as we talked, I actually believe this would still have far more leadership value than we might think!
Every person has a deep need to share and to be heard by others. I’ve learned I sometimes get uncomfortable when I talk for even a stretch of 5-10 minutes, because I’d rather listen and not open myself up so vulnerably to others. Sometimes leaders don’t sit still long enough to hear the sound of their own thoughts, feelings, and voice. Counseling is another great way to begin to get in touch with that.
Of course, like with everything in life, there’s good and bad therapy. Bad counselors won’t provide the four things listed above. Good counselors will. So there’s always discernment needed in finding a good fit… but hopefully these ideas are a starting point that frames things in a slightly new light.
Thanks for reading!