Three Mistakes to Family Counseling

I think I don’t need it, don’t believe in it, and I tend to think it could actually be harmful. But the truth is, family counseling has been a most valuable asset to my family.

Thanksgiving 2014, Minnesota.

Thanksgiving 2014 in Minnesota.

I believe family counseling should be as common as a family chiropractor, finding a good local mechanic, or having a gym membership. Most wait till an emergency hits us before attaining a professional. In reality, taking care of problems when they are small is always better than when they overwhelm you.

Your family isn’t perfect, and neither is mine. The trick’s on anyone who thinks their family is beyond problems. I hope you find this article helpful in how family counseling can help you.

But our counseling hasn’t been perfect, either. We’ve learned a lot over the years of family therapy — and therapy in general — that we wished we didn’t waste resources early on. They were “mistakes” — assumptions, prejudices, errors of judgment — that could have saved time and money in our therapy. If I could rewind time, I would cut to the chase much quicker and get to the root of our problems.

I’d like to share with you those three mistakes, and I hope they bless you in you and your family’s journey.

Mistake #1: Focusing on Resistance

That “resistance” I referenced earlier is real, and I find myself constantly in battle with it. It is that inner doubt that tries to pull me away from the things in life that would be most helpful to me. Who needs that? The resistance tells me two lies need to be nailed to the wall.

First lie: counseling is humiliating. I hesitated even writing this article. I suppose no one needed to know, and I could certainly have written about something else. I fear for my family’s reputation whenever I admit to having problems.

But I don’t care anymore. It used to bother me when others thought poorly of my family because of this or that problem. I’m not writing for people who judge us — or, especially, not for people who think too highly of us. I’m writing this for the families out there ready to consider counseling for themselves.

Second lie: counseling will make things worse. I suppose it could. Just as we can receive good counsel, we can receive bad counsel, and we fear the outcome worse than the problems we have now. But that’s not a reason to avoid it altogether.

We’ve heard the horror stories. Counseling starts, divorce/rebellion/depression/hell follows. Why rock the boat? If things are fine or tolerable, just live with it. Pretend your problems are not there, and never come to terms with the real pain in your life.

That will drain the life blood from your family, and you know it.

Ignoring the need for counseling is not the answer. Instead, take the time to seek out a counselor that works for you and your family and then start.

If problems aren’t being solved (and especially if they’re getting worse), kindly stop and seek an alternative. The counseling itself isn’t the mistake. Thinking you don’t need it is.

For my house, we have found great rewards from family therapy. There is no shame in getting the necessary help to work through family issues.

Mistake #2: Focusing on Others.

Here’s a mistake I have found people (including myself) make when going to counseling. They want to talk about other people. Other family members, especially, seem to be the scapegoat for personal problems.

In reality, your problems are about you.

This fuels more hesitation — more resistance — in me. I’ve been blessed over the years with good counsel, but I see people go to therapy and get bad advice, and the error typically seems to concern anyone other than the person being counseled.

You’ve heard their stories, haven’t you?

  • “My husband/wife refuses to do whatever,” so therefore divorce them.
  • “My loved ones didn’t love as they should have,” so therefore hate them.
  • “My family members won’t change,” so therefore alienate them.

These are shallow reactions to deep issues that a professional family therapist can help you navigate through. Why are you coming to such unloving conclusions? Before lashing out or cutting off relationships, our counselors have asked, “How do you feel about these situations?”

You can judge this as “feel good psychology,” I suppose. But rethink this for a moment. Consider the alternatives to counseling: divorce, hate, alienation. These are awful roads to travel, stubborn choices that ruin our lives. 

Instead, take in the solutions that counseling attempts to offer, and these solutions are about you, your problems, and your participation in them. The only thing you have control over is you. You can’t control your spouse, your relatives, your coworkers, or anyone. Good counsel helps you focus on that only person you have control over: you.

This is perhaps the wisest bit of counseling advice when entering therapy.

Mistake #3: Focusing on Justification.

I have found this third mistake my fatal flaw. I seem to keep making this mistake, but I’m getting better at avoiding it. We focus on justifying our fallacious beliefs, when we really should be asking ourselves the hard questions against them.

In other words, we want to be told we’re on the right track in life (and others are on the wrong track), when good counsel should help steer us back to reality. Back to truth. The truth that will set us free.

I remember how knotted up Wendy and I were about 10 years ago. We were angry with family members, angry with each other, angry at the world. We had been seduced to believe some far-out beliefs, beliefs that we thought were true — even holy and pure — but had turned out to be harmful to us, our children, and even friends and extended family.

I’ve blogged about these things in the past, and I hope I can go more into detail about them in the future. Suffice it to say that we were lured into legalism, patriarchy, and anything but love. We walked through a journey with a rigid church split and a family overhaul that we still — to this day — need help sorting out.

We worked through some intense issues at the time, and I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I clung to ideologies of old that sucked life from my family. The counsel we received was just what we needed. I refer back to that time in our life as a “born again” experience, much like a rebirth of faith and family.

I’m still experiencing such metamorphoses. I hope the same for all families. Therapy could help, and it very well may be just what you and your family needs.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ciera Samoa

    I’m inclined to ask this much common sense does it take to act out of love twds your kids anyway? Even if I don’t agree with something my kids do.I’m going to look inside myself,and not to anything else…ie-brand of religion or whatever,and go from there.I value my relationship with my kids,and sometimes if I have to eat dirt to get along with them,well so what,if that’s what I have to do.I’m not trying to argue,it’s just that I’ve always just used common sense instead of anything else.(I’m not against counseling).No,I’m not perfect either,and I know it can be difficult at times.
    One good thing to remember is that ppl’s perspectives will change over time,especially with someone who’s younger and still learning.I get along with my kids better now that they’re older,and they’re on their own and don’t have all the ‘background noise’.ie-peer pressure,schoolwork etc. to distract them.
    Just some thoughts.

    • Good thoughts, Ciera. Thanks for posting them.

  • Andrea Denner

    This is going to be long…
    I’ve been wanting to comment since I saw your post the other day.
    I have way too much to say on this subject, and I promise not to share it all 🙂
    You are correct that many families need counseling. This can range from lighter problems that can benefit from the input of a collection of healthy believers to deep problems that require extra wisdom. We have counseled couples and families over the years. There is serious lack in both the ability to understand and also to live out healthy communication. There are way more lies than you listed that make people resistant to counseling. You are also dead on when you say that people usually want to blame others.

    To address what the last commenter said, unfortunately what used to be considered “common sense” is no longer common.

    Too many young families were created in the last 20 to 30 years with no sense of how to raise their families. Actually it was probably longer than that…

    There was no “passing down” of real information of how to truly love, teach and fully engage with their children. Couple that with a society that has been influenced by everything under the sun and you have quite a few confused people. In response to that, I think that many people have veered to one end of the spectrum or the other. Both sides were led by inconsistencies that they had observed/experienced in their own growing up experience.

    Some veered towards the side of “everything for the children”. No sense of any particular direction. I won’t bore you with where that one leads. We can see it in the majority of culture today. The other side to veer to was appealing to those who were anxious to please the Lord; some had been saved for years, others newly saved. This direction was actually good, but for some went to the other side of the “pendulum”.

    The ends of the pendulum, in my opinion, are mercy vs. justice. God is absolutely perfect in balancing these attributes because they are a part of Him. We are COMMANDED to do both (Hosea 12:6). We, however, are apt to swing to one end or the other. It is not anyone else’s fault if we swing to one end or the other. I’m not saying that people will not be held accountable for what they teach in error, but we have to take full responsibility for our own errors. If we don’t, I think we are vulnerable to more error.

    Before I go on, let me share an awesome quote that someone shared with me over 12 years ago. Here is what Jonathan Edwards said (bolding emphasis mine):

    “The devil has driven the pendulum far beyond its proper point of rest; and when he has carried it to the utmost length that he can, and it begins by its own weight to swing back, he probably will set in, and drive it with the utmost fury the other way; and so give us no rest; and if possible prevent our settling in a proper medium. What a poor, blind, weak and miserable creature is man, at his best estate! We are like poor helpless sheep; the devil is too subtle for us. What is our strength! What is our wisdom! How ready are we to go astray! How easily are we drawn aside into innumerable snares, while in the mean time we are bold and confident, and doubt not but we are right and safe! We are foolish sheep in the midst of subtle serpents and cruel wolves, and do not know it. Oh how unfit are we to be left to ourselves! And how much do we stand in need of the wisdom, the power, the condescension, patience, forgiveness, and gentleness of our good Shepherd!”

    Here is what I have seen happening. People leave an unhealthy church situation, and instead of figuring out what exactly was wrong in the application of principles, they simply reject all of the principles. For instance, I know people who don’t do a “morning time” or “quiet time” because that was just something that this particularly unhealthy church taught them to do. Much of the mistakes are blamed on “those people that taught that to us”. There is a tentativeness and even a fear in following certain principles.

    The enemy delights when we are confused.

    Anyway, I could go on, but I will just end with a little background. We were involved with an unhealthy ministry and left over twelve years ago. The weirdest thing is that it was conservative and anti-homeschool. We were the homeschooling rebels 🙂

    After we left, a good friend of mine (not involved with that ministry) shared the Jonathan Edwards quote and I believe that saved us quite a bit of grief from veering too far to the other side of the pendulum. We went through a period of confusion and “how could we have been in that for so long”. My husband definitely did some soul searching. ooh, I could go on. Sorry! I’ll stop now. Haha, maybe you aren’t even reading this long-winded comment anymore!!

    Would love to talk to you folks sometime and encourage you 🙂

    • Wow, Andrea. This is a very thoughtful response. Thank you for sharing…and we would love to meet you someday! =)

  • Heather Carter

    I used to have the same mindset against counseling/therapy. It was when I realized I was at my lowest that I begin to seek counseling for my relationship, and therapy for myself to battle depression. That was a few years ago, and I feel like counseling helped us focus on our own feelings and reactions and know that we are most responsible for our own actions. That led to significant increase in true intimacy with my husband and our marriage has never been stronger than it is now and I feel like we owe a great deal of that to counseling. It strengthened us. I still go to therapy, once a month- just to talk about whatever now. When I got a scary medical diagnosis earlier this year, the very next place I found myself was in the therapists office talking through my fears and worries as they developed. It was extremely helpful to have a professionals ear to bend. Now I am a huge advocate to counseling and therapy. This line rang true above all else- “In other words, we want to be told we’re on the right track in life (and others are on thewrong track), when good counsel should help steer us back to reality. “- Absolutely. It’s often easy to find someone to constantly agree with everything you say, but a good counselor will tell you the hard stuff, the realities sometimes hurt or anger your ego, but almost always worth it to hear. The good stuff.
    Thanks for posting- Keeping your family in prayer. Please send Wendy my well wishes. <3