The stigma of counseling – we all know the feeling. A brother suggests we go to counseling, and our wall of defense immediately goes up. Or perhaps we admit our need for marriage counseling, but a friend raises an eyebrow of surprise. Or even if we go to counseling, we worry about who might see us walking into the counseling office with our spouse.
A friend of mine recently poked fun at the irony of the stigma of counseling in the church. It is so illogical it is almost humorous. How can we believe in the depravity of man and be so afraid of a church member seeing us walk into the counseling office? Is the body of Christ not in agreement that it is made up of broken sinners? And how can we gladly confess our desperate need for a savior but be ashamed of our need for counseling? Our case is so bad that the only solution was the death of God’s Son! Clearly, we are in serious need of help.
Of all places, the stigma of counseling should be absent in the church because, the fact is, we are all in need of counseling. In his book Life Together, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way:
God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation…The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.
Our need for Christ necessitates our need for counseling from a brother or sister. We need a sister to faithfully, lovingly walk with us in our pain so that our suffering is redeemed. We need the “faithful wounds of a friend” to help us clearly think through the conflict in our relationships. We need a brother to wisely, patiently help us sort out the roots and fruits of our emotions. As Bonhoeffer says, Christ comes to us through the word of our fellow Christian. So, if every one of us is regularly in need of such counsel, how can we cast a stone at someone as they walk into a counseling office? Or why should we get defensive when someone asks, “Have you thought about seeing a counselor about that?”
But more than that, as I mentioned earlier, we believe in the depravity of man! Whatever words we use to describe it – the “sinful nature,” the “flesh,” “total depravity” – if we believe such things, we admit that at our core is a heart that is corrupted by sin, bent towards the self and away from God. How can we readily accept such a devastating doctrine and yet be ashamed when the time comes for marital counseling? We should expect nothing less than conflict from two sinners bound to one another for life.
But even more than that, we believe in a Savior. For those of us who trust in Christ, we believe that our world was so broken that God’s Son had to actually leave heaven to come and fix it. We believe that we are so bad at doing what is good and right that God’s Son had to come and establish a righteousness apart from us. And we believe that we are so sinful that nothing less than the death of God’s Son could atone for our sins. If we so readily admit our radical need for the help of a Savior, why should we so reticently admit our ordinary need for the help of a counselor?
As I said earlier, of all places, the stigma of counseling should be absent in the church. Chase recently wrote that the church is a hospital for sick and broken people, not a country club for people who think they are righteous. In a hospital, one patient does not scoff at another who meets with a doctor. Nor is one embarrassed to call the nurse for help. Likewise, whether you feel the need to call a friend for a word of wisdom or you hear a sister admit that her marriage is on the rocks, there is no need to be ashamed of the need for counseling, for we are all suffering sinners in need of the Great Physician.