The simple tool I use with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients

Sometimes you stumble across a tool that you didn’t know you needed, but as it turns out, you really do. Like pretty much everything Steve Jobs ever created.

I’ve creatively titled this tool “The Shapes Diagram.” I use it with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients because it takes complex ideas (like emotions and inner healing) and makes them a bit more concrete.

This diagram basically designed itself as I was trying to communicate some core emotional health ideas to Cambodians in Khmer. It wasn’t that my clients were dumb, it was that I lacked enough language skill to accurately describe some things.

So I did what any former youth pastor would do, I started scribbling. And this is what I came up with:

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I’ll walk you through the thing here in a minute. But if you’d rather watch an 11-minute video of me explaining The Shapes Diagram, click the video below.

OK, so here’s a rough walk-through…

Basically, we all have emotions, and most people end up seeing me because they’re having some emotions they don’t like. In other words, most people don’t come in happy (except the pre-marital clients, they do come in happy, and usually they leave happy too, but that’s not a given).

We start in the middle rectangle. For many, the rectangle (emotion) is anger or sadness or anxiety. Now, many pastors hear the story that led to the unwanted emotion and immediately start looking at what STEPS the person needs to take (or avoid) in order to get to the positive result (and avoid the negative one).

For example, someone might tell the really sad person, “Exercise, read your Bible more, pray!” They might continue, “Don’t drink when you’re sad, don’t do drugs, don’t watch Gilmore Girls. Those would be steps in the wrong direction and would lead to a negative result.”

Here’s the thing: that might all be good advice, and maybe people need to hear it, but pretty much every depressed person I’ve ever talked to already KNOWS those things. What I’ve come to believe (and experience with my clients) is that for the most part, all of that top part (the middle emotion box) and the steps and the results are all future-oriented things. That is, they force the client to ask, “What will I do now?” And that’s certainly a very valid question.

The thing is, that top half of the diagram (Emotions plus Steps plus Results), often balances precariously on the triangle that consists of emotional pain and lies from the past.

Often, past painful events in the client’s life have caused him or her to believe, deep down in their core, lies. Lies like “I’m worthless,” “I’m unlovable,” and “I’m broken beyond repair.”

It takes a lot of energy to keep everything steady on the tip of that triangle, but people try. And they try and they try. And they never deal with the emotional pain and the lies. We do them a tremendous disservice if all we do is give them Steps.

I want to ask the question, “What’s in the triangle? What’s the pain that this is all balancing on?” In practice, about half of my clients see this diagram and immediately say, “Oh, I know what’s in that triangle!” They then go on to list the traumatic event or the emotional trauma and the lies it planted. The other half typically says, “Well, I think this is probably true, but I’m not sure what’s in there.” That’s fine too, and so with their permission, we just continue the conversation.

If we can help a client to see what’s in the triangle and label it and maybe find the lies, then we can encourage them to invite Jesus into that specific place for healing. We can invite the Truth in and he can counter the lies and heal the emotional pain. The triangle can be erased, and it’s not nearly as mystical as it sounds. : )

Then, with the triangle gone, the client’s emotions are simply resting on the Truth (Jesus). The emotions are still there, because the client is still a human, but the whole thing is much more stable.

Now some people try to bypass the triangle and jump straight to the Truth. But that’s not as effective. In fact, it’s just terrible. You can’t skip the triangle and jump straight to Jesus. You want to meet Jesus in the triangle. And he wants to meet you (and your clients) there too.

If you jump over the triangle (the pain/lies) you also jump over the healing.

I ask people to imagine that someone’s drowning in the middle of the Mekong. What if I see them drowning and I ride my boat over to them and I give them five gallons of good, clean water. Do they need that water?

Well, sort of. I mean, people need clean water to drink. And the Mekong is filthy. But is it helpful to them? No. It’s also not very kind. When someone’s drowning, I don’t want to just throw clean water at them, I want to actually help them.

We do that to folks who are depressed or anxious or experiencing a lot of difficult emotions. We give them good clean “water” of Truth and throw a Bible verse at them and stuff. The verses are true and good, but the timing is way off. Help the person NOT drown. That’s what the Church has to get better at doing, not just throwing water bottles to drowning/depressed people and telling ourselves we were helpful.

One article that might prove an additional resource is something I wrote about the Psalms. You can find that article here: The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement.

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Caveat: I’m all for medication if it’s necessary, and I would NEVER tell someone who’s depressed to stop their meds or go off their meds. I’m talking about a holistic approach here. So maybe someone’s on meds, fine, they should still be looking at what might be in the triangle.  Maybe there’s nothing, but maybe there’s something. Maybe it really is just a chemical imbalance that needs intervention. I believe that happens. But I also think exploring past painful events and asking around for deep-seated lies can expose someone to healing and greater self-awareness.

The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas . . . 

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“If we honestly face the sadness of life in a fallen world, then only our hope in Christ can preserve us from insanity or suicide.” – Larry Crabb

That’s an intense statement, and I sort of choked when I read it for the first time. But the more I chew on it, and the more I ponder my own life with its episodes of emotional and intellectual crisis, the more I think it’s correct.

I spent three years working as an ER/Trauma nurse in an urban hospital in the States, and that bloody, chaotic trauma room forced me to “honestly face the sadness.” Those were dark days indeed; I was ill-prepared, psychologically and theologically, to deal with the darkness and the depth of the pain I witnessed. I was far outside of the Christian bubble, and reality bit hard.

For many people, moving across cultures, often to developing places, serves as their wake-up call. Missions becomes their trauma room, where they see suffering and poverty and grief up close and personal. People often move to Cambodia bright-eyed and in love, and then after a few months, or perhaps a year, the accumulation of the poverty and the corruption and the darkness forces them to “honestly face the sadness.”

Have you seen that happen?

Of course, the sadness was present in their affluent passport countries too, but money and familiarity have a way of disguising and hiding pain, like gold lacquer on cardboard.

But when the suffering is really seen, honestly, it does what Martin Luther wrote about nearly 500 years ago; it “threatens to undo us.” Of course, it doesn’t have to undo us, but it certainly threatens.

Finish reading the article here.

“Fernweh” and “Heimweh” — words for the one who’s far from home {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today . . .

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I found a new word on the Facebook profile of a missionary writer, and it’s the best new word I’ve heard in a long time. It’s called fernweh, and it’s a German word that means “a longing for faraway places.”

The feeler of fernweh carries a desire — whether met or unmet — to travel to distant countries, to visit new places, and to have new experiences. Its nearest English equivalent might be the idea of “wanderlust.” When transliterated, fernweh means “farsickness,” in much the same way that heimweh means “homesickness.”

Fernweh and heimweh: these sister words draw me in. Ever since I found them, I cannot get them out of my head, for I live in a faraway place.

At least, it’s far away from the Europe and North America in which I grew up. It was far away, but now it’s near. I find now that the faraway place has become home, and home has become the faraway place.

Finish reading this post at A Life Overseas.

A world in need of water

by Elizabeth

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I once listened to an interview with Linda Sue Park, author of the children’s book Long Walk to Water. I remember being completely struck by her comment that if you don’t have water, you don’t have anything. Water is everything. Even more than food, water is LIFE.

But access to water is something I have always taken for granted. I’ve been insulated from these things. I’ve never worried about where my bathing water or washing water, let alone my drinking water, was going to come from.

Beyond that – I’ve never worried about whether my water is clean. I’ve always had access to clean, safe drinking water, even in Cambodia. And I swim in large, artificial pools of water FOR FUN.  Talk about privilege.

Some time later, I read in Pacific Standard magazine about Colin Kelley’s research on water distribution. How a lack of water is one the factors that can lead to instability in a region. And how experts thought nothing could happen in Syria, it was stable. Nothing — that is — until a drought descended, and the whole region destabilized. Practically overnight.

Kelley’s research shows that the Syrian drought was made 2 to 3 times more likely by “human influences.” Human influences like grazing policies that favored larger farmers, and the ensuing desperate attempt by smaller farmers to access water any which way they could: by digging wells. So ground water became depleted. Wheat crops began to fail. Families started to migrate. And the whole system started to disintegrate.

But this is not the first time human behavior has affected the environment in negative ways. Susan Wise Bauer, in a recent Psychology Today article, says that when ancient Sumerians needed more water to grow their own wheat crops, they simply irrigated their fields with the nearly fresh (but slightly brackish) water of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. When it became clear that the fields were suffering, they refused to fallow the fields to allow for recovery.

While it led to prosperity in the short run, over time it led to political and economic instability and, eventually, permanent desertification of the area. So no, the modern world is not alone in its abuse of this good earth. And truly, the reach of the curse is far.

But problems like the ones faced in the Middle East can happen anywhere, because lack of access to basic resources like food and water affects political regimes. And people like Colin Kelley work hard to predict the next great shifting of people, power, and resources.

One of those places is the American Pacific region – all the way from Mexico, whose drought in the 1990’s and early 2000’s led many to migrate north, up through California, and into Oregon and Washington.

Agricultural workers already had to cycle through various crop locations each year. But then drought came to California, and workers were fainting in the fields from exhaustion and dehydration. Then they couldn’t make quota. Then fields started to close. And families had to move.

These agricultural workers lead economically precarious lives. Surely drought affects poorer workers much more severely than it affects the middle and upper classes, whose lives are far more cushioned against climate troubles.

And that is the point in the article where I paused. I paused to mourn for the families in California — and the Middle East — who are intimately acquainted with the current drought. I paused to mourn for people who are displaced because of these current droughts. I paused to mourn over the human contribution to these current droughts.

I paused to contemplate how silly my ministry pursuits, or my educational concerns for my children, or my desire for leisure time, might be in the light of people who have no water to drink and no food to eat.

And I paused to long for the day when this current worldly mess will all.be.over.

Then I had to press pause on my pause and put the magazine up, because my children still needed feeding and bathing and tucking in.

But I won’t stop longing for the Day.

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Sources:

Sarah Mackenzie’s interview with Linda Sue Park, author of Long Walk to Water, at Read Aloud Revival podcast.

“Droughtlandia” — an article by Jeremy Miller in Pacific Standard magazine.

Research Spotlight on Colin Kelley, also in Pacific Standard magazine.

“Destroying the Planet. We’ve Been Doing It for a Long Time.” — an article by Susan Wise Bauer in Psychology Today magazine.

When God Won’t Give Me What I Want {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

Is he really a “good, good Father”? We sing it often enough, and truth be told, I really like singing and talking about the good character that our Abba Father indeed has.

But sometimes it sounds like we’re desperately trying to convince ourselves. Because sometimes we doubt. And no wonder.

Because sometimes we ask for things that we don’t get it. We ask for more support and we’re still blank. We ask for healing for ourselves or someone we love, and they stay sick. Or they die.

We brush up against storms and trauma and we see horrific things and we question him. Where are you? Why this? Why him or her?

Keep reading over at A Life Overseas

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When You Stop Loving the Church

by Elizabeth

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I’ve had a life-long love affair with the church of Jesus Christ. Many of you know that. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But. I almost lost my faith in Christ’s blessed church recently. I was disappointed with His people. Disillusioned even. I felt betrayed by the depravity of mankind.

And then.

I sang the Doxology with my teammates. The words of life set in rich, deep harmonies. Ancient truth, ever new.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost

And then.

I sang Hillsong’s “Glory” with my local church. Words I’d never before heard. Words my spirit desperately needed to hear and to proclaim.

Glory to the risen king, glory to the Son, glorious Son
Lift up your heads, open the doors
Let the king of glory come in
And forever be our God

And then.

I remembered the words of Psalm 29, words that my husband had read aloud earlier that day.

The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare.
In His Temple everyone shouts “Glory!”

And then.

It all came rushing back to me. All along, it’s been CHRIST. Christ is the reason I believed in His church in the first place. Because of Him, and not because of His people.

We are His because of Him, and because of Him, He is our God. Never because of us. For as we used to sing in youth group,

My only hope is You, Jesus
My only hope is You
From early in the morning till late at night
My only hope is You

Human beings were never worthy of my hope. My only hope is in God, and when we’re in God’s Temple, we all cry Glory! Even the believers who disillusion me.

And then.

I remembered more. Standing there with my hands lifted as high to the sky as I could reach, I remembered standing in that same position last year, shouting out Hillsong’s “The Creed” with a shattered heart.

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus

And then.

I realized that my strongest experiences of worship don’t usually happen when life is going well. No, it’s when life is going poorly and I’m in the middle of a storm and I still stand and sing GLORY that I most intensely experience God’s nearness and God’s greatness.

And this praise, this powerful act of defiance against evil and against discouragement and against hatred, it’s something no one and nothing can take away from us. It’s our right and our privilege as God’s children, and it can’t be stolen from us.

God alone is worthy of our hope and worthy of our praise. We proclaim it now, and one day in the Temple, we will all join together, saints and angels alike, to shout GLORY. Forever. And ever.

Amen.

This article was reprinted at both Relevant and Faithit.

You can read all the posts in my Church series here.