After dating several women who told him he had “issues,” my friend Ron finally decided to look for a good counselor.
“That’s a great move,” I encouraged him. It was all I could do to stop short of adding, “And it’s about time, Ron!”
Yet the conversation grew darker when he asked my advice on how to go about finding a counselor who could actually do him some good.
“That’s a tough one, Ron. You’re a pretty hard case,” I chuckled. “And 95% of the counselors out there are either well-meaning but incompetent, or else they’re total frauds, just out to make money.”
I later had to admit that I had no scientific basis for my “95%” statistic. Perhaps the situation in the counseling community is even worse than that!
When Ron asked why I was so down on the counseling profession, I told him my Parable of the Dandelions.
“There are four kinds of counselors, Ron,” I explained. “Picture someone approaching four different advisers for input on controlling the dandelions in his yard.”
Counselor #1: This kind of counselor looks at the yard and says, “I don’t see any dandelions. I think you’re doing great!” This is the counselor of choice for those in denial. The person going for counseling denies he has any addictions or psychiatric conditions, and the counselor comforts him by agreeing! A variation of this is the kind of counselor who provides reassuring comparisons: “Well, sure, you have dandelions. But there’s no need to worry about it, because all your neighbors have dandelions too!”
Counselor #2: This kind of counselor specializes in validation. After spending an hour with the patient and charging $160 or more, the counselor says, “Yes, you surely are depressed” or “Yes, you really do have a lot of anxiety.” Of course, the counselee already knew that before spending his $160, but it feels good to have someone validate and confirm all the things he’s been feeling. The problem with this, quite obviously, is that nothing has really been solved by the counselor. In essence, he’s just saying, “I see the dandelions you’re talking about!” Frequently, this kind of counselor also tries to validate your perspective on the cause of your problems. By the end of the counseling session, you’ve found other people to blame for your troubles, leaving you guilt-free. “I agree with your assessment that your spouse is a jerk,” the counselor assures you. “So it’s no wonder you have anger issues.” Or you’re told, “Your self-esteem problems are all the fault of your parents.” You feel a remarkable sense of relief in knowing you’re not to blame for your current condition—but your condition never changes when you insist on shifting all the blame to others.
Counselor #3: This kind of counselor goes a little further than Counselor #2. “Yes, you definitely have dandelions, and we’re going to do something to fix that!” However, Counselor #3 opts for the same approach I once took when my dad told me to get rid of the dandelions in our yard: I simply pulled off the dandelion heads, and soon the yard looked dandelion-free. Counselor #3 typically accomplishes this by providing medication to mask a person’s pain, anxiety, depression, or other unpleasant symptoms. The greater the emotional pain, the higher the dosage that is prescribed. I’m sincerely thankful that medication can relieve some of these troublesome symptoms, and some people need that approach, at least in the short run. However, I can’t help but remember what happened when I pulled off the dandelion heads in our lawn. For a few days, it seemed like I was a genius, eradicating all signs of dandelions. But soon the dandelions were back, even more prevalent than before. And that’s why we need counselors like #4…
Counselor #4: I’m convinced that most counselors fall into the categories of #1, #2, or #3. You might wonder how they stay in business when they’re so ineffective. The answer to that question isn’t hard to find: Instead of truly being healed and delivered from their sins and dysfunctions, many people would prefer to live in denial, find affirmation that their problems really aren’t so bad, or find medication that will cover up the symptoms. In contrast, Counselor #4 understands that our emotional “dandelions” must be honestly acknowledged and then pulled out by the roots.
My friend Ron, like so many other people, stands at a crossroads. It’s tempting to pay a counselor to tell him he’s not nearly as messed up as those women say on his dates. And if he had some good medication, he probably wouldn’t worry about their opinions anyway.
The search for competent help won’t be easy, but I’m praying for Ron to find Counselor #4—someone with the spiritual discernment and patience to unearth and remove the roots of his emotional pain.
Tell me what you think. Am I being too hard on the counseling community? What kinds of remedies have helped you find help and healing for your emotional wounds? Ron could use your advice.