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Why Counseling: The Gift of a Mirror Part 1

“I can't see my face. You can. I need somebody who holds a mirror up to me and that allows me to see.”

This is a partial quote from a great video by Dan Allender. Of course, when he talks about not being able to see our own faces he means more than just physically. This is one of the tricky things about growth -- as the person trying to change we don't always have the full perspective. This is one of the ways I believe counseling can be a big help. A counselor can be someone to hold up a mirror for us so that we can see ourselves more clearly.

We all have relational blind spots. There are ways we interact with others that are unhealthy and unproductive. These unhealthy patterns are often developed in response to hurt we've experienced and we develop these patterns to help us avoid that pain in the future. And we usually don't even realize we're doing it because... well... we're the ones doing it. We can't see ourselves from an outside perspective. And those around us who experience our patterns rarely call them out because doing so can get awkward. But when it's done in love, for the sake of the other person's growth, it can be a gift.

I'll give you an example of this from my own life. During my Master's in Counseling program we all participated in something called “process groups”. These were small groups designed in part to help us identify the patterns we bring to relationships in a group. At our last meeting, the leader asked what we would like to do with this final time we had together. After waiting a while to see if anyone else had something they wanted to do with the time I said something like, “Well, I'm almost hesitant to say anything because this is our last time together so it seems like a big deal, I don't want to squander the last of the time we have together or anything but... we've talked about this idea of learning what you bring to a group and how other people experience you and I guess I feel like I would like to hear from y'all some more about how you've experienced me... but, you know, if you guys don't want to do that or if there's anything else people want to do instead, that's fine.”

The group leader said, “I can start with how I experienced you just now if you'd like. I think that's a great idea and would be an awesome way to use our final time together. And yet the way you presented it, it's like you don't really believe it's a good idea. It's like you're afraid somebody's going to invalidate your idea so you do it first instead. You do that quite often actually. You have a lot to offer, Joel. But when you act like that's not true, it causes others to wonder if they should doubt you too. I wish you wouldn't do that. I wish you would believe in what you have to offer.”

That was a painful thing for me to hear in the moment. But it was the pain of surgery, not the pain of an attack, because I knew our leader loved me. His feedback was offered with a vision for who I really was and a clear understanding of how my pattern was undercutting that. The ability to see myself more clearly through that interaction, and therefore to have an idea how I wanted to change, was a huge gift.

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