I slipped into a quiet and empty chapel near my apartment at my absolute wits end. I’ve written about my struggles with severe PMS, endometriosis, and NFP before. But at that moment I was at the end of my rope and tired of being tired of the roller coaster of chronic pain, crippling anxiety, and frustration that hit me hard every few weeks. I prayed for some kind of relief or consolation in my suffering, even if just in a small way.
A few months later, it was suggested to me to pursue counseling as a way to work through some of the repetitive trauma and emotional distress this constant battle with pain threw at me every single month. I’d never been opposed to going to a therapist. It was just something I’d never considered.
How Counseling Has Transformed My Spiritual Life
I’ve been seeing a counselor for well over six months now, and I see it as an answer to the desperate prayer I made in that chapel. Making my mental health a priority and getting professional help to do so has had an indelible impact on every area of my life, especially my spiritual life.
The Way I View the Past
Going to therapy has dramatically transformed how I view the past. Before, every few weeks when PMS hit, I was sent reeling not only into the very real physical and emotional struggles but also the compounded anger and frustration of being in pain for months and years on end with little to no relief. Admittedly, a lot of this anger and frustration were directed at God for making me suffer this way.
Talking through this pain and anger with my therapist, and looking at why it created such strong emotions, was the first step to processing what was later considered to be a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. But on repeat every single month. EMDR, or “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,” an amazing psychotherapy treatment that is used to address PTSD and the negative emotions and feelings that are triggered, was a God-send in helping me to peel back the emotional layers and many past experiences with my chronic pain that caused anger, severe anxiety, and borderline depression every single month.
Both talk therapy and EMDR helped me to climb out of one of the lowest points I’ve ever been in. Facing it head on with the tools to help process the trauma of chronic pain have made it so that things that were once triggers hardly elicit any emotional response from me at all just a few months later.
The Way I See Myself
As a naturally self-deprecating person and a perfectionist, I went into therapy with many false ideas of who I am and where my value comes from. During times of the month when I was already anxious and depressed, the self-berating thoughts increased.
Talk therapy has helped me “debunk” a lot of the lies I’ve told myself. It’s helped me let go of the awful habit I used to have of seeing a bad situation I had no control over and then feeling worthless for not changing it. It’s helped me realize that emotions are human. Now, I more quickly remind myself that I am human and therefore imperfect, and this should not be cause for self-deprecation.
I’ve learned what actual humility is: seeing myself for who I am, just a human trying her best.
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The Way I See God
Having been terribly scrupulous in the past, counseling, along with spiritual direction, has gone a long way in helping me not see the smallest, inconsequential things as sins. By helping me set aside that thought pattern, I am finally able to more clearly see that God is not “out to get me” and catch me in minutiae. I can do nothing to make Him love me any less.
Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that counseling has cut my perfectionism to its core. It has forced me to take a hard look at the outrageous standards I set for myself in terms of prayer, exercise, relationships, and work. Rather than prioritize what I think I need to be doing, I now focus instead on what God wants me to do.
I’m getting so much better at reminding myself that, in most situations, I am not in control. God is.
Sometimes people of faith try to spiritualize mental health problems. The thought is that enough prayer and pastoral support will help anxiety or depression simply go away. That isn’t always (or rather, is most often not) the case.
I prayed and begged for relief. And God answered that prayer with legitimate mental health treatment. God wants us to pray and receive the Sacraments. He also wants us to get the help, support, and treatment we need to heal and process things that weigh heavily on us emotionally and mentally.
Be Not Afraid
We go to medical doctors to ensure our bodies are operating at peak efficiency. Why would we not do the same for our mental and emotional health? You don’t have to be experiencing a crisis to benefit from talking to a counselor. It can help you work through harmful patterns of thought, process traumas, and see situations more clearly and for what they actually are.
Though society is seeming to become more open to talking about mental health, there’s still a stigma. It’s something that isn’t talked about enough, and when it is talked about, it’s often in hushed, condescending voices.
I want to help change that trend. Anxiety, depression, PTSD… they’re all real. And therapy can help immensely. I’ve seen the other side of this and can say that by God’s grace counseling has changed my life, including my spiritual life, in innumerable ways.How Counseling has Transformed My Spiritual Life #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Sarah Coffey is a freelance writer and copyeditor and also works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. She and her husband, Jesse, both converted to Catholicism in college, and they reside in the St. Louis area with their cats, Stella and Cayden. You can find out more about her here.