Depression. A word that is commonly used, but often misunderstood. Is it a state of mind? A sickness? Is it permanent? Is there a cure? As a counselor, I have encountered individuals with many of these questions. I think one of the biggest hindrances in receiving help with depression is knowing how to identify it.
Many times I have heard the words, “I’m depressed” as an answer or expression after asking how someone is doing, but what does that really mean? What does depression look like? How has this word become a casual expression of sadness, disappointment, or a bad day?
Depression isn’t something you wake up with one day and it’s gone the next. It works in a slow, progressive manner that can eventually take over your life. What I mean by progressive manner is that it’s similar to the process of gardening. You may be thinking, “How can these two things be related?” Let me explain.
In gardening, you lay the soil, plant the seed, give it proper sunlight and nutrients, and watch it grow. Depression, however, is like a seed that is planted and fed negativity for long periods of time and gives birth to an unruly mindset. The stronger it is reinforced, the deeper the roots go, and the harder it becomes to prune the weeds from your life. True change does not come from the surface, but getting to the root of the problem.
In order to recognize depression, it is important to understand how it manifests itself. It can look different for different people. It can include persistent feelings of sadness or constant feelings of worthlessness. Also, it can feel like a lack of motivation or a loss of interest in the things that you once enjoyed.
Depression steals your energy, sense of self, self-esteem, and ability to concentrate. It takes control of the things that you once were able to regulate, including your emotional state, mindset, and sometimes physical responses.
Depression can feel like a darkness that looms over your head and cripples your ability to move forward. It is a mental illness that fogs the perception of yourself and hinders your ability to see the world through clear lenses.
It is a constant state of being stuck and unmotivated to move toward positive growth. It can feel immobilizing and hopeless at times, like there won’t be an end to this feeling of fatigue, sadness, and low energy. Even little attempts to get out of this state of being can take a lot of work and energy.
From these symptoms discussed, there are several severe consequences of depression, which include increased risk for suicide, co-morbid substance use disorder, and a life impairment of daily functioning.
That is why it is of the utmost importance to seek help with depression if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or know of anyone who has displayed these signs of depression. The hard truth is that depression is all too common and getting help with depression is much too rare.
There are a lot of misconceptions about this disorder. Many people see it as a choice of giving into their sadness, but it goes deeper than that. There are levels and layers of this disorder that go beyond an individual’s daily control.
This disorder has the capability of consuming your ability to properly function. This internal battle can reinforce the idea that you are alone. That you are the only one experiencing this and that alone is the way you will stay. But there is hope! Depression is best treated when you don’t try to get out of it alone. In fact, studies have shown that the most powerful tool for healing is relationship.
Healing in Relationship – Faith Implications
One of my favorite books, Making Marriage Simple, states that “we were all wounded in relationship. We can heal only in relationship.” I believe this to be true. God created us as relational beings. The Trinity itself is a perfect example of how we are created.
In the Trinity, there is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that humans were created in “our image,” meaning not just the Father or Son, but in all three. We best function and thrive in environments that surround us with emotional support and connection.
It goes to our very cores as humans. We have emotional needs that can only be met through relationship. In our nature, God created us to yearn for communion with Him and fulfillment through His Word and way of life. Trying to get out of depression alone goes against our very nature.
Reliance on God and support from people is the best combination in seeing true growth. God doesn’t want us to feel alone or emotionally isolated. Those feelings or thoughts are the deceptive ploy of Satan to keep us feeling stuck. God understands heartache and wants to deliver us from our pain.
As a Christian, I find it can be difficult to understand the meaning of suffering and pain. After years of wrestling with this idea, I have come to peace with the notion that pain and suffering is a byproduct of our fallen nature and world. Sin and suffering reminds us of our reliance and need for God in our lives.
If life were exactly like we wanted and desired, we wouldn’t see our need for God. How often do you pray on your knees in times of gratitude? It’s easy to reach out when we need something, or feel inadequate in an area of our life. But how easy is it to see our need when things aren’t hard?
In times of depression, God gives us Scripture to encourage our disheartened spirits. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” He wants to offer us a place to pour out our pain and confusion. He is there to sit and listen to us. He offers hope even in the midst of pain.
Psalm 40:1-3 states:
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.”
God doesn’t want to see us hurting. He understands above anyone else how hard this temporary life can be. He wants to deliver us all from the pain that we feel. He promises to free us from our iniquities and struggles.
His grace is sufficient and can become a source of strength if we allow Him to work powerfully in our lives. This work in our lives can mean seeking help when life has become too much for us to handle. That is where counseling can become a great tool, because often times the mindsets and ways of life that we get stuck in might require more assistance.
Gaining strength from the Word while the Spirit works to heal the internal wounds through emotional understanding and clarity is a combination for success. So, where does a counselor fit into seeking help with depression? Let’s explore that next!
Christian Counseling for Help with Depression
As a counselor, I have a unique opportunity to offer a relationship in therapy that brings healing to hurting individuals. Most contemporary theorists assume that what does or doesn’t happen during the early phases of life affect human development for a lifetime in powerful ways. However, it is not just the early stages of life that make or break a person. People can rise above adversity and overcome these challenges with additional support.
Christian counseling offers hope to those who have felt like a product of their environment. Counseling offers individuals an opportunity to grow in their understanding and formulate a cohesive narrative that brings clarity and peace. A counselor’s responsibility is to create a therapeutic container where clients feel safe to embark on the journey to healing.
The most important tool in effective counseling is a strong working alliance. Using a person-centered approach to build a strong therapeutic relationship is crucial. When clients are able to delve into their emotions and express their experiences freely without fear of judgment in a safe and supportive environment, self-awareness, understanding, and insight can be achieved.
As clients participate in the process of therapy, a person-centered approach allows individuals to not only explore the depths of their experiences, but also to explain and evaluate them in order to recognize shifts in meaning, behavior, and mood that produce change.
Often times, I hear one of the biggest deterrences in seeking help with depression is that it is an intimidating process. I am here to say that one of the major objectives of therapy is to help increase awareness, which is a very obtainable task that brings understanding and peace to individuals’ lives.
My belief in creating this objective stems from my understanding of where problems originate. When individuals are in contact with experiencing the present, they are less burdened by the past, less determined, freer to make decisions, and able to manage the direction of their lives confidently.
When people allow themselves to drift from the present reality of their being and experience, it is easy to lose sight of the truth. This loss of awareness causes discrepancies in perception. This discrepancy is known as incongruence, which is an inconsistency between an individual’s self-perception and their experience in reality.
Counselors can undo this process by assisting clients in experiencing their current emotion. As your counselor, I will support you to connect with the present and grow in your ability to tolerate negative emotion. My hope in this goal is to develop skills that allow you to process emotion without being overwhelmed and needing to suppress emotional experiences.
One way I do this is drawing from a psychodynamic approach and exploring interpersonal relationships. These explorations bring awareness to threatening unconscious material that have been repressed. Looking at interpersonal relationships and attachment styles provides great insight into current ways of perceptions and behavior.
I encourage clients to address their core issues as well as core defenses that have enabled their ability to move forward. Counselors can melt clients’ defenses with empathetic understanding.
Empathy alone has shown to help clients “gain new learning, renegotiate the boundary of self and others, and move away from distress toward more frequent, harmonious, and tolerant relations with self and others” (Owen, 1999, p.167).
As the defenses melt it is important for clients to recognize that these defenses served a purpose in the past, but no longer work toward their desired outcome.
Also, through this dynamic, the therapeutic relationship can serve as a new way of interacting and functioning. My approach to establishing a counseling relationship in the present provides clients with a corrective and integrative experience.
It offers clients a corrective emotional experience that provides a different outcome than what was previously experienced in the past. As your counselor, I work to identify the attachment patterns of the past and help construct new ones in the present through our therapeutic alliance. Growing in self-awareness and acceptance is a process and although the past is important in helping individuals gain understanding, it is the present that fosters true growth.
Overall, my goal in counseling is not to problem solve, or fix the individuals that step into my office, but to help clients grow in their self-awareness, emotional regulation, independence, and ability to develop better coping mechanisms to life’s challenges. It is more process-driven than goal-oriented.
These tools allow an individual to increase their range of action and responses to events, help control their emotional responses, and provide different perspectives. A healthy therapeutic container allows people to diminish their defenses, come to appreciate themselves, and grow in choosing more flexible and creative behaviors that bring true fulfillment to their lives.
If anything that I have shared resonates with you or someone you know, there is hope! Getting help with depression takes courage, but the leap of faith is worth it! It may feel like a climb at times, but God promises that the view at the top is worth it!
Corey, G. (2017). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning
Fosha, D. (2001). The dyadic regulation of affect. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 57(2), 227-242.
Owen, I. R. (1997). Boundaries in the practice of humanistic counselling. British Journal Of Guidance & Counselling, 25(2), 163.
Teyber, E. & Teyber, F. H. (2017) Interpersonal process in therapy: An integrative model (7th ed.) Boston, MA: Cengage Learning
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