I made a trip to Japan a few years back and it forever changed my view of my personal space. I didn’t consider my home and office surroundings as cluttered until I returned with a new minimalist view of space. My home now looked cluttered and I began to see some elements that resembled hoarding.
I have worked with several clients who suffered from hoarding. Yes it is a diagnosed ailment. Compulsive Hoarding is typically part of the anxiety spectrum of mental disorders. It is usually identified by the degree of mental disturbance just the thought of getting rid of items produces. The actual act of getting rid of items can increase the anxiety to such a great extent that the person may experience panic and or be immobilized and unable to achieve the mental organizational ability needed to achieve the task. It is hard for non hoarders to understand how someone can be so attached to items that these items make their life and home, areas of great dysfunction. As I returned from Japan, with its predominantly minimalist structuring of home décor I had a changed perspective on what I now saw as my cluttered setting. My home and office space now seemed too filled for my peace of mind.
I faced the question of what to get rid of, for the first time. I would traditionally, like other people who didn’t suffer from OCD, or any anxiety disorder that manifested itself in hoarding, get rid of things that were broken beyond usefulness. However I was now looking at items in my surroundings that were all useful and had worth in my estimation. I saw a raison d'être for all the items placed in my surroundings. Some were there because of personal relationships (gifts from kids), other items were practical and functional (coffeemaker, linens). I was able to find some things that were no brainers and got rid of them with ease. I didn’t realize that I had held on to my children’s reading books. Given the fact that the youngest was now reading on a high school level it was doubtful that the Judy Blume books would need to be used by them again. As they had no emotional attachment to these books it was agreed that they could be passed on to the school library (the Harry Potter series did however stay much to my dismay). After loading three diaper boxes of books off to other homes there was an immediate lightness in my home. I was now faced with a harder choice, how to discard items that were more precious to me. This is the dilemma that hoarders face; the items we ask them to discard are precious to them.
The steps I used and found the most successful are outlined below. I have since employed this model with clients who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders and who engage in hoarding behaviors as a result. These steps are basically a variation of systematic desensitization, a model used to address deep fears. The greatest fear of the hoarder is loss of access to their cherished items. To address this fear, the cherished item is removed by degrees. There are rules however about not adding to the clutter while engaged in this process. One rule I had for myself and my clients is that you couldn’t buy or accumulate another item without getting rid of a current one. My Achilles heel was home improvement stuff. I always had a plan to work on some area of my home. Therefore it made sense to buy a specific wall ornament, or paint that was on sale, or some tiles that were just the right style when I saw them. The plan to improve my bathroom or repaint a bedroom remained plans as the purchased items stayed tucked away for that faithful day. I now knew that unless the planned remodeling was going to happen today, or this weekend, then I was forbidden to buy any items in anticipation, regardless of how great the sale was. Also all the magazines that I had collected with ideas that I wanted to implement would also have to go. Because was I really going to reference a magazine article that was 5 years old at this point? Thanks to the internet I no longer had to save every magazine article or picture that appealed to me. I could now have decorating ideas at the touch of my fingers through online do it yourself shows and online magazines
Armed with the rule of no new purchase or acquisitions without removing a similar item, I began to tackle my environment, one room at a time.
With each step you take, remember to take the time to self congratulate. Self validation and praise is important in this process. You can do so using some practical means. Assign yourself a treat. Not necessarily food, but perhaps you can go to the movies with a friend. Why? Because you have just done something to improve your situations, and even if no one knows about it, you do and it is worthy of some recognition. We certainly take time to recognize our screw ups. Let’s take time to recognize when we take steps in the direction of health and mental wellness.
Have you ever had a sleepless night, a night where sleep eluded you? Or how about you go to sleep but your eyes pop open inexplicably at 2 am and you know sleep is over for you? What do you do then?
Well for me this was a constant occurrence when my children were in their teens. I was constantly thinking (truthfully worrying) about something related to them. If it wasn’t their schooling, it was their future, or their friendships or their relationship with God, it was always something.
I said the serenity prayer and recognized that they were their own people and I couldn’t control them as they matured and made decisions about their lives, but yet I couldn’t sleep. I remembered that when they were babies I use to sleep a full 8 hours, and wondered if I would ever see those days again. Well I did come through and am back sleeping well, so for you going through it now, there is hope.
My children are all grown now living their lives with various degrees of success and I am proud of each and every one of them. There is progression not perfection in their lives and I am trusting God to bring them into His purpose for them. But I will still have the occasional night where sleep is difficult. One thing I noticed however is the ability of God to stay up all night and be my counselor. As a counselor myself I am not that selfless. I have only been asked to stay up late with someone once as I helped them through a crisis. I did it because I wanted to help that individual, but I don’t think I am selfless enough to do that on a continuous basis.
On the occasional sleepless night I will be up at 2 am asking God to counsel me as my mind races with thoughts and feeling about many situations. As a wise counselor He listens patiently as I outline my thoughts and my feelings. As I express my various feelings, anger, disappointment, fear, I will usually hear nothing, just the sound of His present silence. I wondered if that is the way my clients feel. I am there hearing and just breathing. Is it comforting for them, because for me Gods silence was comforting. His presence is a non judgmental witness to the turmoil in my mind.
As time passes I start to hear him say things, but it isn’t him saying anything. It is me remembering things he had said to me over the years. You see He and I have a relationship where I have read his word many times and I know the kind of things He says, I know His take on many things. I remember what He said to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and I hear him saying the same thing to me. “Eat and sleep”. I hear him encouraging me to take better care of myself. I hear him remind me that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and can give me access to anything I need, and will when He believes I “need” them. I hear Him tell me that I am precious to him and that I can come to him at any time with my hurts, my frustrations and my fears.
Over the years I have had many clients come to a session and share that they had faced a situation during the week but were able to manage it well because they remembered something I had told them and they applied it to the situation. I actually had a client say “you are in my head”. Don’t know that that was the goal of therapy, but it was said in a positive way. I came to realized that if you trust someone and are prepared to let them guide and direct you, they don’t need to be present for you to benefit from the guidance.
Recognizing that God is able to guide me even at 2 am has been wonderful. There is no physical counselor out there who will visit you in the dark in your bedroom while you are under the covers and just sit and hear your thoughts. If there was one, it would be creepy, just saying!. God however does just that by providing you his comforting presence at the most inconvenient time and place for anyone else. Who else is glad that they have a “Wonderful Counselor”.
The dreaded holidays are upon us. The stress and discomfort of having to interact with so many people and smile when you don’t feel like smiling is a constant worry. The financial expectations and obligations that you feel compelled to fulfill are looming. If this is the gloomy view of the holidays that you entertain, you may be experiencing a form of depression that is very prevalent during this time of the year.
It is not necessarily a clinical depression that needs to be treated with medication or therapy, but it should be addressed in a healthy manner. The key here is to identify these emotions as temporary, only associated with the holidays. If they persist past the holidays then we may be looking at clinical depression.
But assuming that these feelings manifest themselves only around this time of the year, here are 3 tip to get you through.
In life it’s not so much the answers that trip us up, it is understanding the question. For example for most people 1 + 1 = is an easy question, and the most likely answer you would receive is 2. Most would say this is a no brainer. However supposed the question looked more like this; what happens if I put a 1 next to another 1, what will I have in the end. Then, with some thought the person may answer “two 1’s placed next to each other would produce the number 11. Would the person asking the question then be correct in restating “oh so 1+1 is equal to 11! With horror, the provider of the answer would probably try to correct them immediately and explain that having two 1’s together is different than adding a 1 and another 1.
Years ago my husband and I lived in an old home, then when we moved we built a brand new home. I remember my old home was warm and comfortable, but my husband complained that all his weekends were spent repairing things that were going wrong. In hindsight I now see that it was very labor intensive for him to maintain the safety of such an old home (84yrs old). He was delighted at the prospect of us building a new home and rejected the idea of buying an already constructed home when we moved.
I on the other hand found the building process very stressful. I didn’t have the confidence that my decisions would be right (what kind of cabinets for the kitchen, what color should the carpet be or should we have a wood floor?) There were so many decisions to make; decisions that we would have to live with for a longtime. I was much more comfortable viewing homes already constructed and deciding to modify to suit my aesthetics. We had two different thoughts and viewpoints on the whole situation but our goal was the same, to have a home where we would both be happy to raise our family.
When I see couples in counseling I recognize the same dilemmas. The couple comes to counseling identifying the common goal, to make the relationship work for both of them and perhaps their family. They however may not have the same view on the work that needs to be done to get to that goal.
Sometimes one partner is set on repairing the relationship. They are the one who state that the relationship use to be great and they want to know what to do to make it great again. They want what they liked in the old situation; they minimize the structural defects, or unappealing aspects of the past relationship. The other partner wants a whole new relationship, they want to rebuild. They feel they have been working too hard to salvage something that is no longer appealing to them. They may be the partner who has strayed outside of the relationship and had an affair, or they may be the one who is suggesting a divorce. Their attendance at counseling may be a last ditch effort to help their partner accept the loss of the relationship and they want the counselor to condemn the building and support them in their cry to abandon it and move on. Or in a more hopeful scenario, they want the counselor to help them rebuild with that same partner, but they definitely want a different structure on the same parcel of land.
Understanding the perspective of the couple as well as the individuals that make up the couple is key to helping them design the relationship that will work for both of them. Whether they choose to rebuild or repair will be determined by the degree of damage found, the investment of time, effort and finances each person is willing to put in, and the ability of the parties involved to actually do the work. If there are issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, or mental/physical limits the partner’s willingness may be hampered by their actual ability. But a competent counselor will help them to identify this.
I recommended that before a couple determine which plan is the best, they speak with an expert who can support their common goal and give them the tools and advice that will help them make the best decision for their particular relationship. After all when you are looking to purchase a home, you are thinking a lifetime (or 30+ years). Shouldn’t you be as committed to your relationship?
I like fried eggs, the look of the yellow yolk so clearly defined in the middle of the white and edged with a slightly crisp edge. I like scrambled eggs, the soft almost custardy texture of the eggs. I dislike eggs that are scrambled-fried. How do we get scrambled-fried? By not being able to maintain the integrity of the fried egg and not prepping for a scrambled egg.
As I pondered my breakfast I wondered why a scrambled-fried egg bothered me so much. Surely it was edible. It was composed of two nutritious eggs that had been cooked. So what if the original goal of seeing them fried had been abandoned as they began to stick to the pan and break up. So what if I had decided to just scramble them mid cooking, after seeing that they could not be salvaged as perfectly cooked fried eggs. Yet I still looked at them with disappointment, trying to decide whether to discard them or eat them.
Looking at them represented to me a failure. They were not what I had originally envisioned when I started this project. It had gone wrong, and my attempt to salvage had produced a product that was not palatable to my eye, as my eye was still aligned with my mind and seeing what it should have looked like. The thought of discarding the egg, a wasteful and foolish thought, still had appeal because of the depth of my disappointment, and the greatness of my desire to have what I originally envisioned.
I put my creation between two slices of warm buttered toast and took a bite. To my surprise, it tasted like fried eggs. That distinct fried flavor I had been craving; the look of it hidden between the slices of bread. So glad I didn’t discard it. I wonder how many things are discarded because we just get disappointed that it didn’t turn out exactly as we envisioned. I learned the value of recognizing that at its core there is value in many things that are disappointing, it’s all about using what you have to make what you feel is lacking more appealing and palatable.
This year, if there are some things that for you represent failure and disappointment, before giving up on them (children, marriage, career) speak to someone who can help you perhaps find a way to recognize what core value may still remain. It would be a shame to discard something that with a little work could be salvaged.
What is the difference between Christian, Pastoral and Spiritual Counseling?
Christian Counselors, Pastoral Counselors, and Spiritual Counselors have some things in common. These counselors desire to see individuals healed and restored, and they understand that the spiritual aspect of the person’s life is as important as the psychological, physical, social and environmental factors that are involved in the client’s distress. However there are sometimes subtle differences to their approach.
Pastoral Counselors though generally from Judeo-Christian backgrounds, can also belong to non traditional religious perspectives. They however are usually clear about their religious affiliations, and their client’s come from that same perspective. They counsel member of their congregation and are usually expert on doctrinal issues within their denomination. Using that religious perspective they approach the client’s issues and will work with them.
Spiritual Counselors is a term that can be used by both Pastoral and Christian Counselors, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the counselor adheres to any particular religious thought or belief system. Most Spiritual Counselors have a respect for the spiritual dimension of a person’s life and will address it in counseling, however the counselor’s core values may be influenced by Eastern philosophies or New Age beliefs and views of life that are not consistent with Judeo-Christian values and beliefs.
The Christian Counselor identifies himself that way because they are committed to biblical values and view them as healthy in providing direction and instruction for a person’s life. A Professional Christian Counselor in addition to the above has a degree from an accredited school in a field that works with mental illness, and perhaps a license from the state to practice in the field of counseling.
A Professional Christian Counselor in addition to completing a psychosocial assessment will pay close attention to spiritual aspects of the client’s situation at the start of their therapeutic relationship with the client. They will integrate psychological theories but hold to biblically based values as the foundation of their counseling. They encourage clients to evaluate their life, choices, and responses in light of biblical standards
What kind of clients seek out Christian Counseling?
Jane* came into counseling reporting that her husband was engaging in religious practices that were scaring her and undermining her security in the marital relationship. She believed that the religious rituals that he conducted, which he insisted she participated in were in violation of her more traditional religious beliefs. She was torn between her desires to support him as a leader of the family’s spiritual life and her fear that he was involved in a religion that was not compatible with her Christian beliefs. She had been getting very ill lately, and she felt that her illnesses were in some way related to her husband’s rituals. She reported that other than this concern she felt that her marriage was happy and that her husband was a good person. Jane sought out a Christian Counselor because she wanted someone who would be more sensitive to the degree of distress she was experiencing due to her husband’s actions.
Jane could have gone for pastoral counseling on her issue, however she like many of clients who come to Christian Counseling identify themselves as “Christians”, but may not be involved in any specific organized religion or group. There is a large group of individuals who have strongly held beliefs about God and his place in their life, and would like these beliefs incorporated in their counseling experience, but have not committed to a particular religious group or organization. For them seeking out a Christian Counselor is a good alternative.
For Jane the counseling experience allowed her to explore her spiritual history with some one who asked her good questions and challenged her to come up with answers that could be articulated to others. She was then able to communicate these beliefs to her husband and discuss her discomfort and her expectations regarding their spiritual life. Together they were able to decide on some core beliefs about God, spiritual rituals, virtues and values.
Mary* had been a victim of sexual molestation by a pastor as a teenager and as a result felt that God had abandoned her. Due to trust issues she was no longer connected to a religious organization. This lead to feelings of isolation and left her without access to sacraments and religious rituals which she had grown up with and missed. Despite her abuse she had not abandoned her belief in God. Her belief however was cocooned in much anger and feelings of betrayal. Mary wanted to speak with a Christian Counselor who would understand her strong desire for a healthy view of spiritual things and would help her work through her anger.
Like Mary, some clients have had some negative spiritual experiences. These clients however still desire to explore it and it’s meaning in their life. They desire that the Christian Counselor be knowledgeable about spiritual matters and respect the value of these spiritual experiences along with respecting their autonomy and self determination. They may not be ready to reconnect to a religious group or organization, but still feel the need to talk with someone regarding the meaning of spirituality and how it affects their life.
Mary was able to speak her deeply held anger and hurt to someone who respected and valued spiritual things. In this way she did not feel like she was blaspheming or dishonoring God, in whom she still believed.
Won’t the Christian Counselor just tell me to Pray, Believe God and my problem will be solved?
NO! A Professional Christian Counselor, though acknowledging that they believe that all answers are found in God, respects the individual. A Christian Counselor will be able to puts choices in front of their clients. These choices are biblically based, but they respect the rights of their client to reject these choices and make other choices. Some choices, though not harmful, may not be viewed as helpful as ones founded on biblical principles.
Christ didn’t force healing on anyone; he presented them with an option and told them the consequences of certain actions. He educated, He listened, He encouraged, He rebuked, and He comforted; all these things are compatible with Christian Counseling. Depending on the individual counselor, some Christian Counselors are more directive than others, but these interventions are made in an atmosphere of acceptance and love.
Will the Christian Counselor use the Bible in counseling?
A Christian Counselor will be comfortable with the Bible and may use it as a resource for the client. Many clients however may not feel comfortable with the use of the Bible, due to their own religious beliefs and core values. They however should know that biblical viewpoints are influencing the treatment process.
Will the Christian Counselor support my use of medication?
Most Christian Counselors will have no problems with a client taking prescribed medications for their mental illness. However, biblical understandings can differ on this subject. It is best for the client to check with the Christian Counselor they wish to see.
Will the Christian Counselor pray with me?
A Christian Counselors will pray for their clients, and sometimes pray with them. The core belief for a Christian Counselor is that they are not conducting a counseling session armed only with psychological theories and knowledge. The Christian Counselor believes that they are working in tandem with the “Holy Spirit”, who helps them to understand with greater insight the needs of their client. Therefore engaging in prayer is consistent with the idea that the client is not only interacting with the counselor before them, but also with the “Holy Spirit” who gives greater understanding. Praying with a client however is handled with great sensitivity and is engaged in according to client’s comfort level.
It is important to know that the Christian Counselor will seek to help the client reconcile their spiritual beliefs and their life experiences in a positive healthy way. They however are not ambiguous regarding their core values and beliefs, because they have identified themselves by the label “Christian Counselor”. Therefore the client understands and there is no myth of neutrality.
* No real names are used. Clients described are fictional reflecting issues seen in professional Christian Counseling. Any resemblance to real persons are purely coincidental.