During counseling sessions, as Pastoral Counselors, we are always listening for our clients’ source of ultimate hope. Hope is what will help a client get better, and knowing the source of hope helps us navigate to a place of healing.
In the case of a client who has attempted suicide, it is essential to know the source of hope which keeps them grounded.
One client, Beth*, came to Insight Counseling Centers referred by a good friend who saw that she was struggling with depression. Beth had been on medication that seemed to no longer be working. Her history with depression included suicide attempts many years earlier while experiencing post-partum depression after the birth of her first child. Beth felt dehumanized by the rudimentary treatment she received at a medical facility during that time and came to Insight Counseling Centers for a different kind of experience.
Carol, a Marriage and Family Therapist at Insight, began working with Beth, and as a first step, referred her to a psychiatrist to find more effective medication. After some trial and error and discovering an effective medication, Beth stated that she felt normal for the first time in her life. It was then that the full story of her life began to unfold.
She had grown up surrounded by a very rigid, cult-like religion, with parents whose practices of discipline were abusive. They watched her like a hawk, ready to prey on her for anything she did or said that, in their severe view, was out of line. God, she was taught, was punitive.
She moved into adulthood with very little sense of her own worth, unable to celebrate her character or accomplishments. In her mind, life was simply survival, and you survived by following the rules. If you didn’t follow the rules, you would be punished.
Lacking any sense of openness or grace, she believed she didn’t deserve salvation.
If a client cannot name a source of hope, it is the therapist who will hold hope for the client, offering what they see as hopeful in the client’s life.
“I don’t see that in you, that you are undeserving of salvation. Who in your life does this punitive God sound like to you?” Carol asked.
Beth remembered how her father squashed the brilliant ideas she’d had in her youth. A glimmer of hope appeared: Maybe God might be different.
Like watering and nurturing a plant, Carol and Beth worked together for two and a half years to grow that sense of hope.
Carol pointed to the joy of Beth’s adult children and noted how they were thriving. Beth had vowed to never be the kind of parent that her parents had been, and she upheld that vow. She was a good parent. Just as pain had been passed down through generations, so the hope of healing had been passed down.
She had a strong relationship with the friend that referred her to counseling and wanted Carol to meet that friend. Carol watched Beth’s eyes light up when they met, as she began to realize that there is goodwill and an alliance of care for her. Maybe the love and care shown by her friend and her therapist meant that God could be different than a punitive God.
These days she’s owning, stating, and celebrating her own preferences and desires. She’s beginning to find herself in the reflection of joy in her friend, therapist, and children. She’s realizing that her parents, the all-powerful God of her childhood, came from brokenness. She’s attempting to release and forgive.
And she now holds the hope of a God who is loving.
May we enter this holiday season holding hope for each other as we remember those who have held hope for us.
*Name has been changed to keep confidentiality