If you’ve been in recovery for any length of time, you may have sought the wisdom and emotional expertise of a professional counselor. We may seek a therapist for a rough patch related to our present circumstances, or develop a regular schedule of appointments to deal with wounds from the past. In either case, people in recovery generally accept therapy as a valuable resource on their journey to freedom and wholeness.
At Celebrate Recovery (CR), we openly admit that we (CR leaders) are not therapists or licensed professionals. One of our small group guidelines that are read at every meeting is:
“We are here to support one another, not ‘fix’ one another.”
When a newcomer is present at the meeting, CR guidelines further state:
“This keeps us focused on our own issues. We do not give advice or solve someone’s problem in our time of sharing, or offer book referrals or counselor referrals. We are not licensed counselors, psychologists, or therapists, nor are the group members. Celebrate Recovery groups are not designed for this. It is up to the participants to include outside counseling to their program when they are ready.”
After the meeting is officially ended, we enter a time of more informal sharing and ‘drop’ the guidelines. Sometimes that opens the opportunity for questions about recovery in general or what someone shared. We are taught to always ask if someone is open to feedback, or in our time of sharing to mention that we are open to it later.
This meeting structure often confuses a newcomer. They may be so used to fixing others, or not respecting other’s boundaries. Or they may be in a state of such emotional turmoil that they come eagerly seeking a quick fix. (CR is not a place for a quick fix.)
On the flip side, a newcomer may have been emotionally or verbally abused by other’s ‘fixing’—often in the name of love. All they want is to be heard!
The safety of the group depends on the participant’s ability to openly share, sometimes for the first time the burdens they carry. It is freeing to know we are not alone in our struggles.
It is very important to stick to this and the other four guidelines. CR leaders are trained to facilitate these guidelines, not to give advice.
So where does the role of therapy fall into Christian recovery like CR?
After being in recovery for many years, I am learning how to navigate this relationship and the role my therapist is playing in my life. I’ve had on-again, off-again therapy at various times over my healing journey.
Recently I’ve come to lean on my therapist more and more; and it caught me off-guard. As one who struggles with co-dependency, I started to ponder if this was becoming a co-dependent relationship. So I brought my concerns to my counselor, and asked for clarification on the role and the boundaries around it. (My therapist loves that I bring in a list of questions or notes and am actively engaged in the process.)
What I learned gives me much more insight into the therapeutic process, and makes me a better listener and recovery leader as well. One of the outcomes to therapy is for a person to be able to self-soothe themselves, to modulate their emotions, so to speak. Self-soothing is not commonly taught or modeled by our parents.
When I share with my therapist, in the heat of the moment (by picking up the phone, texting, or emailing), I am allowing her to hold my pain until I am more able to face it. It is known as a psychological safety net. With her clinical expertise, she directs the timing and how much I can bear. In the heat of the moment, she soothes me through the pain. As I walk through another dark period in my healing, I am integrating this into my soul and learning how to do it on my own.
My years of recovery and the deep friendships I’ve had with other Christians have helped me get to this point in my healing journey. They have listened to me, provided much needed feedback, wisdom, nurture, acceptance, and love. We have mutually held each other up, borne each other’s burdens, and prayed for each other.
A network of accountability partners and supportive relationships are critical to our recovery. Let us also look to the Godly counsel of a Christian therapist as a vital piece in our recovery toolbox.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
(Proverbs 15:22, NIV)
Contributed by a leader at Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau.