6 months: Reflections on being in a seminary counseling program

Finally, I’m attempting to write a little about what being at Missio Seminary for counseling has been like…i.e. the original purpose of this blog, heh. The past six months have incidentally been the most turbulent season of my short (but not short) life thus far, marked by a vocational transition, a cross-country move, grief & loss, relational turmoil, and loneliness. I often tell people who are kind enough to ask about how school is going that it has been the one stable, good thing in my life. Here are some budding thoughts:

The people make the program. Honestly, I didn’t consider this enough when I was making my decision on which program to choose. Sure, things like accreditation, location, tuition, etc. are really important, but the relationships and interactions that I have with my cohort, professors, and staff form the crux of my education. Meeting face-to-face is inconvenient, but 100% worthwhile. We are a small cohort (under 20 students) but incredibly diverse. Training to be a counselor is emotionally exhausting because of the things we talk about and what that can trigger in us, so tears in class are fairly normal. Having people alongside of me to be present in those moments of heaviness — and to make me laugh! — is the biggest gift of being in my program by far.

I’ve learned not to be in ‘counselor’ mode all the time. We spent our first semester intensively practising the foundational ‘building block’ skills of counseling, such as listening, reflecting, nonverbal cues, word choice, etc. We practised a lot on each other. Initially, I was eager to practise my counseling skills everywhere — with Karl, with my friends, at work with customers, with family, etc. I feel bad for them now! Although these skills can be applied to any interaction, I’ve since learned that it is NOT healthy for me to be ‘counseling’ the whole wide world. First up, it’s exhausting and anxiety-inducing to be over-analyzing my conversations all the time. Second, it’s actually not appropriate to be in full-blown counselor mode with people who aren’t clients. My relationships with my husband and my friends are a two-way street; counseling is largely a one-sided relationship that comes with a power dynamic (that is set up in a way so as to benefit the recipient). Third, I wouldn’t be acknowledging the fact that I have deep relational needs! I need my friends and I definitely need my husband to embrace & challenge my ‘whole’ self, not just a certain part of me.

I’m so grateful that I’m in a faith-based program. Being in seminary has pushed me to ask a lot of difficult and painful questions about God. It’s one thing to have a general understanding that the world is “messed up”. It’s another to constantly encounter stories of evil in their cruel particularity and to wonder what on earth you can possibly say to the wounded individuals who come to you for help. Studying theology and counseling together has alerted me to the fact that these stories are recorded in scripture as well — and that God is not, in fact, neutral or absent. If I weren’t in this program, it might have been easy for me to conclude that the hope offered by my faith is insufficient to overcome all the evil that I see, hear, and feel around me. As it stands, I’m still fighting to believe in reconciliation, restoration, and shalom.

Final thought: it’s interesting that the school itself has been undergoing its own season of significant transition (a name change, moving into Philadelphia, etc). Opting into change is painful and often involves loss and vulnerability — this is true for an individual as well as for an organization. Probably much more complicated for the latter! #beautybetween

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