In Christian counseling, the foundation of the therapeutic process is the belief that God offers hope and healing in the midst of hurt and brokenness. While my training is in Christian counseling, many of my clients do not specifically identify with Christianity. It is my goal to work with each client to help them understand themselves holistically, and encourage them as they seek spiritual truth in their healing journey.
Many of the couples I see find themselves caught in a negative thought pattern. It usually begins with one triggering experience such as a disagreement, followed by an initial negative thought, such as “It is pointless to try communicating with him – he never listens!” or “She isn’t working hard enough to make things better!” After that initial thought, a sort of downward spiral can take place. The first thought is followed by another negative thought, and another, and another, until the person is fully convinced that things will never change, and their situation seems hopeless.
For example, “Josh” and “Amanda” have been coming to counseling to work through conflict and sex issues. In this session, Josh feels resentful that Amanda, a stay-at-home mom, has not been keeping the house clean while he is at work. When Josh comes home to a messy house (the triggering experience), he immediately begins his negative thought spiral: “She is lazy. She hasn’t changed. She doesn’t respect me. I hate coming home to this. Nothing will ever get better.” As you can see, the negative thoughts seem to feed on each other, and increase in intensity until Josh has seemingly given up on anything changing in this situation.
One thing we work on in faith-based therapy is to instill hope where it has been lost. When someone in my office feels stuck in their negative thinking, we focus on the concept that God’s work in their lives is renewal and redemption. Yes, things might be broken right now. But God’s plan is to bring restoration and healing to those broken places. This is their foundation for change.
We also work to fix the broken record that plays on repeat. With Josh, his broken record was saying, “Nothing will change. This will always be bad.” All it takes to put the record back on track is to spin the negative phrase into a positive one and replace it with truth. Instead of his hopeless thought pattern, Josh could tell himself, “Things haven’t changed yet. But it won’t always be bad. There is hope for this situation.” With that statement, Josh can make a u-turn and move toward healing in his marriage.
If you are feeling stuck, find yourself in this downward spiral of negative thoughts, or feel hopeless about your relationship, know there is hope for you!
by Melanie Sutton