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Q  Is counseling always the best option for personal or relationship troubles? I don’t have much money, and professional help is expensive.

A There are a number of ways psychological and relational problems can be addressed without the need for professional help. Many “self-help” groups are available, sponsored by associations such as Alcoholics (Narcotics, Overeaters, Gamblers or Sex-addiction) Anonymous, in which people struggling with similar tendencies toward addictive behaviors of all kinds find community and help with their struggles.

Other community groups provide a safe place to share experiences related to violence such as war trauma, family incest or other abuse, bullying, or victimization through crime. In these groups, personal healing can happen when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms are validated and strategies for coping and healing are shared. There are cancer survivors’ groups and mental health support groups—in fact, if the experience of a difficulty has been named, there will be a support group to help sufferers deal with it. Increasingly such support can also be found online.

In our church I joined a small group designed to help those who are familiar with the experience of depression and anxiety disorders. Our “expert” consisted of a book called Mind Over Mood, which outlines cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach for the healing of these mental health disorders which has met with considerable success.  In this approach, painful emotions and fears are influenced by reframing the meaning behind the feelings one suffers.

The book was very thorough in teaching new strategies that were helpful for self-understanding and for promoting change, but what I found to be most profound was the freedom within our group to share about our mental health “weaknesses”—the experience of depression and/or anxiety disorders—in a safe and supportive context.

I believe Christ calls us all to “share our burdens” with each other and to experience the freedom together to be who we really are. 

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