I get different reactions when I mention to people (quite readily, most of the time) that I regularly see a "shrink" (that is, a professional counselor). Many are surprised. Some get that wary, gee-I-didn't-know-you-were-crazy, look in their eyes. Some seem really appreciative. And others want to know why. Here's why:
1. For several years, while being coached as a church planter by my friend Steve Sjogren, he would ask in probably more than half of our meetings together, "Are you seeing a shrink yet?" At that time, my answer was no. But he, with wisdom borne of years of successful ministry, continued to promote to me and my co-pastor the importance of self-care for pastors, which includes having a counselor to talk to.
2. As I told my first counselor when he asked me in our first session, "Why are you here?," I sought out counseling when I WASN'T in crisis because I knew (as I myself had counseled many) that the best time to seek help is BEFORE a crisis hits. And, boy, has that been proven wise.
3. Ministry invites spiritual warfare. The burdens of leadership and ministry are so heavy at times that it is so valuable just to have an outlet, a pressure release valve, someone who isn't a member of the church, and who can offer comfort and counsel and wisdom and perspective.
4. It sets a good example for the flock. It's one thing to recommend counseling to people from some position of supposed superiority, and a much better thing to model the fact that a person doesn't have to be crazy to seek counseling (even if I am).
5. It is part of my accountability network. My counselor helps expose my blind spots and asks the hard questions of me. I hate that. But it's helpful and necessary.
6. My counselor also happens to be a qualified spiritual director. So he helps me get better at listening to God and discerning what God is trying to say to me (most of the time, it's "Hey! Anybody in there?"). The value of spiritual direction is not mainly in answering my questions, but in questioning my answers.
7. It clears my head. Often, after seeing my counselor, I experience a renewed mental, emotional, and spirituality clarity as a result of offloading some of the confusing and conflicting thoughts in my head. Turns out such clarity is an asset for a pastor. Who knew?