It's not just because my wife is a gifted professional counselor. And it's not just because I'm a tad crazy (okay, more than a tad). But there are numerous reasons I value professional counseling--especially for those in the helping professions, and even more so for anyone in ministry.
Here are seven reasons I have long valued professional counseling, and particularly during my decades of pastoral ministry:
1. Smart people advise it. 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. It is wise preparation. 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, did that ever prove 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 is 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 a key part of an accountability network. My counselor has helped to expose my blind spots and ask the hard questions of me. I hate that. But it is helpful and necessary.
6. It provides spiritual partnership and direction. I chose a counselor who was also a qualified spiritual director. So he has often helped 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 the clouded head. Often, after seeing my counselor, I have experienced 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?
These are, of course, just seven among many reasons I value professional counseling...and recommend it. Especially, as I said earlier, for those in ministry.