There’s a high school student that I am counseling at my church struggling with depression. I am a psych major, so I my pastor encouraged me to counsel students in our youth ministry. She is my first student, and after getting to know her and talking to her for the past month, I saw how broken and lost she was. She feels like life isn’t worth living anymore & I understand that she’s trying to find her purpose in life. I try to encourage her, but I feel like what I say isn’t enough. Any advice?
You’re super-awesome to go out of your way to counsel, and thank God for you. Please allow me some grace to bring this back to ground level.
Though I’m a Psych major and I’m absolutely grateful for my education, I can tell you that most of it is hardly ever useful “in the field.” It’s a world of difference when you’re talking to a real live breathing human being.
I’m also a fifth degree black belt and I can jump kick a dude in the face, but when I’ve had to defend myself, can you guess what moves I used? It’s better to be simple. A punch in the throat is way more effective than a spinning 360 scorpion jump back hook kick, especially if you’re wearing skinny jeans and you don’t want to rip a hamstring. (But yes, doing a spinning jump hook kick on the street makes you legit forever. *cough*)
The truth about counseling is that there are no “special moves” or “magic words” that will suddenly cure a person out of years of mental oppression. While this might sound like the spiritual generic thing to say, the best you have to offer is yourself. Your conversation. Your genuine concern. Your day to day encouragement. Your prayers and your presence.
It’ll be a lot of hanging out, communication, finding common ground, getting ice cream, sharing YouTube videos, and not always talking about the heavy things. Otherwise she might tighten up even more around you; she needs to be able to relax, too.
Counseling can’t happen in an artificial manufactured setting where one person has a formulaic method for psychoanalysis. I know this isn’t what you’re doing, but our established baseline must be human relationship before we get onto counseling. It seems you’ve already gotten to know her and build trust and you’ve earned the right to be heard. You’ve done a lot of the ground work now to just be her friend, so you’re doing exactly what’s supposed to be done.
As you get to know her more, you’ll soon discover malformed patterns of thinking that are simply not good for her, and you can ask her about that. Why do you believe that’s true? Why do you think that works? How’s that going? Those questions, by the way, are still part of a friendship.
She’ll start talking through some of the lies she believes, and you might see lights turn on. She’ll realize the absurdity of some stuff she has fallen for. Your job is to set her free from those lies. Give her truth. Let her pedal some, you push some.
It’s possible she has never heard the truth about her life, ever. Maybe all she knows is the darkness of her lost condition, and that’s not her fault. She needs to know her life has purpose, it’s worth living, and she is way more than what she is feeling. She needs to recognize her God-given strengths, that her past can’t define her, that God has a vision for her beyond what she can see. Expose the lies, bring the truth.
Some more specific posts on depression: