Archives For counseling

Anonymous asked a question:

For a while now, my best friend has been struggling with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I am the only one that knows this. She takes a lot of her issues out on me … But I can’t take the emotional abuse anymore. It’s an unhealthy relationship that has stopped being a friendship.

I have been asking God what to do. I have sat with her in her mess. In her screaming. In her crying. In her hopelessness. I have tried to give advice. I have prayed for her. I have been patient and worried and angry all at once. I have been bitter because everyone else gets to experience the side of her that I used to know, the happy, loving girl that puts on a mask to hide her pain.

I have decided to tell her that I can’t be the person she needs me to be for her. That she needs to seek professional help. This is going to be a really hard conversation … If you have any advice, I’d love to hear it.

Thank you so much for your honesty and for reaching out to me. I’m also very sorry about the heartache that you’re experiencing; I absolutely know how hard it is to decide between holding on and letting go.

I have to say this upfront, and it’s going to be a wildly unpopular opinion: You’re on to something that most people won’t admit, that “love” and “friendship” do not mean exhaustively giving ourselves out to the point of toxic self-harm. That would be unfair to you and enabling and coddling to your friend, which would end up destroying everyone involved.

Here’s something even more unpopular, and please believe me that I have a hard time writing this. I think that most of us have been bombarded with the Hollywood idea that if we help someone enough, that person will eventually get to an “epiphany” full of high fives and hugging, and that their recovery will get on some upward trajectory. You’ll also be demonized if you “leave someone behind,” especially if you’re considering to possibly “leave behind” someone who is depressed or suffering a mental illness (and I’ve suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, so I’ve been on both sides of this).

Most of us hate to admit when we don’t have the qualified “training” to help someone, and there’s a secret guilt when we simply don’t have the energy or time. So we almost force ourselves to help everyone, which can be good, because most people simply need encouragement and listening, but there’s a very small percentage that need something way beyond us. By now you’ve seen how truly difficult it is to bear with someone who might be beyond your “ability.” What you’re going through is commonly known as secondhand trauma, like secondhand smoking.

The truth is, most of us are unequipped to fully help someone who is suffering from an overwhelming mental illness. In fact, social workers and psychologists tend to get cranky about people who think they’re doing “hero work” by helping the mentally ill. It’s basically like a painter trying to perform open heart surgery. I know that even the best of my friends are limited when it comes to dealing with my own depression. I don’t hold that against them. What I see is that you’re not so much asking for permission to give up, but for permission to rest and to have a wise distance.

And I’m here to tell you, keeping a distance even from your most well-adjusted friends is not “leaving behind” your friend, but simply a necessary rhythm of friendship. Of course, I absolutely believe we’re meant to be there for someone, that no one is excluded from our love and company, and that we must move towards people who are hard to love. I’m not at all saying that it’s okay to give up, or that it’s okay to cut someone off at the earliest convenience. Yet there must be a point when we recognize that someone is abusing our trust, and that professional counseling is not only an option, but a very real next step.

I advise two things.

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Hello wonderful friends! My book has just dropped in price to 8.99 on Amazon!

It’s called, What The Church Won’t Talk About: Real Questions From Real People About Raw, Gritty, Everyday Faith.

The Foreword is by the amazing T.B. LaBerge of tblaberge and the cover art is by my most excellent friend Rob Connelly.

I talk about a ton of things, including doubts, dry seasons, depression, relationships, porn addiction, trials, abortion, sexuality, social reform, family conflicts, and apologetics. If you’re blessed by the book, please consider writing a review on Amazon!

Love y’all and be blessed, dear friends!
– J.S.

Two anons asked:

– Hi! I enjoy reading your blog and I know you have battled a porn addiction. I have a few questions. How do you feel about people who are battling against a porn addiction while dating? Do you think that person could have a genuinely Christ-centered, Godly and healthy relationship? Or is it bound to fail? Would it be okay for the guy to take a break so he figures things out for himself? What is the role of the girl in this? Is she able to do anything at all?

– I’m engaged to someone who claims to be Christian but I’m starting to feel as though he is not. We agree on almost everything except for the issue on whether watching porn is okay … He just wants me to be okay with it, that way he doesn’t feel guilty. So my question is, is watching porn wrong? …What biblical evidence is there that I can give him? I really pray that he would want to change but if not I don’t think I can marry someone with this problem.


If you would’ve asked me this question a few years ago, I would’ve said:

“What are you thinking, ladies? Dump that dude right now! Any man who can’t give up something for you ain’t no man at all.”

To some degree, I still agree with this. If it’s not serious or you just started dating, then please do NOT feel obligated to stay.  You deserve better. If you’re looking for an excuse to stay with this guy because he’s cute in the face or you’re afraid to be alone: then you already know that won’t be enough down the line. 

But in my growing compassion for people, I know how difficult it is to defeat porn in an over-sexualized culture.  I know how screwed up we are to think that “porn is the norm.” 

As much as I sound like a cranky old man, today sex is like shaking hands and human trafficking is barely blinked at.  This is our world now: a culture of deep apathy that is unavoidably ingrained.

While this doesn’t absolve any man’s destructive behavior, it does give me more of a heart to work with them and resolve the root issues.  It helps explain why men shrug it off.


Maybe you’ve been told to dump the guy on the spot, and that could be good advice — but battling porn is a lifelong struggle for all men today.  It’s unrealistic to think you’ll meet some guy who has never struggled with it. 

I also know how hard it is to just break up with someone if you’re engaged or it’s very serious.  Certainly we should never be afraid to break off a relationship that is abusive or a deadbeat, but porn is something you both could overcome together with patience and persistence.  It’s not always a deal-breaker.

While you might find the perfect porn-less guy, I think we can realistically say: Every woman will now have to openly, honestly, aggressively talk about lust with their future husbands in an era where porn is so freely available.  This has to be a daily truthful dialogue where the man must be able to freely express himself without shame or a fear of retaliation.

But first, let’s talk about what will happen if the guy says, “I just want you to be okay with my porn.”

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Sometimes I sit through these counseling sessions where the girl goes on and on about her idiot moron unprincipled boyfriend: he doesn’t listen, he clips his nails in bed, he showers every three days, he forgets to call, how do I get him to hear me, I try so hard to express my feelings and it’s like he does not care, and —

I want to say the same thing, you know. I do not care, either.

If God were at that moment to tear the roof off over our heads and take a peek, I wonder how much she would care.

Even for five seconds, to see the glorious holy wrathful infinite epic universe-exploding face of God. Does anything else really matter then? We’d both burst into flames. So no, nothing else matters then.

Every selfish desire is predicated on a tangible, earthly treasure, and it always turns out to be garbage. William Law said so simply, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.” A hard truth, but standing before the face-melting presence of God, it’s the only truth.

At judgment you’ll only have one problem: and only one solution.

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Happy There

December 22, 2011 — Leave a comment

I meet with my counselor. He’s the pastor of a four-hundred-plus college ministry and one of the most Spirit-led men I know. For him to even make time for me is ridiculous.

I walk in and he’s on hold with an airline over the office speaker phone. He’s on his cell phone too, an urgent call. There’s a roll of one-hundred dollar bills on his desk. I don’t ask. He’s looking through his drawers for something. He tells me he’s so sorry to be distracted. As a pastor who just suffered a breakdown from anxiety, I totally understand.

I needed his counsel because soon I’d be in a meeting to re-negotiate how I do the ministry. But I was nervous: I wanted to be humble with them while authoritative, demanding yet firm. I was also afraid that I’d be rejected, shot down, or fired.

While my counselor rummaged through his drawers, I shared my fears. The airline music was playing in the background. I must have said “What if” a dozen times. Suddenly he stopped, slammed the drawer shut, smiled, and looked right at me.

“You know, Joon, do me a favor. Will you stop being such a sh_tless wonder? I’ve been dealing with death all morning in and out of hospitals and funerals and I can’t find my wallet which has everything in it and you’re scared to be yourself. If you can’t say what you want to them, maybe that’s not the right place for you. Shouldn’t you just be happy there?”

He apologized for being so short with me. The airline person came on. He took the call and went right back to looking for his wallet.

We talked some more. He walked me out and hugged me and told me he loved me. He asked me to pray about his wallet. I got in my car and prayed.

“I’ve been dealing with death all morning . . . Shouldn’t you just be happy there?”

Of course, he was right.

Facingfugue asked:
Hello! Your posts are a blessing. I see that you come from an area of knowledge in the psychology area as well spirituality . I have been struggling with anxiety attacks for the past two years. Do you have any advice coming from a perspective of a Christian as well? I have been doing C.B therapy but it really is not helping a lot. I used to be very depressed because it made me feel helpless, but Christ has been my refuge and HE has been my joy. The anxiety has been much harder to work out though

Thank you for your kind words!  I’m not sure I’m too knowledgeable about psychology but it does interest me a lot.

I’ve also suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. There was a suicide attempt in 2004 and I have cut myself before. CB therapy (Cognitive Behavioral) can be good for pointing out certain patterns and schemas, but may not be as helpful for treatment as you already know. 

Both therapy and the church can be really bad at handling depression.  Some people stuff it with drugs and others will say it’s “all in your head, get over it.”  Those who do not go through depression have no idea how debilitating it really is. 

There’s probably no formula/advice/plan I could give that’s 100% effective, but I can try to help from experience.  I’m also assuming that you already highly value prayer, reading the Bible, relying on the Holy Spirit, and attending church.  Medicine is also totally appropriate. That’s all the air warfare; here’s the ground war.

1) Be as honest as possible. Without being a victim about it, let people know what’s going on. Tell somebody. I made the mistake of hiding it too often.  Not that you want to announce it with trumpets, but even one or two close friends or your pastor should know when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. Some people will definitely be uncomfortable and ungracious, but then those people aren’t the ones who get you anyway.

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