Say, What?! 5 Frequently Misunderstood Counseling Terms

  
You’ve likely heard most of these terms. Whether in a counseling session, social media post, sermon, small group, book, journal article, magazine blip, newspaper column, or in a plain ol conversation, you will come into contact with them. We let some of these words fly out of our mouths without understanding what they mean, and we act all touchy and awkward when we hear other terms because we fail to recognize the meaning of these terms in their context. They’re arranged in order of how annoying it is to hear them misused.

Terms

Depressed: People often use this term to mean that they are really sad or that a given situation is really sad. Granted, one can experience sadness as part of depression, but sadness alone is not depression. With depression, you don’t enjoy the things that you have recently enjoyed; your energy is depleted even though you haven’t done anything to drain your energy; you either sleep too much or not enough; you notice significant changes in your appetite. If it runs in the family, you’re more likely to experience depression. It’s not simply a spiritual issue, although a healthy spiritual life can help you overcome depression. Focusing on what God says about you can help fight those feelings when you think mistakenly that you’re a total failure.

Addicted: This one is bothersome. People will say that they’re addicted to chocolate, shoes, coffee, cheese, eating, shopping, or a certain brand of clothing in an attempt to say they enjoy their given “addiction” beyond what is considered normal. However, in the context in which I hear many people use the term, they don’t mean it in the sense of a true addiction, because a real addiction will destroy your life. There are two distinctions when it comes to misuse of substances: substance abuse and substance dependence. The former occurs when a person is willing put himself or herself in life-threatening situations in order to obtain or use the substance. He or she may also put the lives of other people in danger (i.e., drunk driving, leaving needles around the around the house that a toddler can easily pick up). The latter – substance dependence – occurs when a person’s body adjusts to the substance to the point where they need more of it to maintain the same effect or to where he or she has life-threatening withdrawals without the substance.

Anxiety: I hear people use this term when they are referencing Paul’s admonishing to “be anxious for nothing” in Philippians 4:6-7. However, being anxious for something and having anxiety are two different things. Being anxious often is more synonymous with being impatient or worried, as if one cannot wait for a given circumstance to occur. An anxiety disorder, however, is more than mere worry, and there are actually several types of anxiety disorders. They range from specific fears (phobias) to a generalized anxiety. Most of them involve an unrelenting sense of worry despite a lack of any fear-provoking situation. Many of them involve physiological symptoms  such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, muscle tension, etc. In order to follow Paul’s advice, one could benefit from counseling to treat the anxiety.

Codependent: Maybe people who use this term really so mean it in the true sense of the word, but let’s still look at what it means from a counseling standpoint. I hear many people use this term to describe newlyweds who are “codependent on each other,” meaning that they are so in love and both depend on each other for support. They just add the “co” to “dependent” to mean that these are two people who equally depend on each other. However, this is not what the term means in the counseling world. In the counseling world, codependent describes a person who depends on someone else’s emotional stability before he or she will make any personal decision and who has trouble setting boundaries. It is not necessarily a two-way street, and the non-codependent may or may not have expressed his or her emotions about a given situation with the codependent. If you need a good picture of someone who is codependent, just watch a Hallmark movie. Usually the lead female character is codependent. Codependency is an unhealthy type of relationship.

Self-reliant: Any word with “self” in front of it automatically tends to threaten many evangelical Christians before they even take the chance to understand its context, because if you’re a Christian, you should rely on God for everything, not yourself. (Later I’ll address how certain phrases like this are misused.) One of the best ways to make sense of the prefix is to contrast it with codependency. Instead of waiting for someone’s emotional security to approve of the decisions that you have to make for yourself, you need to rely on yourself for that emotional support.

Push Through It: 12 Ways to Manage Depression during Gaps in Coverage

  
(Before reading this, you must realize that this article does not constitute formal, professional treatment of depression. These points are only for reading, and you would do well to consult with your mental health provider before proceeding with any of these.)

Depression sucks. One thing that sucks even more is not seeing how you can overcome it. It does not have to overcome you. You can conquer that beast. The ways to do it are simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy. There’s not some complex algorithm for conquering depression. It’s simple. What’s difficult about it is how you feel.

You feel awful. Is that the alarm clock? Snooze. You don’t feel good. How are you supposed to get your life together? Simple? Life ain’t simple. There goes the alarm clock again. Snooze. You think about the day ahead. Will anything be different today? Riiiiiiiiiiiing. Snooze. You think about the energy it will take to work on that project today, and you don’t even feel like you have enough strength to roll out of bed. The alarm clock rings. Snooze. You’re late for work…again.

Yep, you’ve gone to counseling and might even be taking some medicine to help. But what happens when you reach a gap in your health insurance coverage and have no way to get more refills on your prescription? What happens when you’re in between jobs and you cannot afford to go to counseling during that time? You know you need it, and you notice significant differences in how you feel without, but you have no way to get what you need. What do you do now? Below are some tips for making it through those gaps in your coverage.

1. Talk it out. Talk to your counselor and key people in your support system. Let them know your situation. Especially when you talk with your counselor, write down a plan of action listing specific things you will do to manage the depression. As soon as you start feeling bad, text someone in your support system. If you cannot afford counseling, ask your mental health provider if they offer counseling at a reduced fee.

2. Realize that this season is TEMPORARY. This season that you are walking through is only temporary. You won’t feel like this forever, as you WILL be able to get what you need soon.

3. Write down EVERYTHING that helps you when your depression symptoms flare up, and make a plan to do every. single. one. of them. Make a list of at least 10 things. Share these with people in your support system, and get one of them to ask you if you have completed them.

4. Exercise. I know. Trying to get to the gym when you are depressed feels like you might as well be climbing Mt. Everest. Let’s face it, though, you’re not climbing Mt. Everest. You’re probably climbing in your crossover SUV that has cushy leather seats that heat up within seconds of you pushing the button. There are two big cup holders for your YETI tumbler, you’re protected from the cold, and your favorite music comes on the radio. It’s gonna feel like the hardest thing ever to climb out of your portable igloo, walk in the gym and actually pull yourself onto the treadmill, but once you get into the flow of the workout, you just might convince yourself that the payoff is worth the effort to get there.

5. Write down EVERYTHING that you enjoy, and surround yourself with them. I know, right now you don’t feel like you enjoy anything, but you’re lying to yourself. There are things that you enjoy, but the depression is clouding that understanding. That’s why I’m telling you to do this exercise. Make a list of (have you noticed that I like lists?) 50 things that you enjoy. Yep. 50. Make yourself sit down and write out a list of 50 things that you know that you enjoy. You don’t need to have excitable feelings towards them right now in order for them to qualify for your list.

6. Surround yourself with light constantly. During your lunch break, take a walk outside. Sit near windows in your favorite restaurant or coffee shop. Turn on a lamp in your room. Look at beautiful pictures of nature on Pinterest. Surround yourself with bright colors.

7. Join and interact with a support group on social media. Don’t just join, write a post about how you feel and ask for help. When others write posts, comment on them letting people know that you actually understand what they are going through. You’d be surprised at just how supportive people can be.

8. Surround yourself with people who love you. Talk to family. Go to dinner together. Cook, go see a movie with a close friend, visit your local public library. If you notice that your symptoms start to worsen, seek help immediately. Contact your mental health provider, if you can’t reach them, call 911 or a hotline.

9. Educate yourself on depression. As I mentioned in the last point, get a library card from a local public library and check out books on depression. According to the Dewey Decimal System, books on depression are usually in the 616 call number section. Make sure the books are written by people who have worked with people who have depression (read the author’s bio). You need to learn the symptoms and specific things that target each of your symptoms. Your counselor can’t do all the work for you anyways, so while you have the time in between jobs or in between sessions, take time to educate yourself. Other ways to do so include following blogs that talk about depression, follow pinners and boards on Pinterest, read articles (use caution here) online about it. Ask your counselor and people in your support group or support system if they know of any resources on depression.

10. Communicate your needs to people in your support system. A lot of people think that they know what depression is, so they think that they know what is helpful. This can create stress, so one thing you can do to alleviate it is to inform the people in your support system about the things that actually help you manage depression. You might feel embarrassed to even have to bring it up, but the people who are in your support system want to help you because they really value your company.

11. Talk to your pastor or a leader of your congregation. Ask for prayer and support. If you are not connected with a group of people, sign up for a small group. Ask leaders of your congregation if they know of any support groups for people who have depression. While they may not know of any at the time, hopefully it will get them thinking that this is a type of group they need to provide for the members of their congregation.

12. Push through it. Okay, I know. This is one of those pieces of advice that many blogs advise against, and rightfully so. However, you  aren’t doing this in isolation of the plan that you and your counselor have established, and this is certainly not in the context of, “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” There comes a point when you are dealing with depression that you have to acknowledge how you feel and push through the feelings of despair. Just like a flower has to push through the dirt in order to bloom, so you have to push through those difficult blahs in order to see freedom from depression.

You’re not going to feel great when you have to roll out of bed. You’re going to feel like the sky is falling when you realize that you really do need to go to the gym. You’re going to feel awful walking into the library to find books on depression. You’ll feel awkward approaching people in your support system or your pastor for help. You’ll complain that you don’t have anything to enjoy as you to write down the list from #5. But these are things that could help you overcome depression. Don’t you want to conquer your beast? Don’t you want it to subside? Well, then at some point, you’re going to have to look it straight in the face and say, “No. Not today. I refuse to let you keep holding me back today. Today, no matter how difficult it feels, I choose to get up. I choose to push through the pain. I choose to rise.”

Friend, choose to rise today. Choose to push through it.