I feel like we need to talk about the “c” word: COUNSELING.
Be honest, when you hear that word, do you feel your brain shutting down? Mine did. When we started our foster journey, we knew that counseling would be an option. Even that it was encouraged for us and for the kids. But counseling was not for us. Not that we thought we were “all-knowing” or above any issues. We knew we would need help along the way. We assumed, when we needed help, we would Google, call family, or ask friends (not in that order of course).
It was almost immediately after our 5 kiddos moved in that we knew we were in over our heads. There were anxieties and behaviors we were not prepared for, even after 18 weeks of Foster training with the State. We elicited advice from family, spoke often with their former foster family, read lots of books, and Googled, and Googled, and Googled. Some of our issues we were able to work through with the kids but about 6 months in we had a situation arise that broke us.
We felt the way many (if not most) of you do about calling a counselor. We did not want the kids to have yet another label to bear. Labels are so heavy. We were afraid the counselor would not share our worldview. We were afraid of allowing a stranger be the one to replace the lies in our kids’ hearts and minds. What if they replaced those lies with more lies instead of truth?
But we had to do something. We talked with the kids’ caseworker and learned we had some freedom in our choice of a counselor. They just needed to accept Medicaid insurance. Barrier one, removed. However, not all counselors accept Medicaid. And, as I researched counseling providers in our area I was so discouraged. One provider touted “dream interpreting” while another forced us to take the kids from school because they didn’t see clients in the afternoon or evening.
At one point, we did pull the kids from school to meet with one counselor but as we left we both felt pretty strongly that missing school for weekly counseling wasn’t the right choice.
We were sharing our frustration with our caseworker during a visit. Amazingly, that week a counseling provider had stopped by her office and left their card! She shared the information with me and I called them the next day.
Not only would they see our kids in the evenings, they could come to our house! This seemed almost too good to be true. We still had lots of fears about the counselor we would be assigned to but we also were beginning to feel more confident in our power as parents to say “no” and move on to another provider if we needed to.
She came in the afternoon, after the kids got off the bus. She was only to see the older 3 and then she saved time for a “family session” at the end (we quickly learned that families are her passion). She didn’t rush out after she was done but took her time to answer all of our questions and hear our concerns. The little two were a bit devastated to be left out of the one on ones but successfully commanded her attention during the family sessions.
The kids warmed up to her quickly, I think it was a combination of her being on “their turf” and her God-given skills of connecting with children. As time went on and we got to know more about her and she got to know more about us, we connected and she was able to incorporate faith in her sessions because she shared the same worldview we do. She was able to point to Christ as she was helping our kids work through feelings that were bigger than they are and process through their past experiences while look towards the future. She gave them hope and the tools they needed to hang on to it.
She never jumped to conclusions, she never pushed medication or any diagnosis whatsoever. I never felt like I was unable to disagree with her (though I rarely did). I never felt attacked or ashamed of my parenting choices or my children’s behavior. I did, however, feel empowered as a mother and encouraged at the end of each session. She didn’t always tell me what I wanted to hear, and some of what we worked through was painful. But she was right there with us the entire time.
We are stronger today because we accepted help from a counselor when we needed to. I want you to know a few things we learned on our counseling journey:
- It is okay to meet with several providers before you find the right fit for your family. It’s also okay to meet with the counselor yourself before your kids meet them.
- Ask if they can come to your house (if you are comfortable).
- Sessions won’t necessarily be convenient and you may have to sacrifice an afternoon or evening, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice school, church, or other important functions (notice I didn’t say sports…we did sacrifice sports but it was worth it).
- Expect a recap at the end of each session with just you and the counselor. A good counselor will help you as much (or, in our case, more) than your kids.
- Also, expect homework. No one is perfect, if you are given homework from the counselor, do it.
Please do not be afraid or ashamed if you or your family needs counseling. And do not think less of others that are in counseling. We don’t know the storm that is raging inside those we are closest to but we can help them face it.
When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.
When you’re ready to take that first step, we highly recommend our friend, Jen Skavhaug. Find more about her here: http://www.jenskavhaug.com/#/