When I began seminary three years ago, I thought I had a basic understanding of the changes I would experience by stepping into the M.A. in Counseling program. I was so excited to learn more about theology, Scripture and counseling, and I was eager to immerse myself into the graduate academic world. I knew I would grow as a Christian and a professional counselor.
The more I waded through concepts of Christian worldview and counseling philosophy, though, I soon realized how my perspective was shifting. I began to see more deeply how much brokenness is present in the world. The need for counselors became clearer as I learned how the complexities of mental illness affect so many people. Brokenness coupled with my changing view of theology and Scripture was humbling and challenged me to understand various roles in my own life.
Anyone who pursues a career in counseling or ministry will face this challenge. It’s a balancing act. We need to embrace our training and be true to who we are becoming, but we also need to honor the people in our lives.
As a youth leader, my seminary education has greatly influenced the way in which I engage with my students and discuss Scripture. I feel more confident participating in theological discussions and pointing to various parts of Scripture for support. I have a better understanding of how to work with my students who are dealing with difficult issues due to classes like Multicultural Counseling and Consulting. I am able to deepen my interpersonal relationships with these teens because I know how to effectively ask questions and problem-solve alongside of them. My training has been an asset there.
At the same time, my personal and academic growth can also disrupt other roles in my life. When my parents discuss changes in their lives, my counseling skills may help me communicate with them, but it should not take away from my role as their daughter. Sometimes I just need to be a listening ear without over-analyzing their situation or feelings. When I learn a new counseling technique in class, I often find myself discreetly trying to use it with a friend over coffee. When I learn about the theology of the church, I begin to critique how my own church functions.
While these are not necessarily bad concepts to think about, it does affect how I engage in those other roles. Can I simply be a loving daughter and an encouraging friend? Can I just be in my church community? My academics should change how I see myself and see the world. It can help me serve others well. But it should not take away from how I intentionally connect within personal relationships.
How have you navigated this balancing act? For me, I have developed ways to personally shift through these different roles during my time in seminary. I often monitor where my thoughts are directed when I am spending time with someone. I should not be so consumed with my own analysis that I cannot even remember the actual conversation. I also try to separate my roles as I enter new spaces. When I go to a coffee shop to write a paper, I am fully occupied in my intellectual thoughts and have freedom to explore those ideas in that role. When I need to rest from my role as student, counselor, or employee, I pick up a book and escape into a fictional world.
All of this takes more intentionality, but it has helped me live a more balanced life.
What are some ways you maintain your various roles while being true to your training and skills as a counselor?
Lead photo courtesy of Daniel Pietzsch