Is Change Possible?
Thanks to the generosity of our partner, Life FM, we hired extra tech support for our Spring Break Bounce camp last week. This helper was himself new to counseling, and we enjoyed having an impact on him and other volunteers as well as on the trauma-impacted youth we served. Our tech was “blown away” as we broke his stereo-types of counseling. Counselors were not just “detached, writing on a tablet, asking people to talk about feelings”, as it turns out, he observed that our counselors are deeply passionate, caring and connecting people. Of greater impact, he observed throughout the week that people can actually change. He watched it before his very eyes. Even the youth themselves were shocked as they moved from “skeptical” (at best) at the beginning of the week to “surprised” and “amazed” at their own personal transformations by the end of the week.“Is this really possible?”, you may ask. And more importantly, “How?” The answer is that real change requires a holistic approach. The Bible tells us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength (Matt. 22:37, Deut. 6:5). There is a reason that each part is mentioned. If one part of our lives is not submitted to God, our whole life may be in jeopardy (Matt 5:30).At Wellspring, we push hard to look at the whole person in order to help bring about transforming change. Sometimes, the mind is the first order of business for change, using insight-oriented therapy, psycho-education, or Bible knowledge. If we understand what is happening to us and why we feel and behave as we do, just making sense of it can be enough to free us to change. Other times, the mind is the last tool we use, through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy we can actively engage our minds in observing our own actions and results, test what is true, clarify decision making, and choose healthier paths on a daily basis. And, as we renew our minds with Scripture and choose to think about what is good, right and perfect we become transformed (Romans 12:12, Eph. 4:17-24, Eph. 4:8). By engaging our “thinking brains” (the pre-frontal cortex, cortex and verbal parts of our brains) we can change our lives.But, what if we do not live easily in our thinking brains, but instead find ourselves functioning out of the reactive, emotional and sensory parts of our brains (limbic portions)? For example, this would be true of someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For this person,the starting point for change may be through the body. Accessing the sensory and experiential memories may be the beginning of healing. Learning tools of deep breathing and meditation may be needed to calm the body of the person with anxiety before addressing the sources of it. Addictions need to be addressed, and exercise or medications may be needed for lifting depression. Physical rest and self-care may be required for burnout or fatigue. Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to God is a form of worship (Rom. 12:1), and ignoring our body’s tendency to bring us to ruin can risk our very salvation (Matt. 5:30).The pain in our hearts may be what initiates us into wanting change at all. Our feelings tell us what we believe to be true. And if what we believe is that we are unloved, betrayed, disrespected, abandoned, a failure, or hopeless, our broken hearts may drive us to find relief. Our “emotional brain” (the limbic system) is more reactive than our “thinking brains”. It is the place of love and passions. Real change may only occur when we allow our pain to be soothed by the love of God and others. Our broken or anxious hearts (Psalm 34:18, Psalm 94:18-19) may need to be restored before transforming change can occur.
While the heart and the soul may seem to be the same aspects of our beings, they are not. The heart is the seat of our emotions, the soul is the place of the will.Our souls are often unaddressed in therapy. That’s why Wellspring is unashamedly “Christian Counseling”; it is because the soul matters. All of the therapy in the world cannot bring about change for someone who has a will to resist it. Head knowledge of God and heart submission to Him are not necessarily co-existing. The Bible tells us that, “even the demons believe” (James 2:19). Our pride can keep us from letting God be God in our lives. If we are unwilling to lay down the defense mechanisms that we have mastered to protect ourselves from the pain of the world,we cannot be helped. It is the soul that decides to take up its cross daily and follow Christ. It is the soul that lays down its idols to worship God. Soul decisions, the “I will never...” or “I will not...” statements that we firmly hold on to, need to be uncovered and recanted in order for real change to occur.Is change possible? Yes and no. It is true that people can be stuck their entire lives with unhealthy physical habits or thinking patterns, unmanaged emotions or broken hearts, or willful resistance. But people can also use one of these aspects of themselves that is moderately healthy to pull along the other aspects of their whole selves in order to change. The body can help the mind heal, and the mind can help the body heal. Broken hearts healed can free us to live new healthy patterns, and submitted wills can unblock the wellspring of Jesus’ living water within us. Real change is holistic. Jesus came to save us not just for eternity, but to liveabundantly in this life as we give allof ourselves to Him (Eph. 3:14-21).