After going to the support group at Harvest USA, I continued on with my studies in Philly, and then moved to Georgia after graduation. There were years where I applied what I’d learned at Harvest, and got involved in a great church, met wonderful friends, and experienced a lot of growth in how I saw myself and in how I related to other women. But then I came to a point where I felt “stuck.” In reading over and listening to the stories of others who were seeking change in their sexual orientation, I heard people referring to, “the ex-gay plateau.” It seemed that I wasn’t the only one who had gotten this far, only to feel bogged down and a bit lost as to what to do or where to go from here.
So, I’d come to a point where I was relating differently to women, but I wasn’t really interested in men, nor did I have a clue as to how to get there. (As mentioned in the previous post, I suspect that only being able to go to the support group for a limited time set me back a pace in this area, but I’ve no way to know for sure if that would have made a difference or not.) For many people, this is a comfortable place to hang out – past the pain of letting go of so much, yet not having to risk getting your heart crushed in new kinds of relationships with men. But I came to a point where I felt as though I was merely existing in a “neutral zone”, rather than living out all that the Lord had for me. I didn’t see the point in trying to drum up desires for men that were not there on my own…and decided to try some 1:1 counseling.
I met with a male Christian counselor. He was able to understand and worked well with me through many questions and creative activities. At one point, he challenged me to come up with my own “man poll” – asking a group of male friends questions that I had rambling in the back of my mind. It was a lot of fun to put together and I learned a great deal. I can’t say that we came to any breakthrough moments, but I started to see that there was a way off the plateau, and it did involve taking some uncomfortable steps and risks.
Over the next few years I continued to press forward, and at times took several steps back. My next round of counseling was to help me deal with and face the fact that I had been heading backwards. I met with a great counselor, again a Christian man, who didn’t mince words with me, which is what I needed at the time. He was able to help me return to a place where I was being honest before the Lord, with myself, and with those around me. And I saw the ways in which I was sabotaging myself, and the reasons why. Fear of the unknown was holding me back – it seemed, and at the time it was, easier to give up and go with the status quo ante.
In looking back, I can see how if someone had taken that same type of approach with me early on, it wouldn’t have worked well. But this counselor could discern where I had been and where I was when we met – there wasn’t a need to create the same kind of atmosphere. I wasn’t fragile, I’d gained a good bit of knowledge – I needed to face facts and gather courage. There is a time for prodding – for checks and correction, and encouragement.
The words of the wise prod us to live well.
They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.
They are given by God, the one Shepherd.
There were three occasions when I came across counseling that did not work well. The first was due to me not being able to be open and honest about what I was going through. I tried to meet with a counselor to get help with my SSA, but I did not have the courage to make it clear to her what was going on. (This was before I went to Harvest USA.) The second was due I think to a personality clash. The counselor I met with tried approaches that I couldn’t make work. I tried attending for a few sessions, but realized we were not going to get anywhere. (This was after I couldn’t get to the support group at Harvest, and tried to follow up with someone through my church locally.) And that kind of thing happens – I saw it while working as a PT, sometimes there would be clients that I just clicked with, and sometimes there would be clients that I just seemed to click against. When that happened it was usually best to try to get them to see a different PT in the office. The goal was to do everything you could to help them meet their own goals – it’s OK if that means working with someone else whom they happen to get along with better.
The third example of counseling that did not go well was when I was seeking counsel over a separate issue. I thought that the counselor and I were on the same page, but one of the assignments he gave me to try at home sent me into a tailspin. When I tried to call his office to see if we could chat about it, he was out of town. There was a fill-in counselor from his office available, so I tried contacting them, but they were not able to understand the situation. And sometimes, those things can happen, so that wasn’t a deal breaker.
When we were supposed to meet for our next appointment, he had to reschedule, at the last min. I managed to hang in there until the following session. Then, during the middle of our time, he had a phone call from his wife. He explained that he “always took calls from his wife,” and went ahead and answered it, then carried on the conversation with me still in the room. This struck me as rather unprofessional…it was not something I would do to a client as a PT. There was no opportunity given to make up for the time lost, and it wasn’t a short conversation. At this point, things with this counselor, who was with a respected Christian group, started to really go downhill, at least for me.
I was having a tough time, and I thought that our sessions were making some headway, so I was reluctant to make any changes. But when it was coming close to the time for our next appointment, his office called to request that we re-schedule again. And I threw in the towel. The counselor called to apologize and tried to patch things up – I vaguely recall that there was something going on, or perhaps a series of unfortunate things happening with his car, house, or some such. However, I politely but firmly said that I thought it was best for me to seek assistance elsewhere.
It was difficult to be at a low point and have to fight to make decisions like that – I was not functioning on all cylinders as it was. Yet I’m glad that I still had the capacity to stand up for myself and to find a more reliable source of help. It turned out that I found a Christian counselor through the employee assistance program at work, and he was very helpful in getting me out of the hole I was sinking into.
What might be the “take-aways” for those wondering how to find solid counseling?
One, I think it is important to know yourself in the first place. It is good to give a new counselor a chance – to take time to listen and have a teachable spirit. But it is important to take time to measure what you are getting out of the sessions you’re investing in.
Although you might not be getting instant results, are you gaining insights into areas that need further work?
Is the atmosphere one in which you feel able to grow in, or does it make you feel anxious or tied up? If you’re having difficulty with the counseling, can you share that with the counselor and ask to try a different approach, or to be referred to another person?
Is what you’re discussing making sense? Is it workable, or does it seem far out? Can you ask for more clarity?
Is there mutual respect in the relationship with the counselor? Are they being professional?
Are you doing your best to follow up with assignments given or next steps to take, and are you attending regularly?
Are you being honest with the counselor? With yourself?
These are just some thoughts from my own experience. I hope that some of what I’ve written might be helpful. But I’m sure if you want to learn more you can do a little digging online and find recommendations on finding the right counselor for you through a professional counseling association. Again, I’m thankful that I was able to find excellent help through the years and had positive experiences with counselors the vast majority of the time I worked with them.
A few notes as a postscript:
~ All of this counseling occurred over a period of fifteen years or so. The last time I went to counseling for any reason was about seven years ago.
~ My parents split up when I was about 9 years old, and my brother was 7. Soon after this, my mom took us for a drive one day. We went into a building in a neighborhood I’d never been to before, and climbed the stairs where I read the writing on a glass door – it was a psychologist’s office. “You think we’re crazy?!?” I yelled, a bit loud for the setting.
Communication was not an area of strength in our family, to say the least. It turned out that my mom had been going to counseling for some time, and was concerned about how my brother and I were doing after she and Dad separated. But taking us to counseling as a surprise was not a good tactic. The poor counselor got to sit with my brother and I staring at the floor for a good chunk of time. Then spend time with each of us alone, and for my part I kept a tight grip on my mouth, my mind, everything – very shut down.
He was a fine counselor, but it was tough for him to develop rapport with someone who didn’t know that they were going to be there that day. And it took a good deal of time for me to grow out of that modus operandi and be open to any type of counseling. The Lord happened to put some great people in my life who made a significant dent in that mindset along the way. For example, it came as a shock to find that a great friend and mentor of mine was studying psychology in college. I was rather suspicious of her for several months after finding out what her major was…silly, looking back now of course, but that is where I was.
That “window writing shock” kept me from asking for help for my SSA for a long time. I think I’ve already written about how I was suspicious of any serious help being available – I’d only heard bad stories of negative reinforcement, or bizarre theories or exercises being tried. So that led me to take a very cautious and circumspect approach to getting help from Harvest USA. But what I gained there turned out to be foundational for where I am today.