I would venture to say that most of us have either been to some sort of counseling, questioned whether at some point we needed it or at the very least understand the value in seeing a therapist in order to deal with what life throws at us. I know first hand how critical the right counselor can be for someone suffering from an illness — especially a mood disorder. Finding the right one for me was a very frustrating process but eventually I found someone I felt I could trust, who was not judgmental and ended up being a valuable part of my team.

The psychologist I consulted, often several times a week, helped me work through any unresolved issues (and let’s face it…we all have them) but most importantly she helped me identify and pinpoint triggers of my mood swings and then taught me positive coping mechanisms. I learned ways to redirect my negative thoughts and identify when I was headed in the wrong direction. She used the science of psychology (which I love and hold a degree in) to help me understand what was happening to my brain and then together we would work on strategies to deal with anxiety, depression, frustration, social situations and living with a lifelong disorder. She monitored my symptoms while providing support and compassion. Quite often just by opening up and getting my frustrations out to a trained professional in a safe environment kept me moving in the right direction. Undoubtedly it was critical for me to learn these things but I have to say that even though therapy taught me crucial skills for staying productive and well, it never made me feel completely content or brought a sense of fulfillment that I really needed. Being whole was something I still longed for no matter how well I was doing.

The entire time we focused solely on ME. However I wholeheartedly believe that full recovery cannot take place unless another component becomes the focus — God. If you told me this years ago, before I started seeking any sort of help, I would have laughed at you and written you off as another religious fanatic who thinks they have all the answers. Honestly I had always been the person who believed that having a true, fulfilling faith and relationship with God was not something ever meant for me and was reserved for only certain people and I was definitely not one of them.

As my illness progressed and our involvement in church grew (which I only went along with because it was important to my husband), tiny seeds of faith and the possibility of a relationship with God started to become planted in my mind. Admittedly I often tried to dig them up and destroy them altogether, but as I quickly learned there is nothing we can do to uproot them. Often I tried to starve them to keep them from maturing, but there was no getting rid of them.

I’d meet with my pastors and groups at church more often, mainly because it was simply another outlet for me where people listened and still loved me even when I was falling apart. Yes, I would get frustrated and pissed when people would share stories of hope or give me something to read from the Bible that I didn’t understand, but as I’ve written before, it was the people in my life that He began working through to reach me. He put just the right people in my life at just the right time. I found myself drawn to them because I longed to understand their source of hope.

There was a huge difference between my psychologist’s outlook and my pastors who helped me grow my faith. My psychologist relied on statistics, medication, the latest research, coping skills and had a wealth of knowledge which is of course crucial when dealing with a mental health issue. But there came a time when I felt I had learned all the necessary skills and I wanted to try to tackle life without my therapist. It was a little scary but I had been building my relationship with God and I sensed He had my back.

I’m not saying I don’t need or use the valuable skills I learned in counseling or that any of that time was wasted or unnecessary. Quite the contrary. I wholeheartedly believe God lead me to my psychologist so I could benefit from all she had to offer and apply it to my life. It was a process He wanted me to go through ultimately preparing me for true healing.

I absolutely believe that the most valuable coping skill I have is admitting to God when I need help and that I can’t do it on my own. That’s very different from what conventional psychology teaches. In therapy I was taught to put myself first simply because I deserved it. But faith tells us just the opposite. We CANNOT do it on our own. We were not CREATED to do it on our own. God created us to need, want and depend on HIM, not ourselves. We often turn to “Stuff” to fill the hole we so often feel that whispers to us that something is missing or insists there has to be something more. I’m sure you know what I mean. The only thing that has ever satisfied that craving has been a relationship with God.

Don’t get me wrong, because I am stubborn and want to be seen as strong and a conqueror I often try to see how well I can survive on my own and guess what? It never works out very well. I always come crawling back to God and find myself saying “Oh yeah. You’re right. I can only do it with you in the lead.” I have to admit I am broken and need saving because only HE can do it. He is the only thing that will fill that hole we all have in our hearts. But unless we give Him access that space will always be empty no matter how many hours of therapy we complete.

Please realize this is coming from someone who’s probably read every best-selling self help book ever written. Every time I finished one I truly believed I had found THE answer that was finally going to lead me to enlightenment. But guess what? It only lasted for a few weeks until the next book came out and I’d find myself once again in the bookstore in search of the latest strategy for finding the key to life. Even when Oprah sang a book’s praises it still did not satisfy the feeling that there was something I was missing no matter how many notes I took or hours of therapy I completed.

My counselor helped me through a very difficult and scary time in my life and for that I will always be grateful, but she did not express the unwavering hope so many of my new friends talked about. They carried with them a sense of assurance that there was something much bigger than themselves that I knew I wanted. It triggered something deep within me that didn’t quite make sense at first and often sparked jealousy towards those who had it. But once I dropped the “tough guy” persona and allowed myself to let go of my need for control I realized I was on to something. I can’t explain it, but I KNEW it. The only way I was ever going to live a full life was by relying on God for help. He was the only one who could truly make it work. When I tried to put everything I had learned into practice on my own it seemed superficial. Doesn’t it make sense that the One who created us is the One we should look to for help in every situation?

Think about it…with God you don’t have to leave a message then wait for a return call. There are no office hours. He’s the only counselor who is available 24/7 who will listen and guide you at the exact moment you need Him. Religion did not help me. A RELATIONSHIP did. When I remind myself of that I am able to handle any curveball life throws at me.