How Christians Can Benefit from Counseling


  Are you a little leery to seek out counseling for problems in your life? Perhaps you are reluctant to acknowledge that even believers are not immune to anxiety and depression. Christians tend to have a faulty assumption that they shouldn’t have any mental health symptoms because they hear messages that they should be constantly filled with joy. 

I have even heard that if believers are depressed or anxious that they don’t truly love the Lord. On top of it, they are now burdened with guilt.

Worse yet, perhaps your condemnation is self-inflicted. Maybe you have diligently given your fears and anxieties over to the Lord everyday, memorized Bible verses, and still suffer. 

You feel ashamed and question if you are a “good enough” Christian. 

Or maybe you wonder if God really cares.

Well I have comforting news for you! The Bible mentions fear or anxiety 365 times.That’s one verse for every day of the year! If God didn’t know that his creation would be anxious or fearful then why would he provides so many verses to instruct us to “Fear not.”

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren talks about how God uses people in addition to prayer and bible study to bring about spiritual growth. In fact, he argues that Bible study and prayer in and of themselves will not be enough to impact some of life issues. 

“He usually prefers to work through people rather than perform miracles, so that we will depend on each other for fellowship. He wants us to grow together.” Rick Warren

A frequent saying heard at my church is, “You can’t do life alone.”  God made us to be interdependent on one another. 

From a mental health perspective that means that God will and can use Christian professional and lay counselors and psychiatrists to bring you back to wholeness. And it’s OK. It doesn’t make you weak, unfaithful, or any less of a follower of Christ. 

We weren’t meant to carry our burdens alone.

Some churches and Christians have a distrust of the counseling profession.  I suspect it is the erroneous belief that psychology is about self-love, self-fulfillment, self-serving.  While that may be how some therapists practice it is not particularly rooted in any one psychological theory.  After all the Bible commands us 8 times to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

That means not only do we need to receive that love so that we may give that love to others, but also love ourselves.  

We need to love what the Father loves.  

When we can be compassionate with ourselves we can be compassionate to others.

Our brain is an organ. Like any other organ in our body sometimes it doesn’t work to its optimum capability. There are times when it will be necessary to treat the organ with medication. We seem to accept this concept more readily in reference to the rest of our body from the ears down.   

Consider a person diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Their pancreas has ceased to produce insulin. As a result, they must take insulin to compensate for the lack of pancreatic function. However, in addition to insulin they must also make dietary changes. They cannot just take insulin and have a high sugar diet. This is the same dynamic for how counseling and medication work best together. 

Similarly, with anxiety and depression symptoms can get so severe they may require medication  to help balance and restore neurotransmitters, which in turn help to stabilize mood and improve quality of life. Now is medication in isolation the best protocol? Probably not, at least not initially. 

Counseling from a Christian perspective will integrate biblical truths to address the psychological issues that cause debilitating mental health symptoms. 

Medication can help produce the essential mood stabilizing neurotransmitters we need until our brain can do it on its own again.There is a percentage of mental illness that is genetic and organic in nature; meaning there or structural defects or physiological dysfunction of the brain”  (American Family Physician, 1992) 

The contention lies when we confuse spiritual issues with psychological issues.  

They are not one in the same, nor is there always a cause and effect relationship between the two. Sometimes there can be.  When we address our spiritual conflicts often times the subsequent psychological symptoms are alleviated.

In addition to offering support and a non judgmental space, counseling can help you make changes with ingrained patterns of thinking that affect our feelings and therefore our behavior. More to come on this in the blog section.  The apostle Paul has much to say about this!

Let’s not forget that our brains are attached to the rest of our bodies! While most people do not want to live this out, we must take care of our whole bodies in order to prepare the foundation for healing of our minds. Yes, that means eating well (not perfect), moving our bodies often, and getting optimum rest! As a natural night owl, I am speaking to myself here.

When we begin to integrate the mind and the brain into a holistic treatment approach- meaning mind, body, and spirit, then we can reach our fullest potential that God intended so that we can be his servant. Use your mess to be his message!

Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. Luke 10:27.


American Family Physician. 1992 Mar;45(3):1173-80

Warren, Richard. (2002) The Purpose Driven Life. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Children and medication

I don’t think most of us like the idea of having to take medication to manage our medical or emotional ailments. From my experience, we even like the idea less when it comes to treating our children with medication to treat long term conditions, especially when it comes to mental health or behavioral issues like anxiety,  autism, ADHD, depression, and even psychosis.

I recently read an article on this very topic that related an analogy that helps to put this issue of medicating our children into perspective. Suppose you took your child for their annual well-visit to their pediatrician and they failed the eye exam. What’s the next step? Typically, you would be  referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist who then runs their own comprehensive eye exams. The diagnosis is that your child is nearsighted or farsighted and the recommendation is that your child be fitted for a pair of simple eyeglasses.

Would you labor over that recommendation? Would you read up on it? Would you Google it? Would you ask your friends and relatives their opinion about giving your child eye glasses so that they can see better? Unlikely. Perhaps you wouldn’t question it at all. Maybe you just insist that your child squint to correct the problem? Now that’s just absurd!

Isn’t that what we do when it comes to treating our children for mental health illnesses? We don’t like the idea that our precious children could even struggle with anxiety, depression, or ADHD or learning disabilities.But our brain, like any other organ, doesn’t always function optimally. Mental health isn’t a linear, cause-and-effect issue.  So many factors play a part, like genetics, upbringing, socioeconomic status, cultural norms, etc.

The stigma against mental health among adults is strong, but it is even more so for children.  I have seen many parents profess that they will never medicate their child for this or that and I watch them continue to struggle along.  To what end? For what gain?

Being a Mental Health Counselor means that I only use talk therapy. That’s it. No bag of tricks to pull from.  No medical equipment or prescriptions to utilize. I am privileged to witness the power of the therapeutic process at work in transforming people’s lives.  I also have to know when counseling and medication will work best when paired together. For some diagnoses medication is the first line of treatment as in neurological disorders like ADHD, autism, Tourette’s Disorder or psychological disorders like severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or psychosis.

I encourage you to drop the stigma.  Drop worrying about what others think.  Drop your own biases against taking medication. Explore your own biases against medication and see if there are any falsehoods. Sometimes we can be our own stumbling block that gets in the way of progress.


“Being depressed is a lot of work!”


I was having a conversation with a friend who is successfully recovering from a debilitating episode of depression several months ago. She was floating in a sea of hopelessness. She never imagined she could feel as good as she does today.  She was listing all the strategies she continues to implement in order to maintain her progress. Things like, daily exercise, sun exposure, a depression program that includes books and audios, medication compliance, ongoing counseling and psychiatry appointments.  She candidly told me with a chuckle, “Being depressed is a lot of work!”  This was not only funny but always so true.

Unfortunately, so many people want to find relief from their symptoms without doing the work that it entails. Sometimes that involves tangible tools like programs, or journaling, or homework.  Sometimes, it involves being utterly raw and vulnerable with yourself and your therapist.  That is hard! But if you want different results you have to step out of your comfort zone and do something different.

Motivation to change will happen when the pain and fear of remaining the same outweighs the fear and pain of changing.

I suppose it is human nature, especially in this day and age, to expect instant results.  We want to put in the least amount of effort and get the most results. When has that ever worked? And yet we cling to that mentality when it comes to our physical health as well as our mental health.  We want to loose weight and get fit but we struggle to eat right and exercise long term.

Sometimes we can continue to place responsibility outside of ourselves and onto the therapist to say something magical that is finally going to fix everything once and for all, ignoring all the homework that has been assigned or putting in a half-hearted effort inside and outside of session. That approach doesn’t work in dieting and it doesn’t work in therapy.

My friend is investing in herself. Sometimes she has to challenge the thoughts that she is being selfish spending so much taking care of herself. But the truth is without her self-care she wouldn’t be able to take care of and enjoy her family, home, and business.  She sees the value in doing the work because she is motivated to stay better.  She knows how crippling depression can be and doesn’t ever want to go back to that dark place.  She is simply compliant. She does the work. She reaps the benefits.

What about you? Are you ready to reap the long-lasting benefits of counseling?  Let’s get started!

How to dramatically decrease (or eliminate) any negative feeling in 90 seconds


Happy woman jumping in golden wheat


What if you could virtually eliminate any distressing feeling you have in the span of 60-90 seconds?  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But consider what you do now when you are anxious, upset, or stressed? We all tend to avoid our negative feelings through distraction or denial.  It is our human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Freud got that much right! We want to do more of what feels good and avoid hurt and pain as much as we can.

While intellectually we might know that it is not always possible or good for us to avoid pain, instinctively it is our natural tendency.It is because of our tendency to avoid feeling upset that we suppress these feelings.  I mean, who wants to feel bad right? So we distract ourselves with our phones, food and drink, music, TV, or facebook, to push the feelings away.

Here is an example of how we do this and the outcome that it has. Imagine being in a pool with an inflatable ball. It is light and full of air while the water is heavy and dense. Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under the water?  You can do it right?  But it takes a great deal of effort and strength.

Now what happens when you release the ball?  Does it float gently to the surface?  No, it erupts through the surface of the water. This is precisely what many of us do when we are triggered by a strong emotion. We try to suppress it for as long as we can exhausting ourselves, but it never really goes away does it? Then with the slightest trigger, we spew all over those around us, those that don’t deserve it.

Our children and loved ones are on the receiving end of our emotional outburst.  We all have been there, myself included. So how can we make ourselves feel better, not just temporarily, but experience real relief from the negative feeling?

Enter in The Pure Awareness Exercise.

Here’s a little therapy secret.  A felt feeling dissipates.  A suppressed feeling will always pop up, somewhere else again. I promise.  Because it is still there.  It didn’t go away. I propose to you to invite your feelings in. To do what is counter intuitive and sit with those feelings. Experience them to their fullest.  Is this going to feel good?  No. But are you interested in feeling better in the long run? Yeah, me too! The good news is the exercise only lasts a minute or so.

How does this work exactly?

  • Get alone somewhere quiet for just a couple of minutes. Literally, like 2 minutes. That is all you need.  I know how hard that can be with little children around or noisy work cubicles. But just find a place you can be undisturbed. I have escaped to a locked bathroom on numerous occasions!
  • Begin to conjure up the feeling in your body. You do not need to relive the upsetting experience or rehash it in your mind. That becomes a mental exercise (and not a very useful one at that). Just start to get in touch with the feeling. How your felt when the triggering event happened. Experience it on the fullest level you can imagine. (Spend about 30 seconds on that)
  • Let it grow, expand, get bigger. This is where it will be at its worst. You are OK.  You are perfectly capable of handling this. (30 seconds)
  • Then notice any experiences you may be feeling in your body. Is your chest tight? Is your stomach in knots?  Are your hands tingling? Put your attention there.  Notice the sensation in your body.  It is Ok if you don’t feel anything physically.  Your not doing it wrong. (30 seconds)
  • Most importantly, just stay with it. Notice that your mind might want to distract you from it. Just bring yourself back to what you are feeling emotionally.

And that’s it. How do you feel after?  Did the feeling dramatically decrease or was it eliminated entirely?

This is not a cure for a major depression or anxiety disorder.  This exercise is for heavily charged emotional reactions that we experience as a result of a situation we deem as stressful, negative, or, upsetting. You can do it again and again…in only 90 seconds.

I can help walk you through this process. Call or Email today for a free consultation.



Consciousness vs. Unconsciousness Series 3 of 3

So I promised that I would show you how to move through your feelings instead of being ruled by them. The pathway is through the title of this series. It is  in noticing when we are being driven by our unconscious.  For it is in that moment when you realize that you have been lost in ruminations of your thoughts and old behavior patterns that you have become conscious!

I’m going to delve right in and give you a practical exercise that you can walk yourself through whenever you find yourself experiencing an intense negative emotion. This is an exercise I use myself and often walk my clients through during sessions. Once the awareness is there, you have made a a huge leap in taking charge of the emotion. So many times, we find ourselves heading to the kitchen cabinets or reaching for the bottle or other substances when we are in the grip of strong feelings.

The beauty of this exercise is that is only takes about 60-90 seconds! So no excuses! I have done it with my kids around. You can do this in your office, with others around if you have to.  Ideally, you should be somewhere where you can be alone and without distractions.

  1. Close you eyes and begin to take slow deliberate breaths. On the inhale, expand your belly like a balloon and on the exhale push all the air out.  Continue this deep, slow, belly breathing through the entire exercise.
  2. Allow yourself to feel this feeling you are having.  Don’t think about the thoughts or situation that contributed to it.  Just focus on the feeling.  Allow yourself to feel it fully.  Ask  yourself on a scale of 1-10 how intensely am I feeling this feeling? (10 being the strongest you can imagine)  Go inside of it, explore it with an open, curious mind and with out judgement.  At this point it will intensify- it will become stronger and get bigger and more intense.  Your body is completely safe to do this.
  3. Begin to notice where you are feeling this feeling in your body.  It is motoring through your body somewhere.  Key into this and really feel where in your body you experience some sensation.  Is there a knot in your stomach? Are your shoulders tight?  Maybe your hands are tingling? Focus all your energy  into this physical manifestation of your emotions. Allow it to expand. Keep breathing into it.
  4. At this point approximately 60-90 seconds have passed.  What are you noticing? Ask yourself now how strong your feeling is? Has your feeling  lessened?  Did your number go down? It is beginning to subside isn’t it?

You have just experienced a truth- that a fully felt feeling dissipates. It is released.  Accumulated negative feelings come out somewhere.  They have to surface somewhere in the body.

We live in a society in which giving ourselves the permission to pay attention to what our feelings are telling us is discouraged by phrases such as, “get over it”

Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water in a pool?  You can only do it for so long before it pops up to the surface.  It doesn’t just slowly rise to the surface.  It erupts!  That eruption in our lives can look like screaming at our kids, impulsively quitting a job, or road rage.

The health risks of suppressing feelings are numerous. Increased stress leads to an increase in  anxiety and depression, heart disease,  gastrointestinal problems, and sexual dysfunction to name a few.

Are you willing to start doing something different in order to get different results? I promise you if you do nothing, nothing will change.  You’ll continue in your same momentum of behavior that is not serving you well. So, I ask you, would you be willing to take 60-90 seconds to take care of yourself? You are worth that much!


Consciousness vs. Unconsciousness Series 2 of 3

So picking up where we left of from 1st installment of this series, we discussed the importantance of presence, or becoming conscious in any given moment. So now that you can dis-identify with the mind and it’s entanglements you begin to see yourself as you really are, pure awareness; you are connected to your source.

Now you have opened up space for self-compassion to flow in. To be able to say, “There goes my mind again, telling myself some dreadful story that I bought into”.  There’s no judgment, analysis, or resistance.

A simple way to invite self-compassion is by asking yourself, “What would I tell my dearest friend about this situation?”

I don’t imagine you would berate him or her for getting lost in the mind’s endless chatter. But you would offer acceptance and love and humility.

So how do you start integrating consciousness? The easiest place to start is with your senses. Observe nature without labeling everything you see. Your mind will love that!

Just observe a flower without naming the species of plant or labeling its color. Really taste your food slowly. What does it feel like on your tongue? In your mouth? In his book, Minfulness for Beginners, John Kabat-Zinn does a great food meditation with a raisin!

Really notice the smell of your perfume or cologne as you spray it on.

I am practicing mindfulness now as I feel the chair beneath me and notice how the keys of the keyboard feel on my fingertips while still attending to the practicalities of creating this message for you.

Even notice your feelings as they come up. Notice the restlessness you feel as the end of your work day approaches and you are eager to go home. Really feel the restlessness without trying to fix it, eradicate it or cultivate ways to make the time pass, which is really just yet another way we ignore our feelings.

As you do this scan your body for where you may be holding the feeling. Is there tightness in your chest? Knots in your stomach? Tension in your head or shoulders? Put all your focus and awareness into these sensations. Notice what happens.

Can you begin to see the shift from doing to being? Our natural inclination is to want to do something about the problems we have or just stick our head in the sand.

While there is a time and place for applying solutions to problems, much of the problems we think we have can be viewed through a different lens when we slow down and shift into consciousness.

The apostle Paul states in Philippians in the New Testament of the bible, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…”. Paul wrote this while imprisoned!

In the last installment of this series I will address how this all ties into emotional distress and how you can move through your feelings much more effectively instead of being ruled by them.

Hilary Akman, LPC

Conscious vs. Unconscious Series 1 of 3

Candle in hands

In my work with clients I talk a lot about becoming conscious. What does that mean anyway and why should it be important to you?

Because that is where our freedom lies!

Freedom from the mind and its relentless untruths

Freedom from reactivity

Freedom from feeling like a victim

Now we have the power to choose in every moment.

So did you know we operate out of our unconscious mind a whopping 95% of the time?

No wonder we snap at our kids, fly into road rage, and work ourselves up into a frenzy at the slightest stressor (more to come on stress- stay tuned!) We are just a great ball of reactivity.

So how do we tap into that elusive 5%? The answer lies in awareness. Pure awareness. In shifting from doing to being. We are human <i>beings </i>after all. Some other words used to describe consciousness are mindfulness, presence, and attention.

Psalms in the old testament of the Bible says, “<em><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>Be</span></em> still and know that I am God”  That is a wonderful quote to repeat while deeply breathing to bring yourself into the present.
Minfulness is defined by John Kabat-Zinn as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. I like the simplicity of this description.

It forces us into the present moment. It yanks us out of the past and brings us back from the future. So often our minds are in one or the other, past or future. Rarely just the now. Now is all we have my dear reader!

So how exactly do we do this? We are just noticing what is going on in and around us without judging it or labeling it as bad <i>or</i> good. Eckart Tolle calls this being the “distant observer”. That you are the one noticing what is going on in your head and around you in your environment.

Imagine yourself coming outside of yourself and hovering in the corner of the room. As though there were 2 of you. One is immersed in doing with the inner dialogue of the mind going full speed ahead. The other one of you is the one observing you. That is presence. Awareness aware of itself.

When integrating mindfulness or consciousness you are the one that is noticing. This is your true self. The false self is on the other side of the room doing the dishes while ruminating over the comment your boss made and how you wish you would have replied differently.

You are that pure awareness who is observing without judgment. And in that moment, just by bringing attention to the moment, you are conscious. You have released yourself from the prison of your mind.

In the next installment we will dive into what comes next. Because after becoming present you open yourself up to release yourself from destructive patterns and slow their momentum.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps to create an opening in discovering a different approach to relating to problems in your life.

Hilary Akman, LPC