I want to do a little bit of self-disclosure for this blog post. The most important thing I learned in graduate school was a very simple sentence. I will never forget my professor Dr. Lawson saying, “You are the therapy.”
“What the heck did that mean?” I thought.
What he meant was that my therapy comes from my experience. It also meant that what I learned from life would be the medicine that I would bring to people. It stuck out in my mind because of the conviction in his voice when he said it. At that time I had not really learned enough about counseling to know how much of a guiding principle this would be for me. I knew that I was attending graduate school for counseling psychology because I felt God leading me in that direction. I was also trying to hide the guilt from my past. I was trying to keep it from my psychology teachers…I was a little paranoid. I thought many times to myself that maybe they were on to me. I just knew they were secretly diagnosing me. Could they use their secret psychology powers to discover the things I had done in my previous college “experiences?” If they found out would they think less of me as a Christian, or as a student? Ok, that’s enough self -disclosure. You might learn too much about me if you keep nagging me like this. Ok, fine. I’ll tell you.
I became aware of a verse in Romans and it changed my life. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” I was immediately aware that Paul, who wrote this passage, struggled with his own sin, and he was a prominent writer of New Testament books. If Paul could struggle with his own life story and be confident that God was using his life to point to Jesus, then who am I to say that God could not use my life to point to Jesus? This made Dr. Lawson’s point hit home for me.Now, as a therapist and as a teacher, I draw on my life stories to normalize what people reveal in therapy and class. I don’t want people to be paranoid about my “secret psychology powers.” The truth is I’m at least as broken as they are. I have days where my wife tolerates me, and my daughter is not impressed with how I push her on the swing. But one thing I have found is that just being genuine with my wife and my daughter works much better than trying to be perfect or trying to hide behind appearing to be perfect. Also as a teacher, I find that people relate to my stories of having stuttering problems as a teenager (up until I was about 21 really). They like to hear that I was suspended from college (twice, but who’s counting) for bad grades. People appreciate a humble person who has learned from mistakes, more than they respect an egomaniac. They would much rather hear that I was broken for several years, and then made a dramatic turnaround. So when I talk about overcoming failure in college, the story doesn’t end in me dropping out of school. I turned from my sinful choices, and then went on to make straight A’s throughout the rest of college and graduate school. When I think back to my days of failure, it makes my current situation seem unreal. How does a stuttering, kid who can’t motivate himself enough to actually show up to his classes, go on to make straight A’s in graduate school? How does he become a licensed talk therapist and then marry a speech therapist? Because… God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. It’s a much better, and more real story than the letters behind my name would lead you to believe. Billy Barnett MS, LMHC.