The Art of Counseling

By Sam Jolman | April 16, 2008

“How did you do that?” I exclaimed to my counselor, Peter, as we got up to end our session. About an hour ago, I walked into his office a mess inside, feeling like a ball of tangled kite string. And in an hour he had helped me unravel some of those messy feelings, see my life differently, shed tears, and leave more hopeful, more connected to my heart. It amazed me. So how did he do that? “It’s an art,” he replied.

Art? Can counseling be an art? I thought. And hey, wait a minute, wasn’t that my messy, broken life he was talking about. That borders on being insulting. Engaging my pain and brokenness is a form of art for him. Do I like that? I’ve had a few years to think about his comment. Now as a therapist myself, I’ve come to believe more and more the truth of Peter’s statement. Counseling is an art.

That’s Biblical by the way – consistent with the Christian story. If we look back at Genesis 1, to God’s work of creation, his artist studio, we find that God began his masterpiece with a mess.

Genesis 1:2
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Formless and empty, covered in darkness. Others have used words like chaos. Yep, that sounds like my life sometimes. And it was within this chaos that the Spirit of God did his creative work, his art. He spoke into this mess. He filled the emptiness with life. He created a universe of order and beauty out of the formless mess. He brought light to bear on the darkness.

The story doesn’t end here, though. We do not live with the beautiful, ordered, living world created in Eden by God. When Adam and Eve sinned, the world fell again into chaos, mess intermingled with vestiges of God’s creative touch. The world became like a bombed out art museum. We have breath-taking sunsets amidst terrorist bomb threats and global warming. We, too, are a mess now, though we all bear the original glorious creative design of God.

But… when we pursue any growth, change, healing in our lives, we mimic God’s original work of creation. Eden’s glory returns in a way. Our emptiness, mess, darkness become filled with life, order, beauty, and light. We recover our artistic glory.

Recently I heard the story of some local artists in Mozambique that inspired the pants off me. You may remember that Mozambique suffered for 17 years under a brutal civil war. The country has been working with programs that allow folks to trade weapons for farm implements. A group of artists have taken these collected weapons – ak-47’s and grenade launchers – and welded them together in the shape of the Tree of Life. The same weapons that literally took life now stand as a symbol of life. It’s such a moving picture of art birthed out of pain.

Counseling can offer a process of turning our chaos and pain into art. You may or may not ever produce actual art from your healing journey, like these African artists. Either way, your life can be a work of art again. Beauty and glory can be birthed form your broken life.

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