Helping Those Who Help Others
By Tara H. West
Changes in my perspectives and choices to grow have enabled me to help others in their choices to grow and change.
In my work as a Wellbeing and Goals Coach, I use client-directed coaching. This connects beautifully with the concept of God’s love being uncontrolling as it is all about our ability to choose our own path, our mindset, our habits, and beyond.
My clients are the providers and administrative operations team members of our counseling and coaching practice. I work with counselors, social workers, psychiatric nurse practitioners, medical assistants, dieticians, and office support staff. We are a practice owned by a Christian man, but he has never felt that we should be called a “Christian Counseling Practice.” Therefore, our employees come from a variety of faith backgrounds and current faith practices.
When the practice owner and I dreamed up my position, his hope was that I could provide an outlet for all the practice employees that would include an opportunity for them to vent if needed, to help them with self-care so they could be their best for their clients, and to leave an open door to discuss spiritual matters if they wanted. He felt a need for this but did not feel he could offer this outlet for fear it would not come across in an objective and optional way.
Since my approach to coaching is meant to help the whole person, covering six areas of life (emotional, social, mental, spiritual, vocational and physical), it seemed a potentially optimum approach to meeting the practice owner’s desires to provide this open door for growth and ongoing conversation to all his employees. The coaching I offer is optional, completely confidential, and an employee benefit without cost to them. They can freely participate in sessions with me at their choosing, with no strings attached, and on their terms, to cover whatever they most need or want to address.
A number of my clients do want to discuss spirituality to one degree or another, mixed in with a variety of other topics in the other five areas of their lives. These individuals represent a spectrum of faith journeys. Several come from a Catholic background, one or two still practicing while others left the church but are searching for something that will work for them. One client was raised by one Catholic parent and one Jewish. She leans more towards simply finding the spirituality in nature, serving others and meditation. A few other clients grew up in very conservative religious circles and are trying to find their way forward as adults, with one of these few continuing in their more conservative denomination. Another client follows his higher power, and his sobriety is his top priority in life next to his family. Other clients have a much more open belief system. One follows practices from most major world religions while another uses crystals and seeks guidance from a medium. The third simply lives by doing good and helping as many other people as she can. I can only think of one client who never addresses anything of a spiritual nature.
Believing that God is love, gives us free will, and desires for all of us to flourish in this life has enabled me to work with each client, no matter where they are in their faith journey or how they are choosing to address their spiritual nature. I would not have always been able to meet people where they are like I am now able to do.
My upbringing in a conservative Protestant denomination taught me more about judging others and comparing them to the rigid standards my church told me mattered the most to God. I would have been little help to most of my clients if I had not experienced my own faith transformation over the course of my 30’s and 40’s. Because of quite a few writers and speakers, my studies in spiritual formation, and God’s work in my life, I came to a place of being able to hold space for my clients, whatever they share with me.
I learned, over time, to invite God into my questions, my doubts, and uncertainties, even my secrets and dreams. Somehow, I came to realize that I needed to allow God to love me in the midst of all these parts of myself, and to believe God’s heart towards me is always for my good, filled with love and empathy for me in my humanity, as well as coming to recognize that God hurts with me in those times when bad things happen to me or my family. I now see that God’s intentions towards us are good, even when other humans do things that God doesn’t desire for us or when we are affected by sicknesses or tragedies that are simply a part of living in this fallen world.
Experiencing this reality of God’s love in this way has in turn brought me to a deeper love and empathy for all others which enables me to be present with my clients in whatever they share with me in our sessions. Some have needed me to simply listen and be objective. Others have revealed enough to me that I have seen their stories resembling parts of my own, and this has opened the door for more in-depth discussions about their spiritual searching and questions.
I am able to speak freely of God’s love with a few of my clients, and I’ve had the opportunity to encourage them to ask God into their struggles and to allow God to love them there. For some, this has helped them with grief over losing a child, others with their marriages, still others have found help navigating through their hurts and frustrations with conservative faith upbringings or parents.
As I work with these dear people (who are essentially my colleagues in this counseling and coaching practice), the truth becoming more and more apparent to me is that everyone is searching on some level, has questions and is trying to make the best choices for their lives. Their choice to sign up for sessions with me as their coach is representative of this desire. Every part of the client-coach relationship is ultimately determined by the client. We do not go anywhere in our conversations that they do not choose to go.
As I stated initially, the idea of God’s uncontrolling love fits wonderfully with coaching that is client-directed. My hope is that each person who allows me to journey with them via the avenue of coaching will come to know that the choice to grow and become rests with them. When given the chance, I convey to them that they are loved in the midst of all their choices. When they question negative things that have happened in their lives, I open the idea to them that we all have the same freedom to choose and sometimes other’s actions affect us, while our choices may often affect others.
Not all clients are interested in God’s heart towards them, but for those who are, or those who might be searching for that security and confidence of knowing they are loved and truly understood for who they are, then it makes a huge difference to be able to bring in my own experiences of how God has loved me as I am and how God has carried me through difficult times of hurt, abandonment, grief, disappointment, etc. When given the open door, I can share my story and serve as an example that can assist them in moving forward in their own faith journeys.
Tara H West has her Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation with a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Education and minor in Psychology. Besides being a Wellbeing and Goals Coach, she is a writer, speaker, teacher, small group leader, and a wife with three adult, plus two in-law, children. You can read about some of her journey on her website at: fittingthepiecestogether.com
To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Love Does Not Control: Therapists, Psychologists, and Counselors Explore Uncontrolling Love