Anthony, a local graduate student, was struggling with his faith. He had grown up in a large family with a mother and father who were devoted Christians. Anthony had been very successful academically and otherwise in high school and college, but he recently performed poorly on some important exams. These poor performances led him to begin questioning why God would allow this to happen when he had worked so hard to be a good Christian and a good student. He decided to talk to a Christian counselor, which led him to the Counseling Center at Reformed Theological Seminary.
For more than 40 years, the RTS Jackson campus has provided a counseling ministry to the local community. Founded in the 1980s, the counseling center provides reduced-fee counseling services to all who are in need. It is also the primary internship site for students in the Master of Arts in Counseling program. In 2022 alone, the center provided 4,634 counseling sessions to 365 different clients. Many of the clients of the counseling center have few resources and are otherwise unable to get help from a local licensed professional counselor or other mental health professionals.
The RTS Jackson student counselors assigned to Anthony helped him begin to understand some of the underlying beliefs he held that contributed to his recent struggles. He reported that he had strived to be the “good son” while growing up, and had come to believe that his good behavior and intentions were what made him acceptable to God. So long as he was successful in his academic endeavors, this belief had remained unchallenged. But now that he experienced academic struggles, he realized that he felt angry at God for allowing these circumstances and simultaneously guilty due to these angry feelings toward God. As he disentangled these thoughts and feelings, Anthony realized that God’s love for him did not hinge on his own efforts, and he began to see significant improvement.In 2022 alone, the center provided 4,634 counseling sessions to 365 different clients.
Among the distinct offerings of the Counseling Center at RTS are services for children and families. A husband and wife brought their elementary school-age son to the center because they were concerned about the intense worry he experienced, primarily around the well-being of his siblings and other family members. They noticed he sometimes felt fear and distress for them, even though they were safe and healthy. The student counselors assigned to work with the son began weekly sessions with him in one of the center’s play therapy rooms. They also began meeting with the parents to better understand the family and social dynamics that might be impacting their son.
Over the ensuing weeks, the RTS counseling students learned that there was significant tension between the husband and wife. The husband’s job required him to travel occasionally, and his wife reported that she often felt significant anxiety whenever he traveled. She was worried that he might not be faithful while he was away, but she also told the counselors that he had never given her any reason for these fears. She believed her husband loved her and was faithful but found that her anxiety spiked when he traveled regardless.
In time, the student counselors helped the wife connect her difficulty trusting her husband with a parallel difficulty in trusting God with these issues. Once she made this connection and could talk through the roots of her mistrust in God’s protection for her family, her anxiety began to diminish. Interestingly, the son’s anxiety also diminished around the same time. As is often the case, it was hard to tell if the weekly sessions with the student counselors helped him, or if the decrease in tension between the parents was the key to reducing his anxieties, or a combination of the two.
Another common demographic often served by the center is that of single mothers. Rosie came to the counseling center because she felt deeply depressed. Her boyfriend had recently cheated on her, so she had ended the relationship. Understandably, this triggered a deep sense of betrayal which for her led to strong feelings of loss and hopelessness. She was the mother of two children whom she was raising alone, and she did not have medical insurance to cover counseling services from a licensed professional counselor. RTS student counselors began seeing Rosie on a weekly basis and soon discovered that, in addition to her depressive symptoms, she was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rosie described to her counselors how she had survived multiple forms of childhood abuse and household dysfunction while growing up. In addition, she disclosed to them that near the end of high school, she had become pregnant, that her mother had kicked her out of the house, and she had lived on the street for a time. She later married a man who was violent and abused her terribly. The culmination of these early-life experiences had resulted in a cluster of mental health symptoms that she lived with daily.
In spite of these challenges, Rosie worked at a fulltime job and was a graduate student, pursuing her master’s degree at night. As Rosie talked through her experiences, both past and present, her depressive feelings began to subside. Her counselors used a variety of empirically validated counseling interventions to help her resolve some memories that were at the root of the difficult emotions she experienced.
Rosie’s work with her RTS student counselors did not resolve all of her issues, but she was able to reduce her depression significantly, which helped her care for her children, serve her employer better, and complete her graduate studies.
Like Anthony, the couple and their son, and Rosie, we have all experienced the reality of what it means to live in a fallen world. In each of these stories, we see how counseling is a way of applying to the counselee what the counselor has learned from the study of both God’s Word and God’s creation. Reformed Theological Seminary has been providing this type of care to the Jackson community for nearly half of RTS’ existence, and we pray that God will continue to raise up new generations of biblically faithful and clinically capable counselors to serve in Jackson and beyond.
The names and certain identifying details of counseling center clients in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.