If you walk into Summit Counseling Center on Lee Highway, and tell them you are a loser, they may not contradict you.
“I had one guy come in and say right away, ‘You know, I’m a jerk,’” Center Director Jon Harris said. “I’m not going to minimize that and say, ‘Oh, you aren’t really a jerk. You’re okay.’ I don’t want to relieve someone of that, if that’s coming from a real place of repentance and brokenness. That place is actually going to lead to some good growth.
“The temptation in counseling, especially in secular counseling, is to focus on self-esteem. Historically, self-esteem hasn’t been our problem. Pride has been our problem.”
Located just off of Exit 1 on Hwy. 153, Summit Counseling Center, a ministry of Ridgedale Baptist Church, seeks to provide professional counseling on a variety of issues from conflict management, marriage and family issues, to trauma, anxiety, and abuse. The center’s six counselors are “trained professional listeners,” Mr. Harris said, “drawing out [our client’s] hearts like water from a deep well.”
“One of the things I try to help people with,” he explained, “is confronting false intimacy with true intimacy. Neither Chattanooga nor the church is free of that. The problem is that we tend to be secretive until somebody gets caught and it’s disclosed. By that time, there’s been a lot of damage.”
In today’s technologically-connected world, people can slouch into infidelity by ignoring healthy boundaries. “They become more open to flirtation, emotional intimacy, and sexual intimacy,” he said. “With social media, it can be invasive and if you don’t have good boundaries or healthy relationships, you’ll be more tempted to reach out to false intimacy.”
Two-thirds of Mr. Harris’ work is in relationship counseling. “A lot of our emotions are driven by expectations. I challenged one couple not long ago, saying, “I hear you’re not happy in your marriage, but I’m wondering if part of that is because your goal in marriage is to be happy. Would you be open to this idea that the Bible’s goal for marriage is based on a covenant? It’s the covenant that keeps your marriage together.”
He asked this couple to consider that God was concerned less with their happiness and more with their maturity. “Sticking with your spouse through this can help you continue to grow up,” he said. “This is a growth project.”
“I wanted to confront them with truth and love, and they accepted it. They felt relieved. It changed the anger and resentment and took a lot of pressure off. It was relieving to them to take off the burden our culture puts on us that we need to be happy.”
Mr. Harris sees Christian counseling as applied theology, an explanation of truth in practical terms. Every therapist has a bias, he said. A Christian therapist openly leans on the Bible. While listening to his clients, he interjects the truth at times, “because one of the disciplines,” he said, “is taking every thought captive to Christ.”
“I’ll tell people that the big three killer A’s are addictions, affairs, and abuse. They can quickly break that bond of trust, but they all can be restored. When people come in my office, I’m always going to instill hope. The way I frame it is that by God’s grace empowering your effort in the context of community, there’s hope for change.”
There are many Christian counseling offices in our city, and since Mr. Harris has worked with several of them, he feels comfortable referring people to other counselors with demonstrated expertise.
“People who come in are either struggling with selfishness or with self-righteousness,” he said. “The selfish person may be struggling with pornography, the self-righteous person is tempted to judge them, not realizing that they both need Jesus.
“One thing that keeps people stuck in recovery is misunderstanding the gospel and where they need the gospel in their situation. They need grace to obey and recover and react well when they are sinned against. I find in our culture a lot of religious conservatism which errs on a mindset of self-righteousness.”
With Summit and the many other counseling and relationship resources available in Chattanooga, no one struggling to overcome problems in their life needs to go it alone. Even if someone cannot afford regular visits with a licensed professional, they can ask for subsidized resources available.
Phil Wade is a local writer and native Chattanoogan. Find him on Twitter: @Brandywinebooks or LinkedIn. He blogs regularly at Brandywinebooks.net