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Hope for the hurting

WORLD Radio - Hope for the hurting

Two counselors offer suggestions for helping those in emotional and spiritual distress


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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, July 15th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Experts are just beginning to understand the impact of the pandemic on mental health. A handful of studies suggest that problems like depression, anxiety, and sexual abuse may have all increased over the past year.

REICHARD: Christian counselors Justin Holcomb and Sissy Goff have each published books to help with these struggles. World’s Emily Whitten called them up to learn how we as Christians can lend a helping hand.

EMILY WHITTEN, REPORTER: Sissy Goff has worked as a licensed counselor for more than 30 years. She’s also director of child and adolescent counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville. Her latest book, Brave, helps teen girls address anxiety from a Christian perspective.

GOFF: I hope our literature steps in to be able to say, you know, here's some practical things along the way based on what we're seeing in kids right now because it's entirely different in 2021.

Anglican minister Justin Holcomb regularly counsels people in his Florida diocese—often on the topic of sexual abuse. His recent book for kids is part of a series that began with God Made All of Me, a book that helps families protect kids from sexual abuse.

HOLCOMB: That book just sold 100,000 copies. And the idea that there's 100,000 families going around having this conversation, man, that's what you work hard for is something like that.

Both Holcomb and Goff didn’t start out knowing how to be good counselors. So, how did God shape them to run to the fire in terms of mental health? First, He made His Word dwell richly in their hearts and minds.

After Sissy Goff met Christ at a summer camp, several verses from 1 John became anchor verses for her.

GOFF: A verse that I use all the time with kids when I'm counseling—but it's, “My dear children, let's not just talk about love. Let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living, truly living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self criticism, even when there's something to it.” I love that. God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

Justin Holcomb first learned what Christian love looked like from his parents. Today, in his ministry to abuse survivors, he constantly comes back to the Biblical picture of Christ’s redemptive work.

HOLCOMB: There's sickness, there's death, there's betrayal, there's gossip, there's abuse. There's all these different things. [cut words] And that's what Jesus is doing is undoing sin and its effects by His life, death, resurrection, ascension.

Goff says a prayerful dependence on God is also foundational.

GOFF: I never feel equipped. [cut words] So often I sit in counseling sessions and think, I don't know what to say to you. I have no idea how to help you in this moment. And I pray like crazy. And sometimes it's not even that I'm just in the moment, like literally saying the words, but I think there's just this dependence that hopefully, translates to prayer.

Both Holcomb and Goff see the ability to listen well as critical to counseling. Holcomb says that’s especially important for abuse survivors.

HOLCOMB: I love telling people when they go, man, what what do we do with parenting and abuse survivors? Like, what am I supposed to say? Well, the good news is, you don't have to say very much, because they're happy that they're actually being listened to and believed and you're sharing the load with them, just by hearing of the darkness they've experienced and the burden they're carrying.

It can be intimidating to hear about such deep pain. But Goff points out that you don’t need special credentials or training to be a good listener.

GOFF: Sometimes the panic comes from pressure of feeling like, I've got to have the right answer. I've got to know how to help them fix it. And I find the more I talk to people, the more that what they really want is just to be heard and seen in that moment. And any of us can do that with no training.

If you or someone you love struggles, Holcomb and Goff say it can be overwhelming to go it alone. Both suggest reaching out to others [in the body of Christ] for help. That might mean talking to a trusted pastor or a medical professional.

GOFF: I really think every parent needs a couple of trusted people that can be on your team helping you figure out what is blocking you, and how do you get there to kind of be free to be who God made you to be with your kids. Justin, what do you think?

HOLCOMB: Yeah. I love it. I love it. I like the team approach. In my denomination, a minister can't meet with someone about an issue more than three times without referring them to someone else. And that's only in recognition that you're not slotting out, you're adding people to the team.

To close our conversation, Goff and Holcomb summed up how we can become better counselors. Goff emphasized the willingness to give others our time and attention.

GOFF: The two things that I think about immediately are one that we got to slow down. And we've got to simplify life to some degree where it makes room to see people and engage with people in deeper places. And to just that we need to be curious.

Holcomb’s final statement focused on showing others God’s love.

HOLCOMB: You have been a recipient of God's good, caring, gracious love, both directly by God, and indirectly by God through other people, and reflect on being a recipient of that care. Because that is a great picture of you being an agent of that same type of care from God and others to other people.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Emily Whitten.


BROWN: Today’s feature comes from a much longer conversation with Emily. This weekend, we’re going to release their complete roundtable discussion online and on our podcast feed.

We’ll also include links in today’s transcript to WORLD’s book reviews of Brave, and God Made All of Me.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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