Today's post is featured on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog. You will find many excellent blog posts there, written by some of the best in biblical counseling. http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs
15-year-old Rebekka wore a hat,
long sleeves and jeans to our first counseling session. Not so unusual for a
teen, except it was a hot August afternoon and the temperature outside was 101
degrees. As I got to know Rebekka, I
learned she was sent to see me because she was self-harming. She had no
eyelashes or eyebrows and her hat concealed large bald spots where she had
pulled out her hair. I eventually saw
the dozens of scars on her arms and up and down the length of her legs, where
she had repeatedly cut herself and picked off the scabs. She also bore numerous
burn marks from cigarettes and lighters.
Cutting and burning are the most
common forms of self-injury we see among teenagers in our counseling center.
WHY DO PEOPLE SELF-INJURE?
The teenage years (when
self-injurious behaviors commonly begin) can be traumatic times. Especially in
our culture, where children are presented with decisions and choices they are
not mature enough to handle.
Our teens have greater pressures
than at any time in history. College preparation now begins in the eighth grade
for many students, as they have to make choices about Advanced Placement
classes. Many high school students work 20 or more hours per week to save for
college, in addition to attending classes and doing AP homework. At school, teens receive mixed messages about
relationships and sexual orientation. Sexual behaviors are taught in graphic
detail and promoted in the popular media. Our children are pressured to be
sexually active long before they are emotionally and physically ready. They are
thrust into many situations they are not ready to deal with! Some deal with the
heartache of a broken home, spending alternate weekends with each parent, and
the pressure that comes from being in the middle of divorce. These are only the
“normal” stresses and do not cover the extreme cases, such as sexual abuse by a
parent or step parent; drug or alcohol use in the home by parents; out of
control siblings that raise tension in the home; same-sex unions, sexually
transmitted diseases or abortion.
Many children and teens come to
believe there is little they can count on and nothing that is stable. Who can they talk to besides each other? Who
can they really trust? All these factors feed into the world of self-injury,
and it becomes their method of dealing with indescribable pain and loneliness.
Like other self-injurers, Rebekka
reported that she felt empty inside, stressed, and unable to express her feelings.
She struggled to tell me she was lonely, not understood by others and fearful
of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities. Self-injury was her way
to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings.
There is no quick fix, no
systematic formula to follow in helping a teen counselee who self-injures. I
encourage parents to follow biblical principles rather than going the route of
psychotherapy and secular counseling. Secular reasoning is contrary to
biblical methodology. The self-injurer doesn’t have an illness that can be
medically diagnosed; what she has is a faulty coping mechanism that has become a
Whenever possible, I involve the
parents in the counseling process. We teach the parents how to disciple their
child through this turbulent time in life. God entrusted Mom and Dad to care
for their child and I am there to support them in teaching, rebuking, correcting,
and training their child in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
The biblical perspective on
self-injury is that it is primarily a heart issue (Matthew 15:11; Matthew
15:17-20; Luke 6:43). Like other self-injurers, Rebekka had an overall focus on
herself: Her pain, loss, feelings, her wants, and her desires. She learned to
examine her heart in light of Scripture (Jeremiah 17:9). The Bible reminds us
that permanent change requires a change of heart brought about by a renewal of
the mind (Romans 12:2). We had to identify the root cause of her behavior so
true healing could take place.
The LORD hears the needy and does not
despise his captive people. Psalm 69:33 (NIV)
I encouraged Rebekka to go to God in prayer and lay
down the burdens of her heart. Directing her to the Psalms
brought comfort and insight about crying out to God in distress. She was reminded that God cares about
her, and the weight of guilt, shame, failure, anger, and
rejection she carries. She was greatly comforted in realizing the Lord Jesus
Christ was intimately acquainted with every sorrow and pain she had.
Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, For I am desolate and
afflicted. The troubles of my heart have enlarged; Bring me out of my
distresses! Look on my affliction and my pain, And forgive all my sins. Psalm 25:16-18 (NKJV)
In biblical counseling,
Rebekka learned the necessity of repentance. She learned about the sovereignty of God, people
pleasing, and how to deal biblically with anger, hurt and bitterness. As her
mind was renewed, she began to understand the role idolatry played in her
behaviors. She realized how worshiping her idols only led to guilt, shame, and
deception and that, in reality, self-injury didn’t help with her pain after
Initially she experienced many failures and would
still revert to cutting or burning herself, but Rebekka persevered in
righteousness. She was determined to glorify God and worked very hard to stay
in the Word, put the behavior off, renew her mind, and put on the new self
(Ephesians 4:22-24). She made life
application of what she was learning and denied her fleshly desires. Six months
later, she had eyebrows, eyelashes, and the bald spots on her head were covered
with hair. The real triumph came when she gave her parents her “treasure box”
of razor blades and burning materials.
So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:36 (NLT)
Do you believe the Word of God is enough to address
even the “hard cases” in counseling?