By Amy Kennard
It was Aristotle who said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” While that is true, many of us struggle with issues that prevent or hinder us from knowing our true selves. Situations such as divorce, job loss, or financial crisis can take a front seat to our own personal wellbeing. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and addiction put a dark cloud over who we want to be — and can be. When this happens, knowing our best selves is not only difficult, but seemingly impossible.
Agape Counseling offers professional mental health care to individuals and families in Central Illinois. This close-knit group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff seeks to provide a safe, confidential, and healing environment for children, teens, adults, couples, and families.
Agape Counseling’s philosophy is that empowering individuals to heal and grow allows them to become all of who they were created to be. Through the therapeutic relationships they form, the counselors at Agape serve the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of their clients.
Addressing the stigma
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, people experiencing mental health issues often face rejection, bullying, and discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult. Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States. Even though most people can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need.
Annette Larsen, LCPC, CSAT, CMAT, is an Executive Director of Agape and says, “Part of that stigma is the labels we feel we need to place on these mental health issues. Clients come in and they’ve already done a search on the internet and diagnosed themselves. What I tell them is, ‘Let’s not jump to conclusions; instead let’s start by ruling some things out.’ We would rather address symptoms and get them to disengage from defining themselves with a diagnosis. We work on finding solutions to making them feel better, tailoring their therapy to help facilitate health and healing.”
There’s a lot of undue shame surrounding mental health issues, says Agape counselor Rick Allen, LCPC, NACBT. “People sometimes equate the term ‘mental illness’ to someone who can’t function or regulate themselves emotionally. We at Agape prefer to talk about it in terms of mental health.” Mental health can be defined as a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and is able to contribute to his or her community.
An emotional wellness checkup
Wilma McLaughlin, MA, LCPC, has been with Agape for 12 years and says simply, “Life happens.”
“For instance,” she explains, “sometimes a child may be struggling and the parent is hesitant to bring them in because they think they did something wrong, when there could be so many other factors involved: genetics, development, the environment, social media, school, friends… and it may also just be part of their normal development.” Parents need to show their children that there’s nothing wrong with counseling — that it is an important emotional wellness check that doesn’t necessarily have to be long-term.”
When it comes to married couples, Wilma calls a visit to the counselor the “20,000-mile checkup.” “There are different timetables in a couple’s life,” she explains. “We get in patterns of communication with those we live with and become blind to some things that can begin to erode your relationship. That’s when you come in for a tune-up — to bounce things off of someone who is objective and can point out a crisis or tell you, ‘That’s normal — it’s where you are in life and I can help you work through that.’”
The average couple waits seven years before they seek help for an issue, notes Wilma, and by then resentment has built up. Agape counselor Michelle Rolley, MS, LCPC says, “We encourage couples who are dating seriously and considering marriage to come in sooner rather than later.” She cautions, “And think twice if your future spouse is against counseling all together because where will you go if you have problems? It’s very upsetting to me when people decide to get a divorce when they haven’t at least sought counseling.”
Sometimes, group therapy is recommended. “Individuals in group therapy get so much validation and normalization of the experiences they’re going through,” says Michelle. They realize they’re not the only one who is going through that issue. For instance, addiction group members offer support and accountability. In adolescent groups, it’s knowing they’re not alone and having someone else in a similar situation to talk to.”
Rick says, “Some people have the misconception that they’re going to be in therapy forever. We have clients who come in for a few sessions. Some may be in a transitional period, and we’ll see them for a few months — some longer than that depending on their situation. We don’t try to ‘hook people in;’ we want them to know that they can leave and come back when they want to.”
Wilma agrees. “Counseling can span a lifetime. You may go once or twice, not go for years, then come back when there’s a crisis or a life transition — and that’s normal.” She continues, “The door is open. I can write down ‘return as needed’ and if they need to come back, they come back. I think our clients like and appreciate that we’re not going anywhere.” Annette concurs. “It’s comforting to have someone to walk along with in life who knows your story.”
As the saying goes, “It takes a village,” and what sets the Agape team apart is their group approach to ensuring their clients have the best care possible. “Our therapists span a variety of ages and mental health expertise,” says Annette. “We all know each other very well and it’s not unusual for us to ask for advice from a fellow therapist on what the best course of care is for a client. Subsequently, I may conclude that my client has an issue that one of my colleagues is better suited or experienced to treat, and I have no problem talking to my client about that.”
Because they work with families, it’s not unusual for one therapist to see the husband, another the wife, and another the children. “Our clients understand that what they say is confidential, but based on their issues, we can collaborate with each other as therapists to determine the best course of care for the whole family moving forward.”
There are times, too, when a client may not feel a connection to a therapist. “And that’s OK,” says Wilma. “A therapist won’t take that personally. All we want is to do is ensure our clients get the best care possible and we are happy to pair you up with someone else.”
Making the call
For some, the hardest part of seeking help is making that first call. Annette reassures that the voice on the other end of the line is compassionate, knowledgeable, and kind. “You will be asked to provide some general information, then she will ask for you to give her a small description of what you are seeking help for. The reasons she does this is so she can make sure she finds the therapist who is the best fit for you.”
It is often said that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Agape Counseling’s therapists welcome those who recognize they can benefit from talking to someone who can help them navigate the issues that are preventing them from leading their best lives and becoming all they were created to be.
Agape Counseling staff’s counselors include…
- Licensed Clinical Psychologists
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers
- Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors
- Licensed Professional Counselors
- Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists
- Certified Sexual Addictions Therapists
- Certified Multiple Addictions Therapists
- Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselors
Agape has office locations in Peoria, Morton, and Bloomington. Their office hours are 9:00am to 5:00 pm; however, some of their counselors see clients until 10:00pm on weekdays, and several also offer Saturday morning hours. The Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway, Suite 1, and their phone number is 309-663-2229. To learn more about Agape Counseling, visit their website at www.agapecounselors.net.