By Dr. Audrey Davidheiser, Crosswalk.com
Disclaimer: This isn't therapy, and Dr. Audrey's advice is for the general audience, meaning it may not always work for everyone.
“Peleh Yoetz,” she scribbles.
A social media influencer is mesmerizing me on Instagram. I catch one of her reels about the Hebrew names of God. Memorizing them is important, she maintains, because the Holy Spirit will remind you of them when you’re in a jam.
No disagreement here. Learning about God’s names, especially in Hebrew, is awesome.
The latest addition to her list is Peleh Yoetz, the phrase we started off with. The influencer writes what it means: Wonderful Counselor.
“Free therapy,” she gushes.
I interpret her enthusiasm this way: Given God’s role as Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6), we can approach Him and expect free counseling in tow.
No dispute here. I’ve spent time with the Lord and walked away with divine wisdom downloaded straight from above.
But her statement about getting free therapy caused me to wonder.
Would you want to receive psychotherapy—not from God, but from trained professionals—for free?
Even though it’s not a trick question, the answer turns out to be more complicated than expected. Years of providing clinical services schooled me in the following subtleties.
Freebies. Mmm. It would take an intentional act of my willpower to refuse a decadent slice of Tiramisu or cake, especially if I don’t have to pay a thing for either. If my choice for lunch hovers between two eateries and one of them entices me with that complimentary dessert, boom. That offer alone can sway my decision in a flash.
But there’s another angle to obtaining free stuff, especially if the item lasts longer than a moment’s satisfaction.
For one, you might question if the freebie is truly valuable. If a “FREE!” sign dangles from a gleaming iMac on some stranger’s yard, for instance, you might respond with immediate skepticism.
Why would anyone ditch a perfectly fine Mac? What’s the catch? Is that thing crawling with a virus or something?
Notice how even God, who could’ve technically saved us for free, opted not to do it as such. He’s the most powerful Being there ever was, right? He could’ve snapped His heavenly fingers and decided to redeem humanity from sins without having to sacrifice Jesus.
Yet 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 1 Corinthians 7:23 both declare that God bought us at a price—by the precious, peerless, and pristine blood of Jesus. And what a painful process Jesus endured! From being mercilessly whipped to enduring the prolonged agony of crucifixion, nobody can accuse Jesus of reclaiming humanity for free.
No wonder God treasures us. He doesn’t treat us like we’re a dime a dozen, even when there are—literally—billions of us.
There’s another reason God chose to pay for our salvation: He deems each of us invaluable.
Perhaps that’s why we tend to think similarly. We’d want to pay for valuable items because of what the transaction implies. Paying for something means we’re investing in it. This investment, in turn, can fuel our motivation to do our best to enhance the possibility of harvesting a handsome return.
For instance, if you have to juggle a couple of jobs while simultaneously earning your college degree, you might feel more obligated to actually study the material.
Then there’s the accompanying pride. Affording college without racking up debt means you’re a wise financial manager who is resilient and hard-working. All praiseworthy qualities.
But let’s circle back to psychotherapy. The rationale we’re operating with predicts that you’d pay for something you value—which can then boost your motivation to cherish that very thing.
The above conclusion is exactly what I’ve seen missing in clients who didn’t pay for therapy.
Some skipped their session without giving their therapist the courtesy of an advance cancelation notice. Their insensitivity rankled me—I might’ve been able to book another client during that hour!—but from the client’s perspective, this nonchalance made sense.
Since the client wasn’t responsible to pay for the missed session, why would he or she care about canceling the appointment ahead of time?
There were no consequences anyway—at least none that affected them.
But even when these clients—the ones who had the privilege of having someone else finance their therapy—showed up for their session, they didn’t exert much effort.
For these clients, receiving free therapy might have devalued the worth of the service. Perhaps they classified their therapist as inexperienced, ineffective, or both.
Free Therapy Builds Resentment
I once had the honor of founding a counseling center for the Dream Center—a faith-based non-profit—per their request.
My love for the Lord and His people there compelled me to create the following policy: Dream Center staff were eligible to receive 12 free individual (or couples) therapy sessions. Session #13 and beyond were offered at a sliding scale, based on their income and expenses.
I thought this was a lavish gift. Sadly, I failed to foresee any negative ramifications.
But let’s begin with the positive side. Several staff members took advantage of the above policy. To the degree they benefited from therapy, I’m thankful.
Unfortunately, the same policy also bred resentment, at least for some. These clients felt it was unfair for us to make them reach into their own pockets to continue receiving the same service they used to access at no cost.
I wonder if the policy also left them feeling baited. The free sessions afforded them the chance to bare their souls, sure, but what about the rest of the trauma trapped inside?
When you have so much emotional pain to begin with, which one is better? To sample a sliver of healing—but having to stuff the rest of the turmoil inside, once the freebies are finished—or to never experience any healing at all?
Not sure I have the right answer.
What I do have, however, is the experience of watching how common it was for staff to only attend 12 weeks of (free) therapy.
I’m not blaming them for their decisions, especially because the same outcome followed a similar policy in my private practice.
For a limited time, new clients received a free first session.
Guess what? I can’t remember a single client who took advantage of the offer and then booked the next appointment.
My experience in both arenas—a counseling center and private practice—convinces me that when it comes to therapy, offering unpaid sessions won’t serve anyone much good.
How About Free Advice?
Receiving complementary therapy sessions may not be the way to go, but free advice is a different story.
If you have questions about mental health, relationships, or spirituality, you are welcome to send them my way. I’m teaming up with iBelieve.com to create an advice column, and to that end, I’ll respond to questions I’m qualified to answer in the form of original articles.
However, an advice column is not therapy. My decision to select your question and develop it into an article does not make you my client. This means, unlike therapy, I have no obligation to protect your identity or story.
Even if your email were to include minute details about your situation.
On that note, if you’d like your questions to be considered for publication, please keep it concise. This is not a teletherapy session, and there’s no reason to pour your heart out.
Also, if someone has been abusing you, no need to wait for my advice (or anyone else’s). Please ensure your safety—and any minors under your care—now."
I do not have the wherewithal to respond to every email I receive but stay tuned. You may see your question answered in an article.
Ready? Head here to send me your questions.
Know that I’ll formulate my advice only after seeking the Wonderful Counselor first.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapist, and IFSI-approved clinical consultant. After founding and directing a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, she now devotes her practice to survivors of trauma—including spiritual abuse. If you need her advice, visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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