Hamish (false name)

I initially approached Dove because I wanted counselling from a Christian perspective. I'd had a breakdown over ten years previously, then a second breakdown a few years after that. I had struggled to get my life back together ever since while battling depression and major anxiety.


Throughout those years I'd seen Counsellors, Psychologists, a Psychiatrist and Occupational Health Therapist and while most were helpful in some way I never felt I left with a sense of being better equipped to deal with my life. While I have no problem with secular counselling if it is professional and reputable, I had never felt understood from the perspective of my Christian faith where my identity was formed.


l was forty-six years old and felt my life was slipping away from me, I could either resign myself to the rest of my life in a sense of despair and isolation, or I could take the necessary steps to have a life again. I finally decided if I was to live again I had to have counselling founded on the Christian faith I identified with so much.


Approaching Dove through their website was a step of faith as I had no idea what they were like. I knew that just because something is advertised as being Christian doesn't automatically mean they will be helpful. However, I had prayed that God would lead me to Christian counselling which would be neutral, non-judgemental and not based solely on one denominational way of thinking. I was not attending church because of the effects of ill health and was quite reclusive, finding socialising in any context difficult so finding help through a church community wasn't an option and an internet search was virtually my only way forward.


The first impression I had was of genuineness, that these people cared with a genuine empathy. They were actually listening and weren’t simply going to trot out standard mechanical responses I’d heard a hundred times before. From years of therapy I had learned to detect fairly quickly whether someone was genuinely interested or just going through the motions. I quickly sensed genuineness at Dove.


In fact one of the strengths of their counsellors was that although I was there for counselling, the warmth I felt from the outset put me at ease straight away and it felt very informal and friendly. Being prone to acute anxiety, the state of being at ease and feeling relaxed and comfortable is not easy for me. Yet at Dove it honestly felt more like chatting with friends than counsellors even though I had never met them before. I immediately felt a sense of approachability from them, that I need not fear opening up to them, and that I could say anything, no matter how serious or silly it sounded to me, and it would be taken seriously.


This was crucial as I had long held things in which sounded somewhat bizarre even to me. Dove helped remove barriers to me opening up as I am both an introvert and quite a private person. As I prayed before the sessions I felt God saying to me that nothing was off limits, I could talk about anything. Being a semi academic person I had studied the atheist/faith/science debate where, from a secular perspective, scientific rationality reigns and anything remotely supernatural is laughed out of the room (ignoring the fact that many great scientists are also Christian). I think that secular thinking had probably shaped me more than I liked to admit because I was so wary of saying things out loud that might sound strange.


Nonetheless, remembering God had told me nothing was off limits, I shared some things that I thought sounded weird and Dove listened and, to my surprise, responded as though what I'd said was the most natural thing in the world. The sense I had was not only that Dove took me seriously but that God took me seriously and wanted to help me move forward in my life. The Bible says we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds and I knew moving forward meant changes in the way I thought about some things, correcting harmful thoughts that had developed within my mind and learning how to allow God access to every area of my life.


It is no small thing to be able to be completely honest with someone and tell them anything and trust that they will listen honestly, take your words seriously and only have the desire to help you without any agenda of their own other than enhancing your own walk with God.


Through the counselling I learned to look back and forgive myself and others. There were times and experiences in the past which were still affecting me far more than I realised or admitted to myself. I realised I was carrying around with me things from my past which deprived me of experiencing God in the present. For years I had held onto attitudes that were holding me back rather than helping me flourish. One belief I held was that I had to work towards experiencing God again at some point in the future. Years ago I had felt alive while preaching in churches. I had not felt this since my breakdown and I felt I could not feel alive in God again unless and until I preached again and this would not happen for maybe years to come, if at all. Thus I would not feel alive in God again for years and effectively closed the door to experiencing God in the joy he promised in my life now.

Dove listened and gently pointed some things out to me and I learned how to experience God in the here and now rather than some future occasion I'd have to work towards. The thought of the work it would take to experience God again in the future had felt exhausting and hampered my daily living now but Dove taught me that God was there for me right now.


In truth these were things I already knew in theory but the Dove counsellors helped me move beyond the theory to actual experience. I had attended various theological institutions, gained degree level academic qualifications and admittedly considered myself fairly well informed on Christian theology. I admit it took a while for me to accept that I didn't know it all, that my theological thinking was just that, mine, at times badly filtered by my own reasoning and not necessarily what God was actually saying. I had allowed my own faulty thoughts to prevent me experiencing God in the here and now. When I submitted my mind and heart to God to become teachable, then I felt an inner sense of God's Spirit working within me, something I hadn't felt for a long time.


There were also areas of my life which I had never understood, or had only ever had one understanding of and carried that understanding for years. The Dove counsellors helped me see that there could be different perspectives, perspectives which proved a revelation to me and shone a new light onto things that had always puzzled me. It is both strange and thrilling when one moment's revelation can alter in a second the puzzlement of many many years. On one particular occasion it was like chains falling off and a new dawn arising, a new way of looking at something which changed everything.


They asked me at the start what I wanted to achieve from the sessions. It's something I hadn't really considered (which sounds strange even to me now!) and it took me awhile to conclude that I wanted to be happy, to experience joy again as I couldn't honestly remember the last time I had been happy. Although a Christian I had a distinct lack of joy in my life and through the counselling faced up to barriers and areas of my life which, sometimes unwittingly, I had closed off to God and I learned how to open myself up and invite God to grow in me once more. I learned some prayers for dealing with things I used to let dwell in me for a long time. I confess it had troubled me that I was a Christian, believed God's Spirit was within me, yet I had felt little happiness or joy.


One of the things which struck me most about the sessions was that beforehand I had sometimes thought I knew what I wanted to talk about yet when I arrived I found myself talking about different things. Yet they seemed right. I believe that was God, in answer to prayer and in the safety of the counselling environment, guiding my thoughts to areas he knew needed addressing.


More often than not, after a counselling session had finished, I left with a song in my heart and on my lips. That might not happen with everyone but it did with me. It was confirmation that God was in the process. God was here where he hadn't been in such an immediate way previously, or rather he had always been available to me but I had not always been open and honest enough to allow him space in my life. When I gave him the space, I found a song in my heart. This has stayed with me and through my Bible readings, especially Psalms and Isaiah, it has struck me how much praise and worship via singing are a natural response to God's love for and care over us.


During the time I spent being counselled I separately received a diagnosis of Adult Autism. I had been referred by my Doctor for an Autism appraisal. This diagnosis was in itself life changing and is something I am keen to learn more about and how it relates to my Christian faith. I have found some though not a huge amount of literature on the subject.

As I said at the start, after years of counselling, therapy etc, I came to the point where I knew I wanted to speak to someone who understood me from the perspective of my Christian faith. I believe this was crucial. What was equally important was to find counselling that didn't force a denominational view of God onto me or pressurise me but let me find God for myself. I can thoroughly recommend Dove, they both listened and spoke to me with sensitivity, seriousness, humour and a gentleness which I have found rare in other therapeutic sessions I have attended.