The primary purposes of seeing a therapist (or counselor, I use the terms interchangeably) can be distilled down into finding freedom and learning about one’s self.
The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilah. It is derived from the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed and the word l’hitpalel, meaning to judge oneself. This surprising word origin provides insight into the purpose of Jewish prayer. The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of God, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, seeing our role in the universe and our relationship to God.
In Christianity and Catholicism, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed the now-ancient practice known as the Prayer of Examen. This prayer involves reflecting on the previous day’s events, becoming aware of God’s presence in them, reviewing the day with gratitude, paying attention to one’s moods and emotions, choosing something about the previous day and praying on it. This practice forces a person to slow down and process events, how they responded, where God is present, and begin to understand one’s triggers, sin, success, fears, etc.
So much of what I do with clients involves helping them to learn about who they are, which is part of the process of growing and living a fulfilling life. God created each of us with specific talents, skills, gifts, and personality quirks to bless others and further his kingdom. So many of us do not take the time to learn about who we are and what makes us tick. Often, it’s easy to pursue the positive traits we have (I have the gift of teaching, I think this way, I’m good at this). What’s harder is taking the time and often painful effort to discover what fears we have, what lies we believe, what we actually like and dislike, and what our priorities are. Similarly, it is default for many people to simply take on the traits/likes/propensities of those around rather than discover what they are all about and who they are.
Self-awareness is a very key piece in learning how to live a fulfilling life. We are constantly growing in to who God created us to be. He gave us an identity, and we ought to give ourselves the space to discover what that is. If we are created for painting, and all we do is go to museums, we are wasting our talents and living in a space of longing and grief that does not have to be reality. Knowing thyself helps us to see our role with others, this world, and with our God. It is a process that can bring up painful feelings and memories, but will ultimately allow one to live with more clarity, peace, and be a rich blessing to others.