In 2008, Family Life Ministries produced an article that introduced the four levels of counseling issues. Those categories help provide “shelves” for organizing problems that people face and the impact of those struggles.
Because I have benefited from this article I am posting most of its contents. I trust you will likewise find it helpful. It is as follows.
Every marriage and family has problems, but sometimes those problems seem so difficult that it seems impossible to address them—at least with your knowledge and in your own power. In this article, we’d like to help you evaluate your issue to help you determine if professional counseling is needed.
There are actually several levels of problems in a home. And different options are available for each level.
Level One: Basic issues or problems
Are you facing issues in your family that stem from things like selfishness, pride, or a lack of knowledge about how to make a marriage relationship work or how to raise your children? Here are some examples:
Difficulty in resolving conflicts in marriage
Consistent lying in a young or pre-teen child
Young child repeatedly throws fits to get their way
Little or no deeper communication with spouse
Misunderstandings about your sexual relationship in your marriage
Poor habits in handling finances
This is not a complete list, just examples of some basic issues. If problems like these describe your situation, then you can begin right now seeking answers. One of the first places you should consider seeking help is your pastor or elder in your church. Often, these leaders are familiar with books, audio or video resources, or knowledge of conferences that can meet your needs. We believe that God wants to use the leaders of your local church to meet the needs of those under their watch-care. Check with them first.
You also may have friends or neighbors who have read or used various resources to learn how to deal with many basic issues. Don’t forget to check with your friends or an older couple in your church who have successfully raised children or been married for decades.
Remember that family problems are the norm, not the exception. Don’t get frustrated because your children are not listening and obeying you; or your husband or wife does not seem to understand you. It happens to every couple or family at some point. Be encouraged, too, that you are seeking help or answers to these issues before they get out of control.
Level Two: More serious problems
Do you feel that your problems go beyond basic issues but are not yet out of control? For example:
The communication breakdown between you and your spouse is acute.
Not sure that the two of you are still in love.
Other things seem more important to one or both of you than your marriage or family—jobs, hobbies, etc.
One of you handles most of the discipline of children.
A teenager is becoming more and more difficult to manage.
Frustration is a prevailing emotion over issues in your family life.
If these examples cause you to say, “Yes, that is exactly what I have been thinking;” then shout! There is a lot of help for you. One of the first things to consider is one of the many conferences that are available to give you answers and even the tools or plan to change your marriage or home.
Level Three: Desperation
What if you are at your wits end and you don’t think your marriage or family can survive unless something drastic happens. You feel a sense of desperation that things will never change in your marriage or family. You may truly need professional counseling. Are your issues like these:
All or most of the communication between you and your spouse ends in anger or hurt feelings
Physical intimacy is non-existent or nearly so
The routine of life keeps you going, not being fulfilled or full of joy
One or both of you think about separation or divorce
A child is in full rebellion
Issues of sex, drugs, or alcohol touch your teen’s life
You feel like a single parent even though you are still married
These and other serious issues indicate that problems are chronic. The issue(s) may have been growing in your family for months or years. You feel as though the problem is your constant companion. At times, you think the situation is hopeless.
If you are a believer, then you should never be without hope—our hope rests in Jesus Christ who is alive and interceding for us. However, even a believer can be overwhelmed for a time by the circumstances of life.One of the best things you can do right now is find 3 or 4 men or women (match your gender) who will pray with and for you as you seek God’s guidance and seek counseling. This will help bring peace and hope back to your heart and soul.
A Christian counselor is trained and committed to helping people like you that honestly don’t know where to begin or how to proceed to see life return to normal.
Level Four: Crisis
If you have already filed for separation or divorce, and one or both of you has completely given up on the marriage. We consider this a crisis, and you need to contact someone immediately. Also, talk to your pastor or elder; find a resource that can begin to reshape your perspective; find some close friends, spiritually mature, to pray with and for you; and actively pursue counseling, conflict coaching, or mediation.
Use any of these factors to move you to seek counseling quickly:
Separation or divorce is in process
An affair is active or recently ended
Pornography has a hold in your life or spouse’s life
A teen talks of suicide
You have lost control of your teen
You are sure your teen is abusing drugs and/or alcohol
If you truly believe that you are at this point in your marriage or family, we urge you to seek help quickly. Again, begin with your pastor or elder and ask them for a referral to a counselor.
As you reach out for help, don’t forget to ask your pastor, elder, and close friends to pray for you and your family. This is a crucial time in your life and facing crises often demands hope. We believe that true hope comes from an understanding that God is in control.
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Dr. Les Morgan is Director of Royal Palm Ministries in Ft. Myers. He is a pastor & a counselor.