Why do people feel the need to go to counsellors and therapists? I used to be one, so people often ask me this. At one level, it’s because people are in need of advice and insight—their marriage is struggling, they are deeply depressed, they don’t know how to discipline their children… However, in my experience, advice is not always what people want. Many end up going to a qualified stranger for one very simple reason: to be known. They want to share their life in a safe place and have another human being know their story and accept them. Isn’t this why we desire close friendships and marriage? To be known and accepted by another? The human psyche deeply craves to be understood.
A friend of mine once scribbled a short poem on a polystyrene coffee cup and gave it to me after church. He wrote, “If I could find a world where I would understand people who understood me, then I would be happy”. Being at church among God’s people fulfilled that longing for him (although only in part). That longing is also part of the reason for self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous: they provide a place where you can tell your story to people who have walked in your shoes and who share your struggles, knowing that they will understand and not condemn you.
We all want to be understood. You may know what it’s like to have someone carefully listen to you and then thoughtfully reflect back their understanding of what you have said. Your instinctive response is to say, “That is exactly how I feel!” You can almost judge how well you listen to others by how often you hear that response. It shows you understand.
I think of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well. When she returned to her village, she called people to “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did” (John 4:29). Normally it would be terrifying to meet such a man, but for her it was absolutely thrilling. With five marriages behind her she finally met the man of her dreams, who just happened to be the Messiah.
We were built to be known, and in Psalm 139 we discover the mighty, wonderful counsellor God, who knows us inside out and outside in.