19) Safety for the Dangerous | Dr. Helen Noh

'Ever been in therapy? If you have, there is one thing (whether you knew it or not) that made all the healing and recovery possible: safety. Safety is paramount for counsellors, and it's what goes before everyting constructive that happens there. If that's true in the counsellor's office, it's true everywhere else, too: relationships and churches need to be safe if they are to be spaces of healing and learning. In this episode, Mark explores the problem of being safe at the expense of anyone who presents a threat. The church can and must be a safe place - even for the dangerous. And the key to that is embracing change.

Then Mark sits down with Dr. Helen Noh, Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at Tyndale Seminary. Helen addresses some of the stigma around receiving counseling and how to mitigate it, discusses how the gaol of counseling is not just self-discovery but also forgiveness and healing, and shares how she integrates theology and psychology in her teaching and practice. Then she moves into an overview of how we are designed for intimacy, why we hurt each other, how relationships can be our greatest source of healing, and the role the church can play in meeting our deepest needs.


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Notable Quotes from Dr. Helen Noh

"It's important - some of us are planners and we need to plan - but in our planning, do we leave enough space for faith to intervene and God's calling to intervene at times?"

"In LA, it was very cool to have a therapist. Even in the church people were very open about going to counseling - open about their problems and issues and what they're doing about it. I came back to Toronto, and although people were so fascinated by the fact that I studied counseling and that I am a counselor, there was a lot of fear to actually admit that they themselves would love to have counseling."

"[The stigma around counseling] is oftentime rooted in that misconception and even lie that many of us hold that as soon as we become a Christian we should be perfect - as soon as we become a Christian we should have it all together. And so when we do continue to struggle, many times people are, 'Well it's because you have no faith; it's because your faith is weak,' and I've heard countless stories of people who felt that actually it was the church that became the unsafest place for them to share their brokenness and a lot of it rooted in that mindset that once we become saved, once we become justified, we should therefore become close to perfect. And so as a result, feeling some of that condemnation, feeling some of that shame, I find that many people have been begun to almost place that stigma of counseling in the church."

".... We need to break the stigma and shame. But we can't go about it by just hammering it with a hammer and just saying, 'Don't have shame!' But we need to do it in a way that will be safe enough so people will say, 'Okay, I will put one step in the door.' And I find that once that one step is in the door, they're just so much more open and receptive. And so it's from there that I felt like a lot of people began to become open to the idea of counseling because what I really stresses is we're all broken. And being saved doesn't mean that we are suddenly perfect. But we have this process that the Bible talks about of our journey of sanctification, and so we are in the process of becoming. But in that process, we are still going to have our deep wounds and our pains. We're going to still have patterns of brokenness in our thinking and our feeling and our relating. And as we are able to integrate the truth of God's word with our knowledge and understanding of what is broken, then we can really begin to take steps forward tangibly in what Jesus is calling us on this journey of sanctification."

"I think that many times within the church is the fear or even the stigma around psychology and counseling are actually well-founded! I mean some of the earliest founders of psychology were extremely self focused counseling became more about not just learning about myself, but in the process of learning about myself, who do I need to blame for all of my problems and woundedness? And so I've heard many have gone to unqualified or maybe not Christian counselors who come out and say, 'I feel vindicated! I now know going back to my family of origin or whatnot that it is because of my mother or my father that I am the way I am and therefore my counselor has suggested that I cut them off from my life because they are toxic.' And of course the church is going to respond and react to that."

"I share over and over again to my students: it is so important that when you are choosing a counselor, especially as a Christian but even if you're not a Christian, that you do find a counselor who does understand the importance of looking at ourselves, looking at our childhood, looking at our wounds, but that it doesn't stop there. The end goal is not to discover ourselves. The end goal is to discover ourselves so that we can heal and then we can become a healing instrument to others as well and to extend and live out that healing so that now that I recognize where some of my brokenness is that I begin to experience healing and restoration in that so that I can go and then find reconciliation in some of my broken relationships - so that I can extend forgiveness to someone who may have hurt me."

"As Christians, we know that it is through Christ we are able to experience the deepest levels of healing. Psychology and counseling provide us with amazing tools that can help us understand our broken thought patterns, help us understand some of our broken emotional experiences, help us to understand some of why we may react in very maladaptive patterns of behavior - even relating. Psychology can provide us with wonderful insight; counseling can provide us with wonderful tools."

"Ultimately to be able to experience... that kind of freedom and some of those bondages and some of those deep deep wounds, I believe that it is only through Christ that we can experience that. But at the same time, there are many other layers that we can still experience healing that counseling really does provide."

"...Whether you are a Christian or not, I will still see you as a precious person created in the image of God and we may see some of your broken patterns and I'll address them for what they are, but I won't see that as something that is to be shamed, to be condemned, that cannot be worked on."

"Right off at the beginning of Genesis…  Adam and Eve were both naked and they were unashamed. And I think this really talks about the original design of not only the human person but human person in relationship with one another. Intimacy. That kind of nakedness implies intimacy. That intimacy that says, 'I'm fully known by you -  I fully know you and you fully know me -  and there is no shame. There is no need to cover. And even knowing both your strengths and your weaknesses, knowing both your successes and your deepest failures, I still accept you for who you are.' That was our original design."

"We are still called to be in relationship with one another, but we're also still broken. And so we're not inherently any longer safe people because we are still broken. We still have our own judgments..., but I believe that when we are able to really become safe people - as we experience Christ's covering over us and we know that we are no longer needing to be in shame and condemnation, we can then extend that to others. And what that safety does is it allows that person to experience a place where they can slowly begin to remove the fig leaves that have been covering them."

"When the wounds are very deep, when the shame is very deep, when the world has said, 'That's right - you are condemned for those shames and sins,' how much more so people are looking for and craving that kind of safety where they can remove those fig leaves?"

"I definitely believe that the church should be a safe community and a place where people who are broken can not only enter, not only find safety to remove the fig leaves, but also to experience God's healing in that process. But at the same time, I recognize the church is also made up of very broken and sinful people. And so to have that expectation is only going to set everyone up for disappointment."

"...I do believe that yes, the churches need to be moving towards becoming what God in Christ talks about in the New Testament as being a body. When one member weeps, we all weep. When one member is in pain, we are all in pain. We are not the ones to turn our finger and point to them and judge them - that we are to be a community, that we just don't listen to the messages on Sunday, but as those messages are convicting us and we're trying to walk out the truth in our everyday life, we have brothers and sisters around us who will walk with us, who will pray for us, that when we fall, they will be the first to come and pick us up again. I genuinely believe that the church must and is called to be that kind of place because we see it right from the New Testament."

"I think we are all looking for relationships where there is acceptance, there is empathy, there is that walking alongside a person. We are all longing for that."

"At the core we've been created so profoundly relational, although relationships can be the greatest source of our pain, some of the greatest source of why we get wounded. But when we experience such beautiful and healing and authentic relationships, it can be the greatest source of our healing."

"Whether it is in the context of counseling, whether it is in the context of church, whether it is in the context of our everyday life, we need one another and we really do grow through our relationships with one another."

Next Week's Episode 20

Guest: Dr. Brian Walsh, professor and author