Pathways Counseling

Counseling & Therapy

Grace-Based Counseling, Focused on You

Pathways Counseling offers licensed clinical services to children, individuals, couples and families. Utilizing your strengths, our professionally licensed therapists will help you overcome your challenges and achieve personal goals. We understand that every person is unique with differing life experiences, struggles and patterns. With that in mind, we tailor each counseling session to meet your individual needs.

To help you achieve the best results, our counselors take a holistic approach to treatment, fully addressing all mental, physical and spiritual conditions as they relate to your struggles. We will make referrals to address any areas outside our scope of practice in an effort to help you reach your overall goals.

Compassionate Care for Individuals and Families

The following is a partial list of counseling concerns we address:

  • Depression & Anxiety
  • Marriage and Couples
  • Premarital Counseling
  • Parenting
  • Blended Families
  • Grief and Loss
  • Divorce Care
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • ADHD
  • Self-Harm
  • Spiritual Struggles
  • Caregiver Burnout
  • Career Concerns
  • Stage of Life Concerns
  • Behavioral Issues
NOTE: This info may change

Our Counselors

SWANSEA
Mark McCormick, MA, LCPC
Director of Clinical Services

“I have worked with BCHFS for 12 years; first as a contractual therapist for Pathways Counseling, then as director of Metro East Pathways, and currently as Director of Clinical Services for BCHFS. My favorite part of this job is being a helper to the helpers. Before coming to BCHFS I worked in BJC Outpatient clinics as a medical psychotherapist. I received my Master of Counseling degree from Covenant Presbyterian Seminary in St. Louis, MO. My wife and I have 2 great kids, and one adorable and hilarious granddaughter named Emma Marie.”

John Boyd, MA, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

Kendahl Cambridge, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

MARYVILLE

John Boyd, MA, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

WOOD RIVER | CHATHAM | LITCHFIELD | CARLINVILLE
Molly Ondrey, MA, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Molly is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with over 18 years of clinical experience in the counseling profession. She currently holds an Undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Graduate Degree in Counseling. Molly works with children, adolescents, and adults; utilizing a variety of treatment options specific to the client’s needs. Molly is familiar with various theoretical orientations but primarily utilizes cognitive-behavioral strategies, psycho-education, and solution-focused counseling in her practice.

EFFINGHAM
Amy Levine, MA, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

“My name is Amy Levine. I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with a Master of Arts in Psychology from Eastern Illinois University. I have been in practice for over 20 years. I help clients to hear and understand the Holy Spirit’s guidance, so they can deepen their relationship with God, and navigate life with His wisdom and grace. I provide counseling services to individual children and adults, couples, and families.”

VANDALIA
Beth Hoffman, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Beth has been a mental health therapist for Pathways Counseling since 2007. Beth holds a Master of Science degree in community counseling from Eastern Illinois University. Beth is licensed with the state of Illinois as Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She has experience working with adults, teens and children. Beth is experienced with family counseling as well as marriage/couples counseling. Grief/loss, depressed mood, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks, stress and issues surrounding marriage, parenting and family life are all areas in which Beth is knowledgeable. She is a provider for several insurance companies. Beth has presented trainings at conferences and for other agencies and churches on marriage, stress, and parenting.

Amber Smith, MA, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Amber Smith is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with a BS in Social Work from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a MS in Community Counseling from Eastern Illinois University. She has over 20 years of experience in the mental health serving all age groups providing individual, family, group, and couples counseling. Amber specializes and has interests in depression, bipolar, anxiety, adjustment disorders, grief and loss, stress reduction, and life difficulties. She has a diverse therapeutic approach using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, and psychoeducation.

SALEM
Beth Hoffman, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Beth has been a mental health therapist for Pathways Counseling since 2007. Beth holds a Master of Science degree in community counseling from Eastern Illinois University. Beth is licensed with the state of Illinois as Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She has experience working with adults, teens and children. Beth is experienced with family counseling as well as marriage/couples counseling. Grief/loss, depressed mood, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks, stress and issues surrounding marriage, parenting and family life are all areas in which Beth is knowledgeable. She is a provider for several insurance companies. Beth has presented trainings at conferences and for other agencies and churches on marriage, stress, and parenting.

Lindsey Lash, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
CARMI
Guy L. Williams, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

“I am a licensed clinical professional counselor and a national board-certified counselor with professional memberships with the American Counseling Association and the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. I have over 20 years of experience providing therapy to individuals, groups, couples and families. I worked at UCCS as an Adult Counselor and the Adult Care Coordinator. I also was the Aftercare Therapist at BCHFS. I worked in private practice with Gary Lemmon & Associates, Inc. as well as in intensive outpatient programs for the geriatric population in Eldorado and McLeansboro, Illinois. I have a master’s degree in educational psychology/marriage and family therapy from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. My wife and I have been married over 39 years and have three adult children, and three grandchildren, who call me ‘Guypa’.”

Oma Rice, MSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

MCLEANSBORO

Guy L. Williams, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

“I am a licensed clinical professional counselor and a national board-certified counselor with professional memberships with the American Counseling Association and the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. I have over 20 years of experience providing therapy to individuals, groups, couples and families. I worked at UCCS as an Adult Counselor and the Adult Care Coordinator. I also was the Aftercare Therapist at BCHSF. I worked in private practice with Gary Lemmon & Associates, Inc. as well as in intensive outpatient programs for the geriatric population in Eldorado and McLeansboro, Illinois. I have a master’s degree in educational psychology/marriage and family therapy from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. My wife and I have been married over 39 years and have three adult children, and three grandchildren, who call me ‘Guypa’.”

BENTON
Oma Rice, MSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

HARRISBURG

Oma Rice, MSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
MT. VERNON
Dan Boehmer, MA, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Helpful Counseling Articles

Anxiety in Difficult Times

Question: We’re a month into the Coronavirus pandemic, without much sign of this “new normal” letting up for a while. Can you give me spiritual advice for this long-haul journey?

 

Answer: I am writing this to myself as much as I’m writing it to you. It’s understandable we may be anxious or uncertain about our futures in times like these. Fact is, most of us have never been through times like these. I can’t remember a time in my life when the basic fundamentals—health, finances, and human interaction—were simultaneously held by such a brittle thread.

   It’s easy to panic right now; every day, sometimes every hour, the news grows worse. But, let’s take a collective breath and remember who gave us breath. We serve a God who is bigger than the sum of our fears. He is the architect of Good News, and the only one who can save us. He is the giver of life and the source of hope; his grace is boundless and his love is without limitation. 

   As we struggle not to drift into fear, as we feel ourselves being pulled into the gathering shadows, God is with us. He is our strength in times like these, and our light in the darkness.

   Apart from him there is no light, and “hope” is a word without meaning. Government, political division, and broken promises will not serve as balm to our weary minds, our troubled spirits, or our failing bodies. It’s Christ alone who is here to give us breath, strength, and provision. He alone is trustworthy.

   If we still ourselves long enough, he is here to quietly remind us of countless rescues, and of times we have been pulled from harm. God’s record of deliverance is spotless, his promises remain unbroken, and his rescues always seem to come just in the nick of time. 

   So, I encourage you (and myself) to model his grace to all those we encounter, and to remember who he is; and in doing so, remember who he has created us to be. We are already saved; we are full of his Holy Spirit. What could possibly be better than that, in times like these?

 

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the April 6, 2020 issue.

 

Family Under Pressure

Question: Our family has been stuck at home for most of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve enjoyed the extra time together, but lately I’ve noticed our nerves are fraying. Lots of bickering and rolled eyes, and not just from the children. Any ideas for teaching our kids how to be gracious and forgiving toward each other, while reminding our adult selves to do the same?

Answer: Hopefully I can bring some context to your problems at home. As parents it is understandable you feel claustrophobic, needing space and freedom, while battling the guilt that comes from wishing you could just run away from home, if only for an hour. We’re facing new questions, like will the kids go back to school? And should they? Meanwhile, the world outside our homes seems darkened by a massive cloud of grief.

Imagine your former self (one year ago) hearing that more than 400,000 Americans would be dead from a brand-new viral pandemic; millions would be out of work, and our country would be as divided and contentious as ever. Imagine learning we could no longer hug our friends, attend a wedding, sit with a dying parent, or attend church. And while processing all the above information, realizing that many of the problems we had prior to the pandemic, remain.

So, cut yourself some slack. In the face of everything going on outside your front door, I would say you are doing pretty well.

We can tolerate a few eye rolls, and withstand a bit of bickering. You ask for ideas for teaching your kids how to be gracious and forgiving. This is a question you already know the answer to: model it. Be honest and apologize for your part of the problem.

I might also suggest a family Bible study on the meaning of the words grace and mercy. We use these two words interchangeably, but many of us have difficulty articulating the difference between them. Simply put, grace is God giving a blessing to those who don’t deserve it. Mercy is God withholding his wrath from those who do deserve it.

Knowing this difference will forever enhance your children’s understanding of Scripture, and it might just help them (and us) be less cynical and more accepting of those who suffer around us.

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the September 1, 2020 issue.

 

Don't Grieve Alone

Question: As a pastor, I’ve walked with families through grief many times. But not ever this much at once. I’m struggling to keep my own head above water. Any insights?

Answer: We should probably refer to the emotions we are feeling now as “griefs,” rather than simply grief. The griefs we feel related to COVID-19 are complicated; we are grieving the loss of our way of life, the loss of loved ones, and unknown future loss. The most overwhelming grief of all is anticipatory grief, and anticipatory grief is really anxiety. 

Why is it so important to have names for our emotions? If we can name a feeling and identify its source, we can begin our work of healing and recovery. A friend of mine has come to accept the losses he anticipates this year by naming this “the year of loss.” That’s truly sad, but I think it can be helpful to give context to the times we are in. After all, people are doing that all around us. 

How many times in the last few weeks have you heard “these unprecedented times” or “our new normal?” We have all heard the phrase “desperate times call for desperate measures.” These are desperate times, and desperate measures have been taken. Both of which beg to be grieved.

In your question you say, referring to your current level of grief, “not ever this much at once.” Correct you are. Many of us have not experienced grief so complicated as this. Those who have had more than their fair share of past suffering know all too well how long it takes to recover. You say you are struggling to keep your head above water. It is important to remember that your head is being held above water for one reason only: you are doing the Lord’s work, the work he has called you to do. He is sustaining you, and protecting you in your service to others, right this minute. 

To keep fighting that good fight, we must take care of our bodies and minds. We know we can rest in Jesus, and find support from those he has placed in our lives to prop us up. I appreciate you for setting an example here by reaching out and asking for help. I know how hard that can be. This is an opportunity to help and receive help from your fellow pastors. After all, who would know better what you are going through? And who could benefit most from your help? 

Pathways Counseling is currently offering IBSA pastors and their wives three structured Telehealth sessions of anxiety counseling free of charge to help meet their immediate needs. Contact us at (618) 382-4164.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the May 1, 2020 issue.

 

Don't Limit God

Question: A counselor once encouraged me to build on my strengths, rather than my weaknesses. But isn’t an awareness of my sin part of being a Christian? I want to improve as a husband, father, and a believer. How can I balance building on my strengths while acknowledging my limitations? 

Answer: Strength is a gift from God. It seems reasonable and wise to use our God-given strengths and abilities to overcome weakness. Most people coming to a counselor have no problem acknowledging their limitations; in fact, it’s usually their only focus. If we deny God is working to strengthen us, misery becomes a cold comfort. Your counselor was likely attempting to help you overcome (or avoid developing) a negative bias.  

What is negative bias? It develops over time as we focus on, and string together, a series of negative life events. This myopic, “stinking thinking” becomes our God-limiting, self-defeating autobiography. While focusing exclusively on the negative hurtful events in this alternative life story, we become blind to how wonderfully blessed we are. Our hopeful thoughts of peace and gratitude surface just long enough to be quickly drowned out by fear.  

People with a negative bias may also mislabel their every human struggle as sin. The familiar verse Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Dan Doriani of Covenant Seminary makes this helpful observation. “There are two points here: we are all sinners, and, we are all inglorious.” While all sin is inglorious, not all ingloriousness is necessarily sinful. Much of our grief, illness, and human frailty is simply inglorious. The takeaway is this: We have all sinned more than we know, and, God’s grace is too deep to fathom.

Trusting God and daily accepting his gift of grace, while leaning on his strength, is our best defense against sin, and our only hope for change. He is the strength we build upon. As the old hymn states, “All other ground is sinking sand.” 

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the December 9, 2019 issue.

 

Finding Common Ground

Question: Our parenting decisions have caused some tension with family members who have different views on what’s best for kids, specifically ours. How can we communicate that we value our own childhoods, but feel compelled to go in a different direction sometimes? 

Answer: Most likely, your parents were parented differently than they parented you. Your children will parent differently than you parented them. These changes can be a good thing, if each generation strives to model Jesus to their children. Unfortunately, the number of perfect parents in any generation is roughly zero. In an effort not to repeat the mistakes of our parents, our reactionary pendulum may swing too far in the opposite direction. For example, the child of overly controlling parents may become too permissive with their own children.

In your case, it sounds like you are seeking a healthy, balanced approach to change. You recognize that even with the most nurturing parents, there is still room for improvement. So, what about the conversation? Here are some practical tips to consider before entering the room with your parents for the big talk:

In preparation for your meeting, pray to be both present and wise. It is helpful to visualize your children having a similar conversation with you someday. Ask yourself how you would feel on the receiving end of such a conversation, and what it would take for you to feel respected in the situation.

Try to find common ground, spending 75% of the time affirming them and actively listening. The remaining 25% of the time together should be spent addressing the issues you need to discuss. Approach your family humbly, be gracious, and make your needs clearly known. Be aware this is not the time to vent your frustrations; this is the time to set boundaries based on biblical family priorities.

Try to enter the conversation with a wide berth of expectations, being aware this may be one of more conversations to come. Yes, this will require a fair amount of preparation; your goal is to enter the conversation in peace, and to leave it in peace.

Your parenting choices may be challenged for some time following these conversations; however, in time, things will become easier as you, your family, and your children enjoy the rewards of more cohesive God-honoring family relationships. 

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the September 30, 2019 issue.

 

Get Ahead of Holiday Drama

Question: It’s almost Thanksgiving, and I’m dreading dinner at my parents’ house. We have deep political and religious differences, and somehow can’t seem to stay away from those topics when we’re all together. I want to be “salt and light” when I’m with them. How do I know when to speak up and when to keep the peace?

Answer: Have you noticed, when we go home for the holidays, how easy it is to slip back into old patterns of relating and behaving? I sometimes find myself sitting in the same chair at the dinner table that I sat in 40 years ago. You may find this difficult to believe but the problem you’re describing is so common, there’s a counseling technique designed to help you. We call it “taking the observer role.”

I once had a client who was so consumed with preventing hurt feelings and managing the conversation, his holidays were exhausting. He had become the self-appointed clown in the room. We call this a control distortion. He believed he had the power to control the conversation, that it was his job to save Christmas! I gently reminded him that Christmas was already saved. 

When he took the observer role, he watched the family dynamic with some distance and learned to listen more and talk less. He learned to have more grace and less fear of losing control. He left the holiday table in peace, loving his family more. In his words, he stepped out of the center ring of the circus and enjoyed the show as a viewer, instead of a clown himself. 

Here are a few guidelines: Be more light than salt. Grace is often more convicting than confrontation. Look for common ground; find things you agree on to discuss. There will be more common ground than you expect. Let the people you disagree with do the grandstanding.

In the end, our time together as family is precious. We are not guaranteed an infinite amount of time together in this world. Spend the time you have offering support and modeling Christ’s love to those you hold dear. Step out of the center ring.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the October 21, 2019 issue.

 

Grief That Won't Let Go

Question: My mother-in-law died a year ago, and my wife is still really struggling with her absence. We know she’s in heaven, but my wife depended on her mom to be a sounding board and encouragement in ways I can’t replicate. How should a Christian deal with grief that just won’t seem to fade?

Answer: One problem with grief is that there are no clearly defined timeframes for recovery. It sounds like your wife and her mother had a wonderfully blessed relationship. Your wife probably feels as if her mother took a part of her with her when she left.

We’re all told the first year is the hardest, and I agree that each holiday, birthday, and season change apart from our loved one feels cruel and unrelenting. Sometimes, the second year isn’t much better; at best, it just isn’t much worse. As we stumble from darkness to light there is an uncomfortable period in between, when we experience hope and hopelessness together. These two disparate emotions cause considerable emotional friction.

Imagine hope and hopelessness as two giant turning mechanical cog wheels. When the two cogs move too closely together, the intersecting collision sparks anxiety. However exhausting and confusing this grey ambivalent period is, it is an important and necessary part of the healing process. The light will come. There is enormous comfort and joy knowing your mother-in-law is in the presence of Jesus right now, right this very minute. Vital to recovery is collecting these sporadic glimmers of God’s light, minute by minute; gather each precious memory, gratefully holding tight to his promises.

I imagine you have your own complicated grief. You have lost a treasured mother-in-law and your wife as you once knew her. With God’s help, your wife will return to you, but she must return to herself first. Too often we put grief on a scale and compare one person’s grief to another’s. This is a mistake. You both are grieving; I encourage you to discuss your grief with each other without worrying that she is grieving more.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the September 9, 2019 issue.

Guidance for a Struggling Son

Question: Our college-age son is making major decisions we don’t agree with, including dropping out of school. He’s technically an adult, but we’re worried the things he’s doing are going to negatively affect his life. How can we maintain healthy boundaries and also help him? 

Answer: Thankfully, statistics show us that Millennials choosing to drop out of school and purposefully underperform are the exception rather than the norm. Most young adults are working hard to provide for themselves whether they choose college or not. The “failure to launch” stereotype of the disengaged Millennial basement dweller is too common to label an urban myth, but has been greatly exaggerated. I am assuming your son is single without children, which in his situation makes every problem less complicated for everyone, especially as you repeatedly ask yourself whether you’re helping or enabling him.

Sometimes our adult children need our assistance to help set them on their feet again. God does that for me most days. It isn’t enabling to help him financially (if you are able) in his pursuit of growth. For example, you could offer to assist with job training, school, or work supplies. Helping becomes enabling when you teach him you are responsible for the consequences of his poor choices.

This is not the time to underestimate the importance of maintaining your relationship with your son. Maintaining a close relationship with our children, especially when we disagree with their choices, is most important, and should never be considered enabling. He must never sense you are withholding your love, even while you are withholding money or struggling to enforce healthy boundaries.

This difficult balancing act is hard to imagine possible apart from God’s intervention. Your conversation with your son should remain open, and reflect the grace God has shown you. If the conversation remains ongoing you will have the opportunity to ask some really important questions, such as whether he might be depressed, whether God feels distant, if he’s feeling overwhelmed or anxious, and how you can pray for him. Based on his answers, together as a family you may help him seek counseling and Christian mentorship.

Watching his friends and former classmates succeed may be the psychological push that eventually gets him off the couch. No one of any age enjoys feeling left behind. However, people with serious depression, grief, or anxiety often have difficulty discerning God’s encouragement to move, grow, and to enjoy life.  Your relationship with your son and his relationship with God can help him focus on his future and discern God’s will for his life.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the December 1, 2020 issue.

What is Counseling like?

Question: I’ve been thinking about going to a counselor to work on some things I’ve been going through, but I have no idea what to expect. Can you give me an idea of how this works? Will I be judged?

Answer: I’m not surprised at your confusion. Your exposure to counseling may be limited to what you have seen on TV or in a movie. Those counselors ask their clients to lie on a couch. They give advice. They ask, “How does that make you feel?” In reality, I give advice only in matters of client safety, my office doesn’t have a couch, and I have yet to ask anyone, “How does that make you feel?” 

When our clients arrive for counseling on their first visit, there are two important questions they must answer:

  1. Why are you here?
  2. If counseling is successful, how will things be different?

In the process of answering these questions, the client creates a baseline. First, this is where they are now—the struggles, losses, and unrealized potential. The answer to the second question reveals where they would like their journey to take them. The counselor and client then work together to build a bridge between questions one and two, between where they are, and where they want to be.

This bridge is the dynamic adventure of counseling: slippery inclines, crumbling footholds, and the rocky road home. This journey is often as long as it is difficult, and if successful, equal parts pain and growth. On this perilous and exhilarating bridge, our unhealthy patterns and past meanderings are revealed. We learn to accept, forgive, and to experience the goodness of God.

Our goal is to approach our clients in the way Jesus comes to us. He meets us where we are in our struggles, he hears our prayers, and he listens. God is the judge of our human failing and poor choices; this is not the work of a human counselor. After all, you have come to counseling for help, to admit you have a problem, not to be judged. God comes to us, speaks truth to us, and guides us from where we are to where he wants us to be. Along the way, if counseling is successful, we realize Jesus is not limited to waiting for us at the finish line. He is our bridge.

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the October 1, 2020 issue.

 

Is a Secular Support Group a Good Idea?

Question: I think I need to find a grief support group, but none of the groups in my community are faith-based. Is there value in a support group where we won’t talk about Jesus?

Answer: I’m sorry for your loss. When we suffer life’s inevitable losses, grief groups offer us a needed sense of community and support. I’m pleased you are looking for a good group to attend. We are designed to grow and heal in the context of community, and with God’s help, I think you will find comfort there.

I believe you may be pleasantly surprised how your neighbors, Christians and non-Christians alike, will love you and come alongside you at this difficult time. Our non-Christian neighbors love the people they have lost and love their families as much as we do. Hopefully you’re able to talk about how Jesus is your strength, and why faith is important to you.

It’s wise not to assume that only faith-based groups are friendly or welcoming to Christians. We should also be careful not to assume that God isn’t blessing the work being done in groups unaffiliated with churches. God is everywhere, and if a group is a good one, God is behind that goodness. Of course, all groups (Christian and non-Christian) vary in quality and may or may not be a good fit for you. I encourage you to attend the group, give it a chance, and see if it feels safe and supportive.

Another important consideration is whether the group might be a place where you serve others. Good groups are places of give and take, and mutual support. This may be an opportunity for your non-Christian neighbors to hear about Jesus.

Your question is a familiar one. I am asked similar questions on a weekly basis, questions like, “Can you recommend a Christian psychiatrist?” “Do you know where I can find a Christian primary care doctor?” “Do you know of a Christian surgeon?” While I understand this kind of question, and value the support of fellow Christians, I also know that God is big enough, and gracious enough, to gift non-Christians with amazing talents and skills. Anything good in this world is a gift from God, so maybe a better question is, “Do you know of a good support group in my neighborhood?” You won’t know until you go.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the February 10, 2020 issue.

Is My Teen Depressed?

Question: My talkative 16-year-old son seems quieter lately and isn’t really having fun with his friends like he once did. He is a great kid, but I’ve notice he is eating less and interacting less. Do you think he might be depressed?

Answer: It has been estimated that one-in-five American teenagers meet criteria for either depression or anxiety at some point before age 20. In most cases, depression is categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. Determining whether a teen has mild to moderate depression is sometimes difficult even for medical professionals. Symptoms of depression in adults may vary from those of teenagers, complicating matters even more.

Depression symptoms like diminished interest, loss of energy, depressed mood, lack of concentration, feelings of worthlessness, and weight loss or gain are somewhat universal. However, teen depression symptoms may include other emotional and behavioral indicators, some of which may be confused with normal teenage behavior. Teenage depression symptoms may include complaints of physical pain, feelings of anger over small matters, irritable/annoyed mood, extreme sensitivity to failure, restlessness, less attention to appearance, and self-harm.

Depression is all the more serious when a child reports having frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide. If your child tells you they have not only thought about suicide but have developed a plan to carry it out, you must take immediate action by getting them to an emergency room.

With the limited information you have given concerning your 16-year-old son, it sounds like he may have some symptoms of depression, if those symptoms have lasted for two weeks or more. Whether he has a medically treatable depression should be determined by his pediatrician. Medication and counseling together have been proven most effective in treating moderate to severe depression.

If it’s determined that your son is struggling with mild depression, there are some strategies to help him. Focusing on gratitude for God’s grace is a powerful way to combat mild depression (this requires focus that teens may lack if their depression is too severe). Other helpful strategies include movement and exercise, being in the great outdoors with God’s
creation, tackling creative projects, promoting a healthy diet, engaging in less computer and screen time, looking forward to planned future events, encouragement from parents and friends, and positive experiences that expand his world.

I would also add this: enjoy your son’s company and let him teach you something new.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the January 20, 2020 issue.

Learning to Trust

Question: I’ve heard the effects of childhood trauma may make it difficult for those who have experienced it to connect with God, or the church. How might a church leader “bridge the gap” for someone who has experienced trauma, regardless of the cause? 

Answer: People who have experienced childhood trauma are more likely to distance themselves from helpful resources of all kinds. When they do engage, they often do so without depth or meaningful interaction, to protect themselves from further harm.

Maintaining this self-isolating existence serves a purpose: being stuck in the “known misery” is safer than risking the promise of “unknown freedom.” The concept of a trustworthy God is too unpredictable and unsafe for someone living in fear.

In C.S. Lewis’s book “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” Susan asks, “Is Aslan the lion safe?” The response is: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king.”

The lion is a representation of Jesus in this children’s story, and although Jesus is good, and king, the path he sets us on is unpredictable and full of the unknown. It’s unsafe at times. Those who have worked so hard, for so long, to avoid all perceived danger (reminiscent of past suffering) will struggle trusting themselves, others, and God. They will question God’s goodness, doubt his divinity, and avoid his unpredictable direction.

 Their difficult questions are understandable: If God is good, why did I suffer? If God is king, why didn’t he prevent my suffering? If God is trustworthy, why isn’t he safe?

 You are likely wondering how to answer questions like those. So am I. I do know that life’s most challenging questions are rarely answered with quick-fire resolution. Our questions are answered over time as we experience God’s grace and respond in gratitude. This is where we find growth.

 Here are a few helpful points: Be a friend first. Enjoy their company. Listen, avoiding the temptation to fix them. Point them to God; he approaches us, reaches out to us, and delivers us. Put aside some of your expectations of how quickly, how smoothly, or how perfectly this journey will be for you, or for the ones you are trying to help. Your help to them may only be a small part of their journey. It’s helpful to remember you can’t do this alone, and neither can they. If change is good, God is behind it.

 Encourage them to increase their support system and consider seeing a counselor. Finally, please take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually while you help others.

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the January 1, 2020 issue.

Parenting in Public

Question: We don’t have “Mommy wars” in our church, but there are obvious parenting differences that become apparent whenever families get together. The rambunctious kids get louder, and the quiet kids retreat to the room where the grown-ups are sometimes studying the Bible. Any ideas how to navigate our differences graciously?

 Answer: Before opening our doors to a Bible study group, we have priorities to discuss, and boundaries to set. Here are some things to consider in the developmental stage: Who will be attending the group? What is the number-one purpose of the group? What are the secondary purposes of the group, in descending order?

 If the primary focus of the group is fellowship and an outreach to Christian and non-Christian neighbors, then children should be welcomed. In this less structured, more flexible environment, the gospel is shared and the biblical encouragement to “exercise hospitality” (Romans 12:13) comes to life.

 The group should meet in a home large enough to accommodate separate activities, held in at least three separate spaces. Children should always have trusted adult supervision when away from the adult groups. Children love to have a variety of projects to choose from—this too should be well planned with built-in flexibility. Plan to have at least two supervised children’s groups based on age and interests.

 I would encourage considering a child-free environment when the primary focus of your group is spiritual growth and biblical maturity. Creating an environment where adults feel safe sharing their personal stories is key to building meaningful long-term Christian friendships. The struggles couples and single adults face should not be overheard or interrupted by children.

 The successful community groups I have attended limited attendance to adults only, for the above reasons. Some churches have activities one night a week, at the church, for children in middle school and high school. Scheduling your community group that night may be a peacemaking solution. In this scenario, if small children attend the community group with their parents, one adult-supervised children’s group is all that’s necessary.

 If you start by determining the main purpose of your group, you’ll be able to better navigate the challenges inherent in gathering any group of people, regardless of age!

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the March 2, 2020 issue.

 

Pursuing Peace

Question: With everything going on in the world, I’m finding I have deep disagreements with people close to me, even those who share my faith. I’m withdrawing from some people because I don’t want to get into certain issues. Any tips for finding common ground, and saving my friendships?

 Answer: I appreciate (and share in) your need for unity and peacemaking. Here are four suggestions that increase in difficulty. Just be prepared, loving people can be hard work!

 Prepare. Pray God will reveal your own sin, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy, and that he will humble your heart in preparation to model the grace he has shown to you. This is the time to keep your anger in check. Remember that apart from God we are helpless and hopeless to build meaningful relationships with anyone. Approach your neighbor with due dignity and respect. They are created by God and loved by him, as you are. This is already something you have in common.

Listen. Your job is to listen without interruption, so your neighbor feels heard. This will help ensure this will be the first of many conversations. This is not the time to prove your point or press an agenda to fix or change them. Try to understand their point of view, whether you agree with them or not.

 Find common ground. Listen to what they share about their experiences and struggles. When we get to know people on a personal level, we validate their personhood and shared humanity. Your neighbor wants the best for their children, their families, and their futures, just as you do. You have more in common with them than you think.

Don’t expect reciprocity. This is the most important and difficult point I will try to make here, and the most impossible to accomplish apart from God. Our sinful nature makes us lazy, expecting others to return (in full measure) the grace and effort we have extended to them. Our fallen, transactional need to only love those who love us, is the root cause of division in our families, communities, and nation.

When we exercise unconditional, Christ-like love to others, we gain a renewed understanding of how much God loves us through our own sin, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the July 1, 2020 issue.

 

Restoring a Family Fractured by Substance Abuse

Question: One of my adult siblings has struggled with addiction for years. She is recently out of rehab and trying to reconnect with our family. I know she’s sorry and that I need to forgive her. But we’ve been burned so many times. Any advice for how we can restore our relationship?

Answer: Here is a sad fact: It takes, on average, six inpatient rehab treatments before an addict struggling with substance abuse has a period of sustained recovery. As you know, this takes a tremendous emotional, psychological, and financial toll on the family. You say you need to forgive your sister and I believe this is true; however, I would like to discuss the meaning of forgiveness in your case.

 If you are to demonstrate Christ’s love to your sister, forgiveness is essential. Forgiving her will not mean the damage done to your family will ever be OK, or that continued damage is acceptable. Forgiveness does not mean you must trust your sister immediately or make yourself vulnerable to being burned right away.

One major problem I’m sure you have faced (and will continue to face) is trying to discern the difference between enabling your sister and helping her. I would strongly encourage your entire family to get outside support from a group like Al anon or Nar anon. Peer-led groups like Celebrate Recovery are also helpful.

In a support group, you will meet people in your community going through the same thing, some who are farther along in the process. Thankfully, many local churches are hosting these confidential groups. Your sister will also need to continue in group counseling with a qualified substance abuse counselor and find a sponsor. Your family needs to be unified as a team to ensure cohesive boundary setting. It is your sister’s responsibility, with God’s help, to restore herself and become equipped to restore the family relationship.

One more note: we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of female Christian mentorship. I would recommend she have a mentor who loves her already, someone who knows her story and is willing to offer her grace, while refusing to enable her addictive behavior. These are characteristics God demonstrates as he heals us, all of us. 

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the July 29, 2019 issue.

Should I Seek Counseling?

Question: I recently heard a ministry leader say that everyone—no matter how healthy they seem—could benefit from counseling. Do you agree? If I’m praying and reading the Bible, would counseling otherwise benefit my walk with Jesus?

 Answer: I agree we all may benefit from counseling at pivotal points in our lives. Working with a qualified Christian counselor can help to enrich and deepen our relationships with one another, and with God.

 Most of us have gone through times in our lives when we worked hard to do all the right things, including reading Scripture and praying faithfully. At the same time, we may have felt distant or even overlooked by God. I agree, the sanctifying acts of reading God’s Word and praying are vitally important and should be part of our everyday Christian obedience; however, I have counseled many obedient Christians who found themselves feeling utterly alone. Counseling can help us discover more fully the nature of God, the grace of God, and the enjoyment of God.

 God’s relationship with us is built upon his qualities, not our own. Counselors are relationship experts who know that when we are enjoying the presence of God, we are actively engaged in a healing relationship. You may have experienced this in your other relationships. Have you noticed how much closer you feel to a child, a parent, or a co-worker when you enjoy their company? The enjoyment of God is a choice we can make all day long. Developing a meaningful understanding of God’s grace will motivate us to read the Bible and pray to know him more.

 As Christians we often refer to our walk with the Lord; how might it change our relationship with God to realize it is his walk we have been invited to join?

 Happily, I see less stigma attached to counseling within the Christian community today than ever before. I am also encouraged that your ministry leader understands the challenges and potential anxiety we all will face. A mentor of mine once made this unforgettable observation, “No one gets through this life unscathed.” 

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the July 8, 2019 issue.

 

Start Talking

Question: My wife and I know how important communication is in our marriage. The problem is we seem to have different communication needs. At the end of a long day, she relaxes by talking, while I tend to think of a conversation as one more thing I have to do when I’m already tired. Any advice?

 Answer: Here’s the good news: thank you for your honesty. Here’s the bad news: this may sting a little. One counseling rule of thumb is to never give advice, unless it’s a matter of safety. Since I fear for your safety once your wife reads your question, I’m not breaking any rules here by giving advice! 

In all seriousness, I’m not sure what line of work you’re in, but I am sure your wife won’t be pleased discovering you think talking to her is like refilling a stapler or changing a tire; that being with her is as thrilling as sitting through a board meeting, or navigating rush hour traffic.

You say you know how important communication is with your wife, but I imagine she doesn’t feel like a priority. While it’s true you’ve talked all day, you haven’t uttered a word to her.

I’m wondering how your communication with God is lately? Usually when communication with God is limited, and the connection to him is distant, our loved ones suffer. Conversely, when we experience the grace and wonder of God daily, it’s practically impossible not to share the good news.

I know you want things to be better, and things will be once you make known the fact that (short of God himself) your wife is the most important person in your life. You will not be able to do this alone, apart from God. So, let’s start with him. Remember talking to God is prayer, and prayer will move you in the right direction, and to a better relationship with your wife. The first step to enjoying your wife’s company is to enjoy the presence of God.

 Since you did ask for advice, and sound advice is often practical: turn off the TV, really listen to her, enter her world, and most of all, enjoy her company. Remember this is not a onetime fix, any more than it’s a single prayer. If this is to work (and your wife is to feel like a valuable priority), connection to God and communication with your wife must be your priority.

 Welcome to a more God-honoring and fulfilling life!

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the March 23, 2020 issue.

 

Talking to Kids About the Pandemic

Question: Our kids, who are 7 and 9, are asking questions about what’s going on in the world. Our oldest in particular is quieter than she was a few months ago, and more withdrawn sometimes. We’re wondering if she could be dealing with some fear she’s not talking about. How can we help them?

Answer: With something as scary and unpredictable as a global pandemic, we shouldn’t be surprised at your daughter’s processing difficulties. In a sense, we are all like children experiencing this for the first time.

 We are all likely dealing with fear we aren’t talking about. Kids are often reluctant to discuss their fear, in an effort to protect their parents from pain. They may perceive you as worried enough already.

 It is helpful to take a quick mental snapshot of your own fear, current behavior, and recent conversations, to gauge the extent to which you may be inadvertently transferring your anxiety to the children. We have all observed how calm parents are often followed by calm children, and vice versa. Of course, there are exceptions to this; however, it is wise not to underestimate the correlation between our emotional state and the emotional state of our children. Kids become experts at reading body language and detecting unease.

 How is God redeeming these otherwise dark days? Through families, who are sitting around the table together, laughing, sharing a meal, and relearning how to have a conversation. Parents are more focused on what matters most: God, and family.

 You ask, “How do we help them?” First (and always), pray to be present and wise. Address them with honesty and simplicity, leaving out global markets, politics, and death statistics. Reassure them: it isn’t clear how long it will take, things are getting better, and you will be here to keep them safe.

 Preservation and perseverance are two godly characteristics we should always model to our children. Adult Christians have been gifted with wisdom, developed through countless past deliverances. It is helpful for you to remember, meditate on, and share these past deliverances with your children, to help them begin their own accounting of God’s presence in their lives.

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the June 1, 2020 issue.

 

Teens' Spiritual Doubts

Question: Our daughter professed faith in Christ as a child, but now she’s having doubts about whether God even exists. The doubts have caused major upheaval in her life, and in our life as a family. What can we do?

 Answer: The situation you describe is common with teenagers. It is all too easy to lay the blame entirely on cultural influences (which of course there are many), or our education system, or, most unfairly, on our teenagers themselves. The situation is also not new. Adolescence is designed to be a time of great questioning and reaching out of one’s family of origin for meaning and independence. The psychological term for this is “adolescent differentiation.”

 It was once thought that teenage emotional and mental inconsistencies were the result of raging hormones, but the most recent medical research has found a more likely link between typical teenage behavior and brain development. Consider this: the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 26.

 You say “the doubts have caused major upheaval in her life.” I would ask you to consider whether the doubts in her life are caused by the upheaval related to her developing brain, and her search for personal meaning. Of course, her search would be less futile if she put her faith in God to guide her. I firmly believe if she is truly a Christian she will return to her faith. God does not discard his own.

 So, by now you are probably wondering what you’re supposed to do with this information. Here are some really bad examples to avoid. Parents often think they can push harder and harder, making absolute concrete statements like, “If you don’t go to church you are moving out!” In some cases, the kid moves out, and the pain they feel from family rejection drives them into an extended period of sin. An equally unsuccessful strategy is to have no strategy at all, to ignore the problem, and miss out on building a relationship with your child.

 After God adopts us into his family, he builds a relationship with his children. He is present with us through every mistake and in every victory he empowers. He continues loving us when we seem unlovable. I encourage you to work on the relationship with your daughter, to listen to her concerns, and to steer her gently in love by getting to know her better and entering into her journey.

 As distressing as her doubts may be, modeling a Christ-like relationship with her will give her a loving example to embrace as her own. Continue to pray for guidance, while striving not to take the temperature of the situation too often. She has time to grow, and God has time to show her he exists.

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the November 1, 2020 issue.

What and When You Should Report

Question: I volunteer with the children’s ministry at my church, and want to make sure I’m doing the right thing if I ever suspect abuse or neglect. Can you summarize Illinois’ reporting laws, especially how they pertain to churches and ministries?

 Answer: Considering the prevalence of childhood abuse and neglect, your questions are both timely and important. Illinois cases of child abuse and neglect increased 11% from 2015 to 2017. Reportable abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and the neglect of children under the age of 18.

 All professional staff in the church (including, but not limited to, pastors, child care workers, teachers, and coaches) are considered legally mandated reporters of child abuse in Illinois. Furthermore, as Christians dedicated to the welfare of children, I believe we all have an ethical and moral responsibility (whether legally mandated or not) to protect children.

 One question I often hear is “What do I do if I suspect, but am unsure if a child is being abused?” As counselors working with children, our motto is that it’s always best to err on the side of caution when a child’s safety is concerned. Is the system perfect? No, of course not. But the imperfection of the system is no reason to fail to report suspected abuse.

 The 2019 edition of Illinois’ Manual for Mandated Reporters advises that protecting children is the responsibility of the entire community, and that the law provides anyone may make a report to the hotline. The manual is clearly written and helpful in explaining the parameters of mandated reporting of child abuse. Every church should have an accessible and well-visited copy. A downloadable version is available at the Department of Child and Family Services’ website: www2.illinois.org/dcfs.

 We should all be well aware that child abuse also occurs within the church. Therefore, the church is where prevention must begin. Hiring church workers should be dependent on a potential employee passing a thorough background check, including fingerprinting. Are background checks always effective in screening out all potential threats to children? No, not always, but it is one effective tool we have in helping safeguard children against abuse. For further suggestions, go to IBSA.org/Protect.

Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the November 18, 2019 issue.

When Panic Attacks

Question: I think I might have had a panic attack recently. Can you describe what one actually looks and feels like, and tell me what I can do if it happens again?

Answer: First, the good news: Even though you may feel as if you are dying, a panic attack won’t kill you. A panic attack occurs when the anxiety response to a situation is disproportionate to the actual triggering event. This can be caused by a history of trauma, such as the case of someone suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. As those who have suffered panic attacks know all too well, it is frightening.

A true panic attack has some very specific identifiers. Physical symptoms include pounding heart, sweating, trembling, chest pain, dizziness, feelings of choking, and nausea. Psychological symptoms of a panic attack include fear of losing control or going crazy, fear of dying, feeling detached from reality, or feeling detached from oneself. During a panic attack you may feel as if your body has taken over and this physical rebellion cannot be controlled by rational thought.

 Anxiety is one of the most common reasons people come to a counselor. Your therapist will help you identify triggers and reduce distorted thinking. They will also help you with breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. Unfortunately (as you may have noticed) anxiety is often chronic. It is helpful to accept anxiety as something you can manage with God’s help, rather than something that has a 100% cure rate. Nothing is more anxiety provoking than expecting to achieve absolute perfection.

 I would suggest you see your primary care physician first to rule out any medical causes for your heightened anxiety. You should also discuss the benefits of seeing a licensed professional counselor if you are indeed suffering from panic attacks.

 And what about the spiritual component? Prayer is healing and calming; having God as someone to hand our anxiety to is key to survival in our chaotic world. Having a trusted friend you can talk to, someone who encourages you with grace, will also be enormously beneficial. 

 Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and a regular columnist for the Illinois Baptist newspaper. This column first appeared in the August 19, 2019 issue.

 

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