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147: Embracing negative emotions and pausing to listen to God to improve your healing process with Debra Fileta.





Brief summary of the show:

In this episode, we talked with Debra Fileta about the intersection of counseling and Christianity. We discuss the importance of acknowledging the need for help and seeking it before things break. We also explore the shift in attitudes towards counseling and the increasing openness of the younger generation to therapy. Debra emphasizes the significance of faith-based therapy and the integration of spiritual health with mental, emotional, and physical health. We delve into the role of medication in treating anxiety and depression and the importance of finding the right help. We also talked about the need to embrace negative emotions and the power of pausing and listening to God in the healing process.


Listen in as we talk about:

00:00 - Acknowledging the Need for Help

03:40 - Shifting Attitudes Towards Counseling

05:58 - The Importance of Faith-Based Therapy

09:19 - Addressing Anxiety and Depression

13:11 - The Role of Medication in Mental Health

15:35 - Finding the Right Help

19:23 - Differentiating Between Counselors, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists

22:39 - The Importance of Embracing Negative Emotions

26:12 - The Power of Pausing and Listening to God

27:28 - Taking the Next Steps Towards Healing



Notes from Natalie:


Connect with Me


Connect with Debra




View Transcript of the show

Natalie Tysdal 

Debra, thanks so much. I have enjoyed your podcast and your advice for many months now. And so I really appreciate you coming on. I think you are a perfect fit for this podcast.


Debra 

Well, thank you for having me. I'm excited to chat with you.


Natalie Tysdal 

Yes, well, we started, as we often do, we started our hellos, we started talking, and I said, wait, we gotta record, because we started talking about some really important stuff. So the topic for today in counseling and in Christianity, and finding that mix for people who they know they need some help, maybe it's therapy, maybe it's marriage, maybe it's a teenage issue, how do you know where to go to get help?


Debra 

Yeah, well first I think it starts with acknowledging that we need help and you know oftentimes as Christians it takes a while for us to acknowledge that we need help and I've definitely seen that to be a trend. Like we wait until things break and then it's like okay time to get help and I think that in and of itself is problematic. We don't view our physical health in the same way.


You know, I just went to the doctor for my annual checkup. I hated every minute of it. You know, going to the OB and doing what you need to do and your mammogram and your checkups. It's like, I don't enjoy it, but I know that I need to do it to function optimally. I take my car in to get an oil change regularly and to get a tune up and to get inspected. Not because I want to. Who wants to put that in their schedule for fun? but I do it so that I can prevent something bad from happening, preventative maintenance. But we don't view our mental, emotional health in the same way. We just assume that because we're Christians, we're good to go. You know, 3000 miles plus, like we don't have a limit. We are just gonna zoom through life and be fine. And if something breaks, we deal with it.


But the problem is once it breaks, it takes so much more effort and time and energy and finances to deal with it after the break. And so I believe that Christians should have eyes wide open of God, what do you want me to work on next? What do you want me to heal? What do you want me to address? What do you want me to pay attention to in my life? What things from my past? might be starting to come up in my present. You know, even if it's small things, relationship, parenting, how we deal with our emotions. So I would just wanna start by saying that I think we need to seek help before things break. And I often encourage Christians to set aside the budget and the time for six sessions in a year, ideally.


Debra 

But if nothing else, at least have eight sessions over your lifetime. Like at least commit to, I'm just going to go to a counselor and do some work. I'm gonna do some preventative maintenance. Maybe you show up and you're like, I'm struggling, I'm having some stressors. Do you have any advice for me? Like what do I do with what I have? And start there before things break. So that's kind of the first thing I just wanted to call out to our attention.


Natalie Tysdal 

That's really, it's great advice and yet we're all that way. It's like, you don't really pay attention to your health or anything until, oh, it got so bad and now I'm desperate. So do you think some of this is generational? I mean, I find with, you know, my parents, grandparents, that it's like, oh no, we don't do that. We don't need that. Do you think that our younger generation is more open to counseling, help, therapy, any of this?


Debra

Yeah, for sure. I mean, there's a cultural component to all of this and that oftentimes we want to stuff our issues. We want to pretend they don't exist. We want to present a good face like, I've got it all together. I'm doing fine. And then when we can't continue that because something is broken, that's when we finally seek help. But I do think things are changing. I think people are getting help, sort of like I was talking about preventative maintenance. I often use the analogy of going to the gym. You don't go to the gym because you're sick. You go to the gym to get strong, to build your muscles, to get yourself to the next level of health and strength. And I think that's how we should view counseling. I'm not going because I'm sick. I'm going because I want to pursue the next level of healing and health and strength in my life so that I can do more for God, so that I can do more for my family, so I can do more for the kingdom. I want to be optimal strength. And so that's kind of how I view it. And it's exciting that way. It's like, bring it on. What's next? What do I need to work on so that I can succeed in all that God has called me to do so I can do this for the long haul and so that I can continue pouring out to the people that need me the most. It's a way of filling up.


Natalie Tysdal

Let's talk about, first, the people who know they need help. Their marriage is struggling. They're having issues with someone in the family or mental health issues or addiction or anything like that. How important is it that someone get therapy that is faith-based? Or is that important?


Debra 

I think it's very important and I will say I'm biased because I am a faith forward counselor. Jesus is the equation for healing. He is the primary component for healing. And so I really believe when you look at health, you have to look at it holistically, heart, soul, mind and strength. And there's multiple parts to who we are. And so we have to make sure that we are healthy in all of these areas and pursuing health in all of these areas. And so spiritual health is a big part of that. Spiritual health influences the rest, just like mental health influences all the other parts. Everything influences each other. And so we can't just seek mental health without spiritual health. We can't seek emotional health without physical health. They all have to go together. And even when I'm working with a client who is not a Christian, at some point we have to hit those different compartments and at least get some level of assessment on how they're doing spiritually. Whatever that means for them, where are you at spiritually? Have you considered this area of your life? So for those who are believers, I think it's crucial to be working with a counselor who is Christ-centered, who is Holy Spirit-led and filled. But on the flip side of that, I think sometimes we seek counseling from somebody who's not trained. So somebody who is a spiritual mentor, pastor, leader, but they don't have the education and the experience to help you deal with trauma, to help you deal with things in your past, to help you regulate your body, your nervous system, to understand the educational component. So I never want to lean in one way or the other. I feel like


They have to go hand in hand. And so that's where it's important to find somebody who is Holy Spirit filled, loves Jesus, but is also trained, educated.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah. And we hear more and more today about some of these really severe issues. And I work with high schoolers now, so I see more anxiety, depression, than both of those things than I knew existed. I mean, it's so, I don't know if it's a buzzword or if it's really something that younger generation and their parents are dealing with, but I bring that up because people will


And I'm curious from your standpoint, how much of their anxiety and depression can be helped with faith if it's they're not seeking the kingdom first or seeking faith first, or if it's physiological or both.


Debra 

It's both. It's usually a little bit of both and it depends on the level of severity. So if you think about it this way, anxiety and depression are sort of a spectrum. There's mild, there's moderate, and there's severe. And oftentimes we ignore the mild and it turns to moderate. And then we ignore the moderate and it turns to severe. So when we're in the mild to moderate stage, that's a really good time to assess the health of our thought life, to lean into truth. I talk about the concept of, we were born believing something. Our brains want to have patterns, ways of thinking. And oftentimes those patterns are influenced more by our trauma than they are by God's truth. And we've been through hard things. And so, let's say you've been through a terrible traumatic car accident.


That's part of your template now. And it's easy for you to go through life believing that something bad is going to happen. Things are out of my control. This world is dangerous. I could die in an instant. My children could die in an instant because now trauma becomes the template by which you see the world. And so when we go through trauma, it's hard not to allow that to start informing the way that we think, the things that we believe which then influence how we feel. So part of dealing with depression and anxiety is assessing the template and realizing, am I continuing to function out of trauma? Is my body and my mind responding to trauma or is it responding to God's truth? And what does that look like? So faith is a huge part of changing our thoughts. In counseling, we call it cognitive behavioral therapy, which means addressing the health of your thought life. But as a faith forward counselor, it's not just about like throwing positive thoughts into the mix, it's about aligning our template with truth. And truth can only be found in God's word and that's where it's so important. But here's where things shift. When you have been functioning in a trauma template for a long time, your nervous system,


Debra 

is activated. It's like everything's dangerous. Everything's scary, overactive, danger, danger. Your body begins to shift. It actually shifts your chemical makeup. So soon enough, you find that your good chemicals, the feel-good chemicals of serotonin and dopamine start to get hijacked by the stress chemical of cortisol. And when cortisol is overtaking your body, you better believe you're going to have physiological shift.


You're not going to be able to sleep. Your appetite's going to start changing. You're going to have digestive issues that come up, more headaches, harder time concentrating, apathy, lack of desire, sadness, and it literally begins to change the chemical makeup of your body. So it's not a character issue at that point. It's a chemistry issue that you have to address. And sometimes the chemistry issue happens for no reason.


other than hormonal changes. For example, a woman who might be in postpartum could have these physiological chemical changes even though she's not following a trauma template. It's just her body has just shifted. The hormones are changing. So sometimes it can be solely physical. Sometimes it can be solely cognitive and our thought life is not healthy, but usually it ends up being a little bit of both.


Natalie Tysdal 

Yeah. So where then do medications come in? I know that's a very complicated answer to give just in one podcast, but in order to get on the right track and we see medications so common, especially again, I'm working with teenagers, that is so common. Is it an important component in leveling things enough that you can get to the deeper issues?


Debra 

Well, again, that kind of depends with on where we are on the spectrum of severity. So for mild to moderate depression and anxiety, you should definitely start with counseling 100 percent, like work with a counselor. See if you can begin to make changes that begin to alter your chemistry, because thoughts produce proteins, thoughts produce chemicals. And so when we can take ownership of our thoughts and our feelings, it can begin to alter our physiological nature as well. So I always start with counseling, learning how to care for your body, learning how to get your body to baseline, learning how to calm your nervous system. These things are all very important. But when you're at moderate to severe depression and you're already long past that and you're not functioning, you're not sleeping, you're not eating well, or you're overeating, or you're sleeping too much, you have a hard time getting out of bed, it's starting to affect your day-to-day life for two weeks or more, then you're in moderate to severe depression, and you most likely are in need of a medication to get your body back to baseline so that you can start to do that work. And so I think medication is a gift from God. I have used it in different seasons of life, different hormonal changes, postpartum depression, perinatal depression. I mean, I can't even tell you the amount of time.


Natalie Tysdal 

Yeah.


Debra 

that the Lord has helped me through medication, but it doesn't work as a quick fix. And really it keeps you afloat so that you can do the deeper work. They have to go hand in hand.


Natalie Tysdal 

Now you can't just take a medication. It's just not, it's not gonna reach the issues that I'm hearing you say that you really have to get to.


Debra

Yeah, it's one component to the bigger picture of getting healthy.


Natalie Tysdal 

So where should someone start? Is anyone who's hearing this now thinking, you know, I don't want to wait, or maybe I am at the place where I need help? I think for a lot of people, it's how do I find someone? It's like dating. It's like, you know, for people, like, where do I start? What if I don't like this person? I don't want to have to retell my story. Like, where do you advise people to just take that first step?


Debra 

Yeah, well, I want to start by kind of sharing a little bit about a book that I wrote called Are You Really Okay? And this book came out in 2021 and I had a contract to start writing this book in 2019 before the world turned upside down. So it was amazing because I really believe that God knew what was around the corner before any of us knew. But the book Are You Really Okay? is taking inventory of how you're actually doing emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically. When Jesus says, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Heart represents emotional health, soul, spiritual health, mind, mental health, strength, physical health. So the book is broken up into these four quadrants of health and checkups at the end of each chapter to really help you begin to think through which of these areas do I need help in so that you know where to begin.


Like, I guess it's this area. It seems like my assessment is showing me that it's the emotional health that I have neglected. So it'll give you a roadmap and kind of open your eyes to help you assess, are you really okay? Yes or no? And if the answer is no, where do you begin? And I love that so many people have told me they picked it up thinking that the answer was yes, I'm good. And realized as they started reading that, you know what? There are some areas that have been sorely neglected in my life. And so...


Once you get to the point where you can answer that question of yes, I'm in need of help, the two resources, the two go-to resources that I always recommend, number one, Focus on the Family has an incredible database of vetted Christian counselors. You have to go through this long application and interview process to get vetted and put on their list. It's a database they have on their website of licensed counselors. The other new venture for me that's about a year and a half old. I started my own network called the Deborah Phalata Counselors Network, which is a team of 20 counselors that work and are trained by me, led by me. And they are Holy Spirit-filled, trained Christian counselors. They have the education, but more importantly, they have a love for the Lord and they want to help people heal. And so...


Debra 

You can go to deborahflata.com slash counseling and find a counselor that matches what you're struggling with. Look at their bio, look at their schedule, and they're all online appointments so that you can have a session from the comfort of your home once you put the kids to bed. You know, book a 9 p.m. session and just have help. Have somebody guiding you along in doing the work of healing.


Natalie Tysdal 

I, what a blessing that we have like this, being able to talk and not have to drive and find someone in your town, small town, big city, whatever it is and finding just the right person. So I've been on your website and preparing and looking through that list. So a great new venture that you've created there. Yeah, so what about when someone needs that next step? So.


Explain to us the difference between the medication, a psychologist versus a psychiatrist or a counselor, because I think part of the misunderstanding for people is there are so many people to see where do I start.


Debra 

I know, I know. So, so to break it down and make it simple, a licensed counselor or a licensed psychologist are the two caregivers that will help you with counseling. Like, let's talk through this, let's deal with your trauma, let's help you understand your nervous system response, all of those type of things. And when it comes to medication, you need somebody who's been to medical school.


And so an MD is somebody who is equipped to give you medication. And so whether that be your primary doctor, most of them are equipped to do basic things. Depression and anxiety meds are so common that most primary care doctors are very comfortable prescribing them. If your diagnosis is a little more complex or your depression and anxiety are a little bit more complex, they might refer you to a different kind of medical doctor, which is a psychiatrist.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. They've been to medical school, but their focus is medication and medication management, whereas a counselor or a psychologist on the other side, their focus is the counseling piece. And often those two can really work together hand in hand. So when you start working with a counselor and the counselor says, oh, there might be a need for medication here, they'll say to you, hey, you wanna go visit your medical doctor and talk through medication options.


So those two pieces are handled by two different caregivers, two different providers, but they can often really work hand in hand.


Natalie Tysdal

If it sounds to me and tell me if I'm correct, a good place to start is with a counselor who can then tell you a good idea to talk with. Because I find that a lot of people think I have to go find a psychiatrist. And then they're not getting the therapy that they need and talking and the counseling. But if you go straight to your primary care and get medication without the counseling, then we're back where we started a few minutes ago of just taking a medication and not talking through what's happening.


Debra 

Yeah, I agree. And I think a counselor can help you assess the level of severity. Do you even need medication in this time? Or are there other options we can try first? Let's see what we can do first. Let's analyze your activity level, your nutrition level, your trauma history. Like, let's see if there are things we can do to alleviate your depression within a few weeks, and then we can 


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah. Can we talk about another issue that maybe it's a buzzword, I hear it often, of just optimism changing everything. And I think you refer to it and I sometimes hear it as toxic optimism of if I'm just happy, if I just look at things in a different way, if I'm just more grateful, like all of those things can be helpful, but is there a level that is not healthy?


Debra 

Well, I think the big problem here is that Christians specifically like to do away with negative emotions. And I want to put negative emotions in quotes because we have this belief, I don't know exactly where it comes from, probably from misinterpretation of scripture where we think we always have to have joy, we always have to be content, we always have to be happy to mean that we can never have struggles.


And that's such a misinterpretation of God's word. So we put some emotions in the bad camp and other emotions in the good camp. And when we have those bad emotions, it's like, okay, how do I get rid of these as fast as possible? The joy of the Lord is my strength. Let me pray. Let me just ignore this emotion. I'm not actually stressed. I am just, you know, a little bit burdened by the trials in my life. Like, wait, where should we try so hard to make positive rather than pay attention? So these emotions are not that. They're God-given signals for us to pay attention to. God wants us to pay attention to something, and that's why He's given us these signals. I mean, even Jesus had a host of signals that He didn't try to do away. He felt sorrow.


He felt sadness, he felt overwhelmed, he felt exhaustion, he felt weary. And what did he do with those emotions? He paid attention to them. And he responded to those emotions. So where we start moving into unhealthy territory is when we instantly wanna cover those emotions with whatever we can and we can spiritualize it by covering them up with spiritual things. Like instead of feeling this feeling so that I can respond to it in a healthy way, I just want it to go away. So I'm going to think about this instead and do this instead and practice this instead when really we can honor God with that negative emotion that we're feeling. Lord, I'm struggling. I feel lament. I feel grief. I feel sadness. I feel sorrow. Help me in this emotion. What do you want me to pay attention to?


Debra 

What do you want me to do differently? What do you need for me to heal? Why are you bringing this to my attention, Lord? This anxiety, is there something in my life that I need to heal? Is there something from my past that's causing me to feel anxious and you need me to go back and deal with that so that my false alarms aren't going off left and right? Emotions are a signal. And instead of just being optimistic, the real answer to healing is to pay attention and respond to what God is revealing to us through our emotions. Because it's not the emotion that's bad or good, it's how we respond to the emotion that leads us to healthy, or it leads us down a path of unhealthy.


Natalie Tysdal 

Yeah, that's so important. And I find for me and others that it's being able to be still long enough to feel. And I thrive coming from a news background in busy and last minute and get it done, make lists. All of this is almost what we see in our culture of stay busy always just, and that helps us ignore and so being still long enough to feel those emotions and to hear God's voice.


Debra 

Yeah, it's so important. I have a book called Reset, and it's about 31 emotional health practices. And the very first one, after I like pump you up in the introduction, I'm like, let's get ready to heal. The very first practice is pause. And it kind of throws people off. It's like, okay, I'm ready to go. And the first thing you want me to do is to stop. Like, how does that, that's so counter cultural. When we're ready to go, we go. But you cannot go far and fast without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And not only that, what I think I need to work on might be very different than what God thinks I need to work on. So I just need to make sure I'm in alignment first before I enter the process of healing.


Natalie Tysdal 

Yeah, that's so good. I love that. What I need to work on might be really different from what God wants me to work on. Yeah. Okay. So much goodness in all of this. I just appreciate you so much. You mentioned a couple of your books. I'm going to put links for your books in the show notes, but give people information. I know those who might be looking for your counseling network or any of your information, tell them where to go to get.


Debra

Yeah, thank God for $15 resources that can change lives. Like we live in a world where we have access to things that our grandparents never had access to and we have access to it at our fingertips. And maybe it is an investment of $15 for a book or a little bit more for counseling session, but the investment is worth it. The healing is worth it. So,


If you're at that point where you're like, okay, I'm ready for that next step, debrafileta.com, D-E- you'll find the podcast, you'll find the books, you'll find the counselor's network, basically all the resources you need to start taking those next steps into healing. And of course, I love connecting with people on Instagram, so that's always a great place to connect as well.


Natalie Tysdal 

Super. Deborah, thanks so much for your time. It's been an honor.


Debra

Yeah, thank you for having me.




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