“I think counseling found me. I was the one in high school that everybody came to talk to,” said Rebecca Salazar, a licensed clinical social worker. She learned empathy, and how to be a good observer of people when, in the spring of her junior year, her family moved from their farm in Indiana to the city of Houston, Texas. “When you make a big move, you’re the one that’s different and you need to get along, fit in, and make your mark in the new area. In Indiana, I had a church and family–my grandparents lived near. It was a totally different environment. I had come from a school where the whole school was about 400-500 students, to a school of a whole class of over 500. To find my niche and things I needed to do really tested my faith at that age. I depended on God a lot to get me though.” She was also separated from her mother and two sisters for three months when they stayed behind to help sell the house and pack it up. “I was the oldest child that came down with my father and a sister. I was kinda like a mama. I knew how to cook and clean, and all that. That was my role now. My dad would come out dressed for work, and have some awful combo of tie and shirt, and my sister and I would have to say, ‘Dad, you can not go to work like that!”
“At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about college. Music was always a part of my life. I thought I was going to go into music and would sing at revivals,” Rebecca recalled. But after graduation, she had the opportunity to attend college, and she took it. She attended Houston Baptist University, and studied religious education. It was there she met her husband Joel, and they have been making beautiful music together ever since. Both are singers, songwriters, instrumentalists and worship leaders. They were working at a church in Livingston, Texas, when she again observed “a whole lot of women were coming to me for advice. I thought I was giving good and godly advice, but it might be better with some expertise and education behind it. I found out what the requirements were [for becoming a professional counselor], and took the next steps,” she recalled. Incrementally, she earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Houston and began to accumulate over 3000 supervised hours of counseling to qualify for her clinical license.
“We live in a fallen world. There are so many things that come at us. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, and we don’t always know how to deal with it,” Rebecca said. “Think about covid, and globally what’s happening now. Three years ago, I wasn’t seeing the level of addiction we are seeing now. This is how some people are coping with not being able to go out and do the things they want to do, with job loss and the threat of losing their homes. Stress and isolation can be so harmful. As a counselor, the first thing I want to do is show there is hope, and they can overcome–with help–the issues they are facing.” During the lockdowns, Rebecca met with clients online. Now that restrictions are easing, people still enjoy the privacy, comfort and convenience of online counseling.
Rebecca acknowledges that some Christians believe their struggles are matters of faith, or the lack of it, and as such don’t believe that psychological therapy could help them. “The best Christians struggle. We all have things we struggle with,” Rebecca said. “The thing about Christian counseling is helping people be transformed in their relationship with Jesus Christ. When they can experience that in their counseling, that’s a life-changer. It gives me goose-bumps just thinking about that.”
“I was exposed to coaching a couple of years ago. It was really intriguing to me, so I decided to get continuing education in that. In counseling, the therapist helps the client identify the problem, look back to where it started, and identify the client’s strength to find the coping skills to help them overcome the problem. Coaching is different because it’s more forward thinking. You take the client’s goal and work toward that goal. While you may have to work through some past thing to make it to the goal, coaching tends to be more positive,” Rebecca said.
Whether one is in need of a therapist or coach, “It takes work to isolate problems so you can identify them, resolve them and move forward,” Rebecca said. She has found these skills to be useful:
- Change your outlook through mindful awareness; “take every thought captive”.
- Be grateful. Refocus your gaze from things that hurt to things that bring you healing and hope.
- Declutter your brain by removing things that drain your energy and joy.
- Be in the moment.
- Learn to rest and be content.
She is also implementing the four pillars of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, regulation, empathy, and social skills. Rebecca said, “It’s OK to feel emotion. An emotion like anger or anxiety tells you something is not right. You need to sit with that emotion, figure out where that’s coming from, and what thoughts are coming from that.
“Once you’ve identified that, you self-regulate and realize you can only change what’s in your control to change. Maybe you can change your part in that, or reframe the way you want to think about that. You can change negative thinking. Maybe you’ve been believing a lie, like ‘I’m worthless”, and you’re having some challenges believing that you are a very valuable person. Replacing lies with truth is always a good starting place to start.
“Next, ask yourself ‘Why am I feeling like that?’ Write it down. Own it. Once I get it written down, I ask, ‘Are there other things affecting that? Am I not getting enough sleep? Am I not eating well? Am I stuck in a cycle of negativity?’ Sometimes the answer is simple. Do some other mental activity: put a puzzle together, listen to music, create art or poetry, play with a pet, hang out with a friend, or start a gratitude journal. You can always find at least one thing to be grateful for.
“Once you have yourself under control, you can start having empathy for others because you can understand where they are. When someone pops off at me, it may not be about me at all. Empathy helps me have a dialogue with them about it. Maybe I did do something to upset them. If we don’t talk about it, how will I know? How can I help fix it if I don’t know? In the end, you can only be in control of yourself,” Rebecca advised. Good social skills will help you navigate the situation and give you wisdom about how to proceed.
“Don’t expect everything to get better all in one day,” Rebecca cautioned. “I want to remind you that you are looking at the long haul. Realize that negative things will happen on your journey, and it’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Work on staying positive. Be grateful. Take things one day at a time. You can do this.”
“I would like people to know that what you are experiencing is normal. The circumstances may be unique to you, but what you’re feeling is normal. You don’t have to go through it alone. Find people you can trust and talk to them about it. If you feel like you are in a bad way, and if you feel like you are going to hurt yourself or somebody else, go to the emergency room. They have trained professionals there to give immediate help to you,” Rebecca said. “I would love to talk to you about how we can work together to meet your goals and live that life you want to live.”