Counseling from faith perspective

August 23, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

In the waiting room of Liberty Christian Counseling Center a child draws with crayons, while his parents meet with a counselor.

Dr. David B. Graham, director of the Eldersburg center, will often ask a child to sketch pictures of his family. The drawings help the counselor develop a picture of the inner child.

"The child can draw anything he wants," said Dr. Graham, a behavioral pediatrician, who uses the drawings "as a piece of data" to help him determine the child's emotional state.

"The children express themselves through art," the doctor said. "Then, we can talk about what they have done and what it means."

Counselors at the Eldersburg center often use art media, even soap sculpture, to draw children out of themselves and help them cope with problems.

The advice comes with a Christian perspective and is reflected in the motto that hangs in the waiting room: Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.

"We base our work on the moral and ethical principles of the Bible," said Dr. Graham, director since the center opened in 1972 at Liberty Reformed Presbyterian Church.

"We are not pushing religion, but our clients know there is a spiritual component to the counseling process here. It draws people and, at least, they always know where the counselor is coming from."

The emphasis on spiritual as well as emotional healing has drawn people of all faiths to the center, which expanded and moved Aug. 1 to a new site at 1522 Liberty Road.

"Most of the time, I see patients in crisis, some with a real spiritual void that they are hungry to fill," he said. "The emotional stress and the longing for something spiritual affect Christians and non-Christians alike."

The 22-year-old business operated for 12 years at 1049 Liberty Road before its recent move. The staff now includes Dr. Graham, 52, and four counselors, who usually see about 60 patients a week.

The director said he hopes to add more counselors to the practice soon. The new center offers space for group therapy with up to eight patients and room for play therapy, which often helps children communicate their problems.

"We use puppets, art and toys to allow children to verbalize their conflicts," the doctor said.

Often, adult clients tell Dr. Graham they are searching for the spiritual component in their lives.

"We may cite an example from the Bible and apply it to their lives," said the doctor. "We tell them how God helps."

He finds many Biblical examples relevant today. The story of the prodigal son often helps parents deal with errant children.

"The story shows how one parent dealt with a child who had run away," he said.

As his practice grows, Dr. Graham finds he is seeing more and more children. In the past 10 years, he said, he has seen "progressively more abused children" or those suffering from the aftermath of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, the effects of which last well into adulthood.

"In the last five years especially, I have seen more acting out and more depression in children," he said. "There is a lot of family dysfunction. A one-parent family can create major problems for kids. Progressively less women at home also creates difficulties for some children."

He also sees mothers who want to spend more time with their children and regret having to re-enter the work force.

Mothers and children frequently are locked in a circle of behavioral problems generated by guilt and manipulation.

"Many women tell me that they would rather be home and many feel guilty about leaving their children," he said. "When they are home, they don't want to discipline. They want positive time with their children. No discipline often leads to spoiled, manipulative children."

Dr. Graham cautions parents that discipline is an integral part of parenting. Then, he helps them find the means to positive interaction.

A Howard County resident, Dr. Graham earned a medical degree from the University of Rochester medical school and served residencies at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland.

He also was a faculty member at the University of Maryland for five years.

"Most of the time, I see people in crisis," he said. "They want something and sometimes they know what that is. They just need help getting there."

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