By Jessica Brodie
WEST COLUMBIA—Counselor Martha Beahm describes it as “living in a pressure cooker,” the constant go-go-go nature of life today, the notion of feeling out-of-control and helpless in the face of relentless churning motion and energy. Her coworker the Rev. Kenneth Barwick calls it “the age of chronic anxiety.”
Whatever the reason, there’s a place in the Midlands that has been offering hope and healing for countless seeking therapy, counseling and crisis support: Mount Hebron Counseling Service.
An offshoot ministry of Mount Hebron United Methodist Church, Mount Hebron Counseling Service started in 1986 as a way to extend Christ’s love and the church’s resources for the strengthening, healing and reconciling of individuals and families. Barwick was the first counselor, and the service has added staff as it has grown. Now they have four counselors—Barwick and Beahm, plus Donna Jones and Harry Mustard—plus one full-time office manager and two staffers who work part-time to share one full-time secretarial position.
“I see it as a ministry of healing,” Barwick said. “The Great Commission of Christ is to preach, teach, heal and baptize. The church has always had a ministry for people to move toward wholeness of life.”
Mount Hebron Counseling Service is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help people get the psychological help they need. While the counseling service is financially self-sustaining, the church does its best to pitch in and help their ministry wherever needed. United Methodist Women circles give rolls of stamps, while others donate boxes of paper or keep the counselors and clients in prayer. Other groups donate to The Well Fund, which helps provide the counseling services to people without adequate financial resources. The church also renovated and moved the counseling service into a house next door that they turned into office space.
“We offer hope,” Barwick said. “I’ve heard people talk about counselors as if we’re midwives—like we’re birthing hope. As Christians, we’re all on this journey of bringing hope.
“It’s been a work of the Spirit. It’s very much a ministry.”
It takes courage
As mental health issues become more and more prevalent in society—and as the number of people suffering and attempting suicide increases—churches are beginning to step up and “be Christ” to people in need. Mount Hebron Counseling Service is just one of those ways, but it’s a 32-year effort that is making a big difference in the community they serve.
As Mustard described their counseling services, “We help people hit the pause button on life and make changes.”
And a lot of what goes on is learning to be intentional, Beahm said.
“The strong ones come into counseling. It takes courage to be here, to be willing to get out of their comfort zone, to seek help, to say ‘I’m stuck,’” Beahm said. “You don’t have control over the world, but you do have control over yourself.”
Listening out of faith
But even though they are a church ministry, the counselors at Mount Hebron Counseling Service consider themselves to be pastoral counselors, meaning they listen out of faith, but faith is not necessarily at the fore of their counseling sessions. That means if someone is uncomfortable or doesn’t wish to talk about faith during their sessions, they don’t need to.
“We’re trying to meet them where they are,” Mustard said. “I think people come here often because they think we’re safe. But they also fear we will judge or proselytize.”
Jones agreed. With some of her clients, “I go over that very first thing, and they say, ‘Oh, thank heavens, I was worried about that.’”
But with others, Beahm said, the fact that the counseling service is part of the Mount Hebron UMC umbrella is what drew them there in the first place.
“I have had people say, ‘I came to you because of the spiritual component,’” Beahm said.
Either way, whether faith is or is not discussed in the counseling session, Mustard said he believes people who come to Mount Hebron Counseling Service often grow in faith because they become whole again, and whole people have the capacity to grow and blossom.
Hospitality a part of the healing
The counselors say they enjoy and feel called to their work, but the office staff also gets much out of their role in helping people get the mental and emotional care they need.
Part of the care offered by Mount Hebron Counseling Service is in its hospitality, which extends not only to the counseling sessions but also to the fact that they have a live person answering the phone all day long, not an automated system.
“That’s part of our welcoming hospitality,” Jones said.
While staffer Alecia Diamond is not privy to the confidential details of people’s counseling sessions, in her role as front office staff, Diamond said she’s still able to see the fruits of their labor.
“People come in all closed up, and then I see them come out, and they’re happy. It’s like, wow! I can really see the difference.”
Office manager Bettie Mills said much the same.
“People call in and they’re really hurting. To see the difference—well, it makes you feel good to know you are part of that. You never know what that person is going through. You hear the pain.”
So much of that stems from the sincere love and care the counselors, staff and church genuinely have for the people they are in ministry with, said staffer Kim Peterson.
“Everyone is really sincere,” Peterson said. “They’re not just putting on a happy face; they’re taken seriously.”
“The hospitality is part of the healing,” Mustard said.
Beahm agreed. “This is an extension of the church to be in community and to bring hope and healing.
“It’s being Christ.”
For more information about Mount Hebron Counseling Service, visit www.mthebroncounseling.com.