Emotional Self Reliance by Elder Boyd K Packer – Lecture Excerpts

The following is an excerpt from a BYU Devotional in 1975 by then Elder Boyd K. Packer called Self Reliance (perhaps better titled Emotional Self Reliance) (for full text and video https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/boyd-k-packer_self-reliance/), suggesting that emotional self-reliance is akin to temporal self-reliance, that we should primarily turn to God and our family members, then the church, for emotional guidance. He teaches that if we become too reliant on others for help in these matters, it can rob us of the ability to receive personal revelation. There is a time and a place for professional counseling services, but the doctrines presented here show the proper order of operations in finding emotional support and guidance. I also note that a good professional therapist isn’t so much in the business of dishing out answers and solutions, so much as helping the client to find their own answers. Empowering self-discovery is the ideal, and there will be various circumstances which require varying degrees of external assistance as we travel though life together.

“That same principle, self-reliance, has application in emotional and spiritual things.

I have become very anxious over the amount of counseling that we seem to need in the Church, and the network of counseling services that we keep building up without once emphasizing the principle of self-reliance as it is understood in the welfare program. There are too many in the Church who seem to be totally dependent, emotionally and spiritually, upon others. They subsist on some kind of emotional welfare. They are unwilling to sustain themselves. They become so dependent that they endlessly need to be shored up, lifted up, endlessly need encouragement, and they contribute little of their own.

I have been concerned that we may be on the verge of doing to ourselves emotionally (and therefore spiritually) what we have been working so hard for generations to avoid materially. If we lose our emotional and spiritual self-reliance, we can be weakened quite as much, perhaps even more, than when we become dependent materially. On the one hand, we counsel bishops to avoid abuses in the Church welfare program. On the other hand, we seem to dole out counsel and advice without the slightest thought that the member should solve the problem himself or turn to his family. Only when those resources are inadequate should we turn to the Church.

We recognize at once that it would be folly to develop welfare production projects to totally sustain all of the members of the Church in every material need. We ought likewise to be very thoughtful before we develop a vast network of counseling programs with all of the bishops and branch presidents and everyone else, doling out counsel in an effort to totally sustain our members in every emotional need.

If we are not careful, we can lose power of individual revelation. The Lord said to Oliver Cowdery, and it has meaning for all of us:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing that is wrong. [D&C 9:7–9]

Do you realize that here at Brigham Young University we have 10 stakes and 120 branches. We have 30 members of stake presidencies, 360 branch presidents and counselors, approximately 150 high councilors, all to counsel. That should be more than enough. That is, provided that principles of self-reliance, self-respect, industry, and thrift were applied to that part of our lives. In addition, here at the University we have in the college advisement centers and in the personal development center and in the psychology clinic and specializing in marriage and family counsel, the equivalent of fifty full-time personnel. Then, in addition, there are over eleven hundred faculty members all of whom are advisers and counselors in some measure.

Now I fear that all of them, both in the stakes and in the University, may be doling out counsel and advice without first requiring you to call on every personal resource and every family resource before seeking a solution of your problems from the Church.

You may say, “Well, my parents are not here.” I simply respond that your University admission presupposes that you can write. Should it be an emergency, there is the telephone.

Some may say that “my parents are not members of the Church.” I say, “Well, that may be, but they are your parents. We expect you to turn to them in times of financial reverses. The same principle has great merit in times of emotional and spiritual stress.”

I had one student come to my office. I knew him personally. He had a very difficult problem He was trying to decide should he or should he not marry. I asked him, “You’ve come for counsel?”

“Yes, indeed,” he said.

“Are you going to follow it when I give it to you?” I asked. That was a surprise to him.

Finally he consented—“Yes.”

I happened to know his father—a patriarch in the Church, as wonderful a man as there is. I said, “This is my counsel. Go home this weekend. Talk to your father, get him in a bedroom or some private place, tell him your dilemma, ask him for his counsel, and do what he tells you to do. That is my counsel.”

I think an emotional dole system can be as dangerous as a material dole system, and we can become so dependent that we stand around waiting for the Church to do everything for us.”

Dangers of Modern Counseling Procedures

In virtually every ward or branch there are chronic cases of individuals who endlessly seek counsel but never follow the counsel that is given. That, some may assume, is not serious. I think it’s very serious! Like the common cold, it drains more strength out of humanity than any other disease. We seem to be developing an epidemic of “counselitis” that drains spiritual strength from the Church. Spiritual self-reliance is the sustaining power of the Church. If we rob you of that, how can you get the revelation that there is a prophet of God? How can you get answers to prayer? How can you know? If we move so quickly to answer all your questions and provide so many ways to solve all of your problems, we may end up weakening you, not strengthening you.

Now, I say here that I know quite well that some counselors are apt to say, “My counseling does not rob one of his self-reliance because I use the nondirective counseling approach. I am scrupulously careful not to take a position. I merely reflect back comments and feelings of the individual so that he will make the decision totally himself. I do my counsel by nondirection and never make a value judgment.”

While I have respect for that procedure of counseling as a method, I think that if that’s all they do, nondirection, very often that’s precisely what we get from the counseling—no direction. When counselors schedule interminable sessions to say as little as possible while the student is struggling to try to decide if something’s right or wrong, and the counselor already knows, that’s a waste of time. So is the fussing around trying to determine whether it is right for you under the circumstances or wrong for you under the circumstances, when anyone with any moral sense would know that if a course is wrong it’s wrong foranybody and it’s wrong for everybody.

In the Church, the directive pattern of counseling is at least as respectable and decent and desirable and needed as the nondirective approach to counseling. Unfortunately, we see very little of it anymore. How sweet and refreshing for a branch president or bishop or a counselor to say clearly to a student, “This course is right and this course is wrong. Now, you go make the decision.” The student ought to know what is right and what is wrong by the quickest method possible, and that may be very directive. There is a crying need for counselors who will say pointedly and plainly, “This is wrong. It’s evil. It’s bad. It will bring you unhappiness. This course is right. It’s good it’s desirable. It will bring you happiness.” Then the agency comes when the individual determines for himself whether or not he will follow the right course.

In the world this preoccupation with counseling has led to a number of experiments from which we are not entirely free in the Church. There are those counselors who want to delve deeper into the lives of subjects than is emotionally or spiritually healthy. I think I should explain here that, when I use the word counselor, I’m not just talking about professional counselors. I’m talking about all of us who are responsible for counseling. There are those who want to draw out and analyze and take apart and dissect. While a certain amount of catharsis is healthy and essential, overmuch of it can be degenerating. It is seldom as easy to put something back together as it is to take it apart.

There have been developed several procedures for group therapy. They are promoted under a number of titles: sensitivity training, self-actualization, training groups or T-groups, simulation, transactional analysis, encounter groups, marathon counseling sessions. Some even function under such titles as value clarification, one or two even under the title of character education, and so on. Although they differ in some respects, none of them is exactly alike; one or more of the following elements is apparent in all of them: They recognize no ultimate source for truth. All values are thus established by the individuals or group. There is no reference to God. They encourage a free and full expression, something of a confession, before the group of every intimate and personal feeling and experience. They encourage an openness, a touching, and a closeness among the members of the group, and they attempt to resolve problems simply by finding a comfortable interaction. Above all, they avoid any feeling of guilt.

There are major emotional and spiritual dangers involved in such procedures, and members of the Church would do well to be very cautious, perhaps even to leave them alone.

There is a question at times whether or not the sessions are for the good of the counselee, or for the curiosity and amusement of the counselor. Young people, you should know that when you’re dealing with things of the mind and of the spirit, it’s so easy to cause the very thing you’re trying to prevent.

I remember years ago on the island of Kauai seeing a little sign in a photographer’s shop that said:

If there is beauty, we will take it.

If there is none, we will make it.

I fear that some of us, in our overmuch counseling in the Church, seem to be saying:

If there are problems, we’ll abate them.

If there are none, we’ll create them.

That, incidentally, is my first poem. Now, I know it isn’t Carol Lynn Pearson, but it has a thought to it.

I want to emphasize this point: I am fully aware that there are times when deep-seated emotional problems will respond to the procedures we have been talking about. They can have therapeutic value. There is, however, no justification to employ them in the absence of deep-seated emotional problems. There is no more justification for doing that then there is justification for a medical doctor to perform unnecessary surgery. When someone is just experimenting or riding the crest of the wave of a new counseling theory, I would no more encourage you to submit to brain surgery under the hands of a nurse or an intern or a ward attendant.

I think you’ve probably heard the account of the parents who are leaving their children untended for a few hours. They had gone out the door. Then the mother opened the door again and said, “Now children, while we’re gone, whatever you do, don’t take the stool and go into the pantry and climb up and reach up on the second shelf and move the cracker box and reach back and get that sack of beans and put one up your nose, will you?”

I say again, it’s very easy when you’re dealing with things of the mind and the spirit to cause the very thing you’re trying so desperately to prevent. When you go for counseling, remember this from the Book of Mormon:

Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. [2 Nephi 28:31]

The Lord also gave this warning:

O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. [2 Nephi 9:28–29]

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