Ask a Professional: An Interview with Kristi Clements; LPC
We are on Week 6 of an 8-week series called, “You Are Here.” As a family, we’ve been navigating through some common cultural phrases to see if they hold up to any real pressure or scrutiny in the face of the Gospel. This past week, we examined the phrase, “Eliminate negative people from our life” and the cultural belief that we should get rid of anyone in our lives who is difficult or draining.
To follow up on this topic, we talked with Kristi Clements, a licensed professional counselor and long-time missionary member. She and her husband, Brandon, helped plant Midtown Lexington two years ago. She also started her own Counseling & Consulting practice and regularly treats people dealing with anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
How do you define “boundaries” as a counselor?
Boundaries are our personal property line, which marks what I am responsible for. Boundaries define what is mine and what is not mine. They are incredibly freeing because they show me where my responsibility ends and someone else’s begins. Boundaries give us our sense of ownership and help us take responsibility for ourselves.
We’ve been talking about some cultural norms or phrases that have slowly but surely seeped into the way that we are living our lives, and specifically this sense of freedom to “eliminate negative people from our lives.” How would you encourage people in discerning if it’s the right time to remove yourself from a person or situation?
I would use a process called “boundary development” which allows a person to examine why they are finding another person to be challenging or difficult to love. From there, we would work to discern how they are being responsible “for” a person versus “to” that person and we would work to correct that behavior. We would then begin the process of identifying healthy boundaries that need to be established in order to start developing a healthier relationship with that person and the best way to communicate those boundaries with the other person.
Where, in your practice or around your group of believers, have you seen people misuse this concept of “boundaries”?
Boundaries are a lot like chainsaws. They are incredibly helpful when we need to cut down a tree or a limb, but if used incorrectly they are quite damaging and can easily cut off an arm! So, we have to think of them as helpful and yet, they are secondary to what the Lord has called us to in our relationships (carry one another’s burdens, speak truth to one another in love, etc.). I find that many people try to use boundaries to just be selfish and not have to do things they don’t want to do.
How do we to confront or bring up the conversation with someone who is infringing or pressing against our boundaries? Or how do we confront someone who is using boundaries like chainsaws to not be challenged or pressed by people in their life?
I think we make communication harder than it has to be because of our poor boundaries. So, if someone is infringing on your boundaries say to yourself: “Self, you get to tell them that. You need to tell them that. Don’t have poor boundaries by ignoring your needs because you are scared to hurt their feelings.” Then, go tell that person in a humble way that you need to check in with them about this boundary you have.
The term “self-care” gets bounced around a lot when we’re talking about boundaries. Where have you seen this idea being misused or abused? What is a helpful way for us to think about self-care as believers?
I see people use “self-care” as a way to be selfish and mindless, which is not the intent of self-care for believers. The simplest way I can define self-care would be taking time to care for the soul/mind/body and confessing to the Lord our need for Him. Self-care looks a lot like checking in with ourselves (and the Holy Spirit!) and asking what to do with the ten minutes we have between meetings. TV may give us a moment of rest, but true self-care happens more in proactive things like praying, contacting a friend that needs encouragement, moving our body in a healthy way to care for it, drinking a really good cup of coffee that reminds us that God made coffee beans! I think the ultimate goal of self-care is renewal and rejuvenation, but we only get that when we realize we need a savior and the savior is not us.
For you personally, what do healthy rest, self-care, and boundaries look like?
This is actually really difficult for me. I keep using “they” or “client,” but man, I have a hard time not just being selfish and zoning out. I learned from a sweet member at Midtown to look at my week and highlight energizing things green, draining things red, and neutral things yellow. Then, I can’t just take off all of the red items the next week (let’s be honest, I sometimes want to!) but instead, I make sure to cushion those red events with green items. So, if I know I’m going to have a really difficult conversation with a client, I will attempt to go grab coffee and pray while I walk to Starbucks from my office after. I can’t be selfish and say, “ummm, client, I’m too tired and you’re too difficult this week…gotta cancel!” but I can know that for whatever reason, I will be drained after that hour and need to care for my mind and soul. I think that routine has helped me to know of my neediness for the Lord and practice a lot of “I need a savior and I am not my own savior.” I also have a running list of things I know I need to do to actually care for my body/mind/soul that I am continually trying to practice.
The term “safe people” is another phrase that gets tossed around a lot. Where did this term actually come from?
The term, “safe people” got pretty popular when Cloud and Townsend, the authors of the book Boundaries, wrote about it. They defined safe people as people who draw us closer to God, to others, and help us become the person God created us to be. Pop psychology has damaged that last idea, but I do think there is some value in someone knowing you and being able to encourage you in the giftedness the Lord has given you. So, safe people are people that are like you, not like you, and everything in between. Safe people are legitimately any people that are pointing you to the Gospel in your life.
How do you encourage people to reach out to community as they are going through counseling with you?
I usually ask for them to create a list of people that we call their “support system.” This can range from their family to friends to coworkers to neighbors to sorority sisters/fraternity brothers to lifegroup/small group/whatever group with their church to 12 Step Programs to pastors. We sometimes even have sessions with that group to help foster a healthy, working relationship between client and their support network. I also tell my clients they are in session with me 1-2 hours a week max, so the hard work happens outside of the four walls of my office. They need people to help support them when they are doing that hard work.
If you are interested in learning more about the work that Kristi does, you can check out her website: kristiclements.org. If you think that you need counseling, please contact your lifegroup leader or Ryan Rike, pastor of care.