“All my life feels tainted,” was the chorus line to counseling Trevor. As you have heard Trevor share his story over the last three sessions, you understand why. For three hours he didn’t leave much room for you to talk. He plowed through telling his story until the hour was up. You almost felt like he was testing you, to see if you could hold up to hearing his pain. As he talked, he didn’t make much eye contact. He was reliving events and flinching at his demons as he gave you a tour of his life.

  • Trevor grew up in a single-parent home because his father died in a car wreck when he was 3 years old. Trevor’s few personal memories of his father have been crafted together with snippets of stories from his dad’s friends into a version of a man that seemed almost like a Marvel Comic superhero.
  • Trevor was an angry child, frequently fighting with his mother and the three stepdads he had between the ages of 6 and 18. Trevor didn’t like leaving the house where his dad lived or the idea of anyone replacing his dad. He intentionally punished his mother for “moving on” and not really loving his dad.
  • Between getting in trouble for his anger and being upset that he was the only kid without a dad there, Trevor didn’t play many sports or engage with other extracurricular activities.
  • Two of his stepdads got into frequent physical altercations with Trevor; half trying to protect his mother and half wanting to give him a dose of his own medicine. Between the physical abuse and foul things that were said, Trevor got the message, “You’re just a messed-up kid and we can’t wait until you’re gone.”
  • In the teen years, Trevor quickly escalated from tobacco to alcohol to street drugs to prescription pain meds. He decided he liked the latter best because of how they mellowed him out. He became enough of a drug connoisseur to realized he liked a “drugged low” to settle his anger instead of a “high” that just set his pain-drenched soul on fire.
  • Early adulthood was marked by the heartache of addiction, serial relationships, being arrested a few times, and a couple of stints of homelessness. While in prison, Trevor finally got sober and “got in touch with his spiritual side” (which you took to mean willingness to feel instead of fight his unpleasant emotions).
  • By the time he started seeing you, his life was as good as it had ever been, which even he admitted didn’t mean much. He was living with a girl he liked enough to consider marrying. She knew most of his story and he told her he didn’t need to know hers. He didn’t want to carry any more baggage and none of it would matter anyway, because he was more messed up than she could ever be.

Sharing that much of himself finally led Trevor to say why he wanted to meet with you. If he was considering getting married, that meant he was close to being a dad. Nothing excited or terrified him more. He had been “A screw up all my life and I couldn’t live with myself being a screw up as a father. Nobody deserved what I’ve had to endure.” You couldn’t help but notice these two sentences are the only moments of tenderness and vulnerability Trevor has shown in three hours of telling his story. He actually looked at you as he spoke these words.

That’s when he said, “All my life feels tainted, like one big pile of crap. I hate being alone. I hate when people look at me. But my girlfriend is finally someone I can let know me a little and not have an allergic reaction of anger. I want to be a dad so bad, but nothing scares me more. Can you help me figure out what to do with myself? I know I’m messed up, but is there hope for me to be the kind of person who can be a good dad?”

That’s the question Trevor leaves you with when he finally let’s you say more than scheduling the next meeting. You feel overwhelmed by the number of targets (potential goals for Trevor), empathetic emotions for Trevor, and pressure from Trevor to make things better. But, for once, he doesn’t speak in order to rescue you from the uncertainty. You almost get the sense that he is relieved that you are as confused as he is.

Case Study Discussion

This case study was written to set up the presentation for the free webinar “A Case Study In Counseling Guilt, Shame, and Regret.” The webinar will be Thursday January 28th at 1pm EST. My goal in this twice-monthly series of free webinars is to teach one primary counseling concept or skill each month and then provide a case study that allows participants to become more proficient at utilizing that skill or concept.

These are great events for:

  • Pastors, chaplains, and ministry leaders looking to enhance their pastoral care skills
  • Counselors wanting CEU credits to help them learn more about the intersection of their faith and practice
  • Leaders in church-based counseling ministries looking to grow in their case wisdom
  • Undergraduate students looking to discern a calling to vocational ministry or a career as a professional counselor
  • Friends and small group leaders committed to walking faithfully alongside their peers in tough times

Note: If you want to participate in many or most of the webinars in this series, when you RSVP click “auto subscribe to all future webinars,” so you don’t have to keep up with registering for each event.