Kristen Gardner had her first child when she was 21 years old. That’s also how old she was when she first went to therapy.
“I knew I would need counseling just because of things that had happened in my past. And for a long time, I didn’t want those challenges to define me,” said Gardner, a member of the Glen Allen Ward in the Richmond Virginia Stake.
Gardner had two more children, and ended up raising them as a single mom. She went to several counselors over the years, but she did not feel like she had found a good fit. It took her a long time to find the right counselor who would help her in a way that worked for her.
Then she heard about Family Services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through her bishop.
“He gave me a list of counselors in the area to call. The very first person I called was a great connection, and I felt like it was exactly what I needed,” Gardner said.
Church leaders created Family Services to be a resource for local leaders responding to the social and emotional needs of members. Professional counselors who work with Family Services are aligned with gospel principles, and they use a solution-focused therapy model to focus on issues that interfere with the ability to make and keep sacred covenants.
Gardner said the Family Services counselor she met with helped her develop tools to help overcome the challenges that she had been trying to overcome for many years.
“I think the biggest thing that helped me was having a counselor who shared my values and morals. It makes a big difference,” she said. “I remember there was a point where I felt like I wasn’t worthy to have certain blessings. I brought this to my counselor, and he said, ‘Let’s look at this in a spiritual way.’ Being able to do that helped me.”
Gardner said now when she hears that someone is struggling, the first thing she asks them is if they have talked to someone. A bishop, stake president or mission president can authorize counseling services from Family Services for individuals, couples and families.
Gardner recommends people go to counseling to get the help they need — because it is helpful to have the specific tools for their own specific needs.
Through her mental health journey, Gardner was able to heal important relationships, find a full-time job and be there more for her children. She is engaged to be married, as well.
“I’m so excited to start a life as a bigger, happier family. But I was only able to do those things and help people around me because I took care of myself first,” she said.
She concluded, “I am happy to be in a good mind frame to be a light for others — to be in a mental space where I can function and enjoy my life.”