In my last article, I shared with you some key questions to ask yourself about a counselee who seems to be stuck in a sin pattern. Today, I want to challenge you to ask yourself, as the counselor, some questions about what you are (or are not) doing that may be causing the counseling process to stall out. I hope this will be a helpful aid to you in discerning whether or not you are part of the problem.
Are you praying for her?
It is very important that we pray for our counselees, and I’m not talking about just a quick “Help me, Lord!” as she walks through the door. The prayer we offer for our counselees is a direct reflection of our belief that the Holy Spirit is truly the counselor. If we are not praying for our counselees, then that is an indicator that we may be relying too much on ourselves and our own resources to bring about change in the counselee’s heart and life. I would encourage you to take a quick look at your appointment calendar each day, and lift up the counselees you will be seeing in your morning prayers. Often when I do this, the Lord shows me something in my reading that may apply to a particular person I am seeing. God is faithful, and will honor your prayers for your counselees.
Are you listening/communicating carefully?
Sometimes we think we have figured out our counselee’s problem, and we begin formulating a plan to help her before we have really listened to her. For me, this happens when I see my counselee’s issues as a practical problem to solve instead of a spiritual issue requiring a spiritual solution. Especially when her problems are deep and life-dominating, because I truly want to help her change quickly, I am too eager to determine the problem. In my haste to do this, I may miss important things that she has to say.
Besides the need for enough information to make an informed evaluation, there is another reason for us to listen carefully: Your counselee needs to know that she is being heard. Perhaps she has come to the counseling room burdened by years of pain, struggle, and loneliness. It may have been a very long time since anyone really listened to her heart, empathized, and showed real compassion. As her counselor, you have an opportunity to meet her right where she is, and to express the love of Christ to her in the midst of her pain. Don’t miss it!
What about how you are speaking to her? Are you sure that she understands what you are saying? Many counselees are nervous and unsure what is expected of them, especially in the first few sessions, so they may not ask for clarification. Does she understand what you mean by terms like repentance, sanctification, and regeneration? Does she have a good depth of understanding of the Gospel? In my experience, solid, exegetical preaching is a rare thing in many churches, so I don’t assume that my counselees understand the biblical terms for such doctrines. A groundwork of explanation and understanding can go a long way toward progress and growth for your counselee.
Are you asking your counselee the right questions?
If you have listened carefully and gained involvement with your counselee, the questions to ask will probably be evident. If I had to choose a skill in counseling that is the most vital one, I would say it is asking good questions. I am always amazed at the wealth of information I get, that I would not otherwise have had, if I had not used my counselee’s statements as springboards for questions.
The best questions involve both the counselee and God. I’ll give you an example: After a botched knee surgery, which left me with permanent mobility problems and a lot of pain, I needed biblical counseling. As I cried to my counselor over my grief about the outcome, she asked me this: “How would God be different if your surgery had been successful?” This caused me to think, not only about my response to what had happened, but about God’s part in it, who He is, and whether or not my circumstances could change the goodness of God. It forced me to admit that God doesn’t change, no matter what is happening to me. It also gave me hope because in that moment, I caught a glimpse of the glory of God, and how that glory could be manifested in my response. Work hard at crafting your questions. You can make a big impact with the right ones.
Is your frustration showing?
Sometimes, when we’ve worked with someone for a long time and they’re still not getting it, we can become exasperated. We are, after all, human, and counseling can be difficult, exhausting work. We’ve come at a heart issue that is evident to us (but not to the counselee) from every angle we can think of, and still there is no change. We’ve consulted with our mentor, studied reference materials, and asked great questions, but still, no change. At this point, our outward expression of frustration, though unintended, may be part of the problem.
Some of us have better poker faces than others. I don’t happen to have one at all. It seems everything I think shows on my face. But the solution to this is not to develop better control of my facial muscles. The solution is to guard my own heart more carefully. Who am I to be getting frustrated with my counselee, when my Lord has such patience with me? When I begin to feel frustration creeping up, I have only to take a moment to think of how patiently the Lord waits for me to “get it” in some areas. (He’s still waiting, by the way, and probably will be until I’m standing before Him in glory!) No, my dear sisters, we have no business becoming frustrated with our counselees as long as we are imperfect sinners ourselves.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of mistakes we as counselors might make. It is also true that, despite our best efforts, biblical counseling may not produce change, and there can be many factors involved there. It is always a grief to me when a counselee decides to stop coming, or I have to dismiss her because she is not participating or is not motivated to change. But God forbid that the failure would be on my part. I never want my own character flaws or outright sin to be the cause of failure in counseling. As I pray, communicate carefully, ask the right questions, and guard my own heart, the Lord will faithfully execute His plan.
Next time, we’ll close out this series with a few more ideas about what may be slowing down your process with a stuck counselee.