In a couple of recent articles, pt.1pt.2 I’ve shared with you some issues that commonly cause counseling to stall out in some way. We’ve looked at problems on the part of the counselee, as well as some for which the counselor is responsible. Today, I want to talk about other influences that may be bogging down your process.
Other people in the life of your counselee
Who or what else in your counselee’s life may be counteracting your efforts? Though you are carefully instructing her in the put off/put on process, she may have someone else in her life who does not want her to change. I worked with one lady for over a year who desperately wanted to improve her marriage by learning to communicate more effectively, but her husband wanted no part of it. She learned biblical submission and practiced it diligently in the hopes of deepening their relationship, but her husband liked things the way they were. He would even bait her toward a sinful response so that he would not have to participate in the change she so desperately wanted. We even saw them together a few times (his heel marks are still in the parking lot), but to no avail. For this dear lady, heart change could only go so far. A deeper relationship with the Lord did result from our time together, and in that sense there was success, but her presenting problem remained unchanged.
Music and Television
As one of my counselees shared with me recently, music has the power to “change the posture of the soul.” When I hear songs from my pre-conversion days, a swell of memories can overtake me, causing me to think on the sins and temptations that I left behind. This is rarely a good thing, and can often precipitate a hiccup in my progress. The same is true for our counselees. We need to know what kind of music they are listening to, and direct them to good resources for melodies and lyrics that will flood their souls with the love of Christ. Other examples of this kind of influence: Watching too much news can trigger anxiety and fear; too much TV, in general, may indicate escapism or laziness, and endless blog reading can cause theological confusion.
Social media is famous for putting up stumbling blocks for believers. Ask your counselee how much time she spends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This will give you a good clue as to how she is being influenced on a daily basis. Facebook “friends” whose online lives look better than hers may tempt your counselee to envy or frustration. Political posts, online shopping ads, and the Facebook “memory” app can trigger all kinds of emotion, temptation, and even sorrow and grief. Fear of man factors in here too, as others may misunderstand or click on one of those emoticons that can make the counselee think they’re mad at her. I spent a whole session once working through the issue of someone, not “liking” my counselee’s post! Don’t underestimate the influence of media, social and otherwise, on your counselee.
Physical or organic issues
There are many factors regarding your counselee’s physical condition that will directly affect her emotional and spiritual state. If you are using a good Personal Data Inventory in your intake process, many of these will be clear. Even so, sometimes counselees fail to be thorough in listing some of these things, so if they’re not there, it’s important to ask. Some people simply won’t write it down on paper or an online form, but are willing to share in person.
If your counselee is anxious or fearful, ask her about caffeine and other stimulants. Remember, there are other sources of chemical stimulants besides coffee and tea. Soda pop, chocolate, sugar, and even a diet that is high in simple carbohydrates or low in protein can cause a counselee to be agitated or “edgy.” It’s never a bad idea to suggest that your counselee consult with a nutritionist if you think this may be a factor.
If your counselee struggles with depression, there can be lifestyle factors involved. How much sleep does she get each night, and is it restful? Does she wake up feeling rested or tired? How’s her sleep hygiene? Does she take sleeping pills? Does she drink alcohol? What about prescription drugs? You should educate yourself on the most commonly used prescription drugs for depression and sleep, so that you know the side effects. How much time does she spend outdoors? Especially in the winter, depression can worsen with lack of sunshine.
Then there are the medical issues that can bring about counseling challenges. Hypoglycemia, hypo/hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and many other medical problems can present in part as spiritual depression. Never give medical advice, but don’t leave out the instruction to your counselee to go and get a thorough medical exam if you think medical issues may be in play.
What about her church?
You can be giving your counselee all the wisdom of Scripture, pointing her consistently toward Christ, but if she is not in a solid church, your battle may be uphill all the way. Your counselee needs good teaching throughout the week, not just during her appointments with you. In many “seeker sensitive” churches, the Gospel is preached every week, with the intention of persuading unbelievers to come to repentance and faith in Christ. That is great. Unbelievers certainly need Christ, and they cannot hear without a preacher.
But what about the believers in the congregation? As the pastor feeds milk to the unsaved and baby Christians week after week, how are the mature believers to be fed? And, as the mature believers are nurturing and discipling the babies, who is nurturing and discipling the mature believers? None of us have arrived at complete maturity, and we all need someone to stir us up and spur us on toward love and good deeds. Even if your counselee is a mature believer, if she is is in a church with very few solid believers and no “meat” from the pulpit, she will have a harder time resisting sin and temptation. Without mentoring and accountability, she will easily slip back into old patterns between her sessions with you. Suggest to her that she listen to good sermons online, seek an older woman, either from within or outside her church for mentoring, or invite her to attend your church for a while as she is working toward heart change.
Ask the Wonderful Counselor
If you have prayerfully done everything you can think of to help her, and your counselee still seems stuck, remember that there is only one Sovereign, all-knowing Person, and that’s not you. Go to the Lord with your counselee, asking Him to reveal the problem. Ask your counselee to pray. Hearing her prayer may even give you new information!
If it seems your counselee is just not ready to change, remember that there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven. As counselors, there may be a time for us to cease striving with a particular individual, and lay the case at the feet of Jesus. Though we may no longer meet with her, He is watching her every moment of every day, and knows exactly what she needs. We can rejoice in this truth. Hallelujah! What a Counselor! What a Savior!