We Can Counsel Our Friend
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
The word “counseling” conjures up certain images in our minds. We might envision a professional setting of some sort. We might picture the counselor as someone we don’t know very well, if at all. In state licensed therapy, therapists are expected to adhere to guidelines that say not to counsel people with whom they have a prior or current relationship outside of the therapy context. There are provisions for cases where this is unavoidable, although even then the therapist is expected to maintain strong boundaries.
This is a foreign concept to biblical counselors, because they are not required to follow such guidelines. In fact, our philosophy of care is quite the opposite. We often engage with our counselees not just in the counseling session, but also at church, at social functions, and other places our lives intersect. This is not seen as a detriment to the counseling. In fact, it is considered a strong asset.
Licensed therapy requires that the relationship remains clinical. Once counseling is over, the relationship is also over. As biblical counselors, we often counsel friends, and sometimes we become friends with our counselees after the counseling ends. Our counselees are not just “clients”, they often are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are given instructions in Scripture regarding how we are to relate to our siblings in Christ. The many one-another passages apply to our friendships and to our counseling relationships alike. Biblical counseling is not clinical or professional-to-client. It is one-another ministry. It can be done in a variety of contexts such as informal sessions at one’s church, in a parachurch’s office, at a Starbucks or a restaurant, in a living room, wherever the counselor ministers. This dynamic is why we can counsel our friends and often become lasting friends during the process.
When someone who is already a friend of mine seeks counsel, it will look a little different than when a stranger or simple acquaintance asks for counseling. Because we already have a relationship, we can enter into deeper discussions more quickly as we also continue our friendship. I have never turned a friend away from counseling because we are friends. In fact, I am happy to do it because it is, simply put, what the Bible requires of all believers no matter what we call it. We are meant to engage in community, which includes applying all of the one-another scriptures. A faithful friend will care enough to help.
Considerations When Counseling a Friend
It might help to lay some ground rules. It is important that you agree to transparency and complete honesty. However, you must guard against becoming your friend’s secret-keeper. An example of that is when your friend confesses that she is committing adultery, but she has not told her husband. She would like you to keep that secret. If you keep her secret, you are now a part of her sin against her husband. In order to counsel her well, she must be admonished for the sin and called to repentance. She must also be honest with her husband, immediately. (These are complicated scenarios, and sometimes it is wise for you to bring a pastor or male counselor in on the discussion about how to help her move forward with her husband.)
Be aware that your friendship dynamic might change, at least for a little while. That does not end your friendship, it just changes it for a season. You will likely be offering counsel more than you might otherwise in just a social context. It will be worth it. In many cases, the friendship will be stronger because you have loved your friend so deeply.
If your friend is not seeking your help, be sensitive in how you approach her if you feel that she needs help. We are called to admonish one another, true, but that is to be done gently and in love. You want to maintain trust in your friendship, and being too pushy (even if your motive is to help) is a sure way to push a friend away.
Under the Spirit’s leading, you are called to help your friend so that she can be restored to Christ.
Check your motives and remember that our desires drive our motives. If your desire is selfish in any way, rethink things. Our desires for others should be gospel-centered, wanting our friend to find hope and healing. If you desire to help your friend become more like Jesus, that will be a very good start.
“Better is an open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:5-6”
We Are Set Apart
Counseling our friends and becoming friends with our counselees sets us apart from other forms of counseling and therapy. This is because as we counsel, the kindness of God is on display as the body of believers relates to one-another as God intends. God has graced us with a family, siblings in Christ, so that we do not have to struggle to exist in this broken world alone.
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15″