In our previous post, we briefly discussed the important of helping your counselee’s change their goal from a goal of relief to a goal of giving Christ first place in everything. We argued that changing their goal involved (1) listening to and relating to their pain and struggle (2) giving them a bigger and better goal to live for and (3) interacting with them about specific life situations showing them what the right goal “looks like” in the everyday moments of their lives. In this blog, I want to expand a bit on what it might “look like” for you, as a counselor, to relate to their pain and struggle.
#1. It means that you will not attempt to move too quickly
I know that I have made this mistake in my own counseling. I have spent a session or two listening to their story, trying to give them hope, and seeking to connect with them. However, by session two or three I gave up on the patience thing and tried to force them to say in essence, “now that I have hope let’s get to work.” I missed the reality that we were doing “work” all along. I had in my brain that we were done with the “relating” thing and it was time to move to the “give Jesus first place in everything” thing when my counselee was not ready to make that jump. My failures on this point were clear:
- I assumed that because we talked about it and they verbally agreed that they were genuinely having hope in their day to day lives.
- I assumed that my relating to them for one or two weeks had automatically given me the right to talk about any issue in their lives.
The times I have done that not only did I miss a ministry opportunity, but more importantly I was not giving Jesus first place in everything! After all, Col 3:12 says, So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Developing a loving relationship with a counselee may come, in some cases, very quickly while in other cases it may be much slower. Those who genuinely listen and relate to their counselees have learned how to exercise patience.
#2. It means you will still work to ask the questions, “what does my counselee need most?” and “what does my counselee need first?”
We talk about these questions a lot in data gathering. Every counseling session needs to narrow down to a central theme. 1 Thess 5:14 reminds us to “admonish the unruly [or lazy], encourage the fainthearted, help the weak.” This will mean, practically, that I am careful to exegete my counselee so that I know what type of ministry is most appropriate at a given time. If we have not properly helped them with their pain and suffering then we might minister to them in an inappropriate way (i.e. we end up admonishing the fainthearted when they actually needed encouragement).
I do not claim that this is always an easy task for a counselor. However, properly understanding your counselee and ensuring that they are prepared for the next step before you try to force them to take that step is part of what it means to “listen and relate to the struggles of your counselee.”
#3. It means that you will seek to find additional people that can help them
Another possible way this concept of “listening and relating” needs to be applied is gaining the involvement of others to help in the situation. While a formal counseling session might be very important in a particular case, it might be that the formal counseling is only part of the equation. What is also needed are “spiritual friends” who will come alongside and help at times other than their scheduled appointment.
There are other leaders in the biblical counseling movement that emphasize this point. For example, Dr. Garrett Higbee at Harvest Bible Chapel speaks of an advocate system. In his view, having an advocate is a crucial component of the disciplining process. In other words, the advocate becomes the spiritual friend of the counselee so that an additional support system is created and so that ministry outside the formal counseling can naturally occur. In addition, Dr. Bob Kellemen, in a seminar he calls the 4E Ministry Training Strategy, also emphasizes that fact that many counselees need the whole church ministering to them rather than simply the counselor (he is not in any way minimizing the importance of the formal counseling). In other words, listening and relating to people might look like helping your counselee develop some spiritual friends.
Changing a counselee’s goal is very important in the counseling process and it is best done in the context of a relationship where the counselor genuinely and compassionately listens and relates to his or her counselee. If you have additional ways that you have found to be successful in carrying out this task we would love to hear your comments.