Can Counselors be deceived in their ministries?

The last two posts have been dedicated to subject of changing the counselee’s goals.  “Diana” posted a comment that deserves much more attention.  In essence, she argued that counselors have be careful of their goals lest they miss importance of Christ.  This reminded me, as a counselor, of another danger that we face – deception.  I am not speaking here of ways or tips that we as counselors can avoid being deceived by our counselees.  No, this post is about counselor self-deception. This deception comes in different formats but here are three deceptions that every counselor must be careful to avoid.

Deception #1:  I can change the counselee

Maybe we would not be so brash to say it just like this … but counselors have been deceived that they are sufficient for the task of doing ministry; even counseling ministry.  Scripture makes it clear that we are “competent to counsel” but that genuine change is done by the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit.  The more we, as counselors, recognize our dependence on Christ the more we will be inclined to lead our counselees to Christ for strength, help, hope, and wisdom. Thus, the challenge for us counselors is to maintain the proper balance.  God is always the one who gets the credit … he is the hero so to speak.  However, God uses us to help others.  Here are a few tips to help you maintain proper balance and avoid this deception:

  1. Always give God credit for anything good that happens in the life of a counselee.
  2. Make it clear that your counselee is dependent on the power of God not on your wisdom … even if they look to you early in the counseling process.
  3. Accept responsibility and look for ways to learn when cases do not go very well.
  4. If you have had a series of successful cases, read 1 Cor 10:12 like 100 zillion times J.

Deception #2:  I have counseled this before – I know what to do

Another common deception among counselors is that current cases that sound like prior cases should be counseled the same (i.e. I know what to do).  The fatal error here is that different heart issues can be manifested with similar presentations, just as different presentations can be an outgrowth of the same heart issues.

  • For example, one person may be consumed with pornography because their life is based on pleasure.  This counselee has a very simple approach to life – “If it feels good, do it.”  Another counselee, also consumed with pornography may be motivated by control or even revenge.  In other words, the counselee believes that his/her use of pornography will be a way to exercise control in their lives or a way to hurt another person who presumably is hurting them.  The “pleasure seeker” and the person wanting control have the same presentation, but very different motivations.  The counseling should not be the same.
  • At the same time, the desire for control may manifest itself in many forms.  Some may choose pornography, others may choose self harm, and still others may choose alcohol.  In situations like this the presentation is very different, but the heart issues are very similar.  Thus, one would expect a similar approach to counseling.

In addition to the connection of the presentation problem to the heart issues we need to add the uniqueness of individual people.  Even similar heart issues may be handled slightly differently based on the type of story each particular counselee brings to the sessions.  So here are a few tips to avoiding this error:

  1. Remember that counseling always seeks to get to the heart.
  2. Remember that each counselee comes with their own story, their own background, their own motivations, and their own likes/dislikes.  It is inappropriate to assume or project one counselee onto another.
  3. Don’t assume, ask instead.

Deception #3:  I don’t need any additional training

While more deceptions could be added another common issue is that counselors often get comfortable in their training.  Our encouragement is to always seek additional training.  Training is available from Faith, CCEF, NANC, IABC, and many others.  There are academic programs like Masters or Faith Bible Seminary. The point is simple, we all need to be sharpening our skills.  While we can never change the counselee on our own, I think we could all agree that we want to be a sharp instrument in the Redeemer’s hands.

Thanks again Diana for a great reminder to us counselors.  Hopefully, this article will advance the ball on cautions for the counselor.  If you have other deceptions or other tips, then we would love to hear from you.

Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.