Handling the Question That You Don’t Know How To Answer

“How do you humbly handle a situation when a counselee presents a problem that you, as the counselor, do not know how to answer without undermining the counselee’s confidence in your counsel?”

This is a great question. It is a great question because it demonstrates the tension that counselors face.

It is not “your counsel” that is of first importance anyway. You are a messenger, not the one who wrote the message.

On one side of the tension is ignorance or lack of training. I think we all understand that we don’t know everything about the Bible. I think we all understand that we do not know how to answer every question. When we are appropriately humble we have no trouble admitting that we are dependant people on the Spirit of God and the Word of God.

On the other side of the tension is that we do not want to needlessly put our counselees in a place where they reject biblical counseling, and more importantly the Lord due to our failures.

In other words, we do not want our failures resulting in people thinking that God is a failure.

So what do we do?

Here are some thoughts, in no particular order that might help:

  1. Pray. Pray for you, for them, for clarity, for help. Sometimes we lose our dependency in our counseling. God sometimes brings us a really challenging case to remember that Jesus is savior and Lord, not you.
  2. In these hard cases there are often many things to work on that you do know something about. Before you talk about all the things you do not know, talk about the things you do know.
  3. Continue to be a learner. Read your Bible, good counseling books, good theology books, good books on the OT and NT. In other words, continue to seek to grow in your skills.
  4. Make a friend with someone that can offer you occasional help. At Faith we enjoy a relationship with one another. On occasion we seek each other’s advice. Sometimes we know what to do, but we want assurance from a mentor. Sometimes we genuinely don’t know what to do and we want advice to get started.
  5. Sometimes you don’t know what to do because you have not listened well enough. We have a little saying here that goes, “when things don’t add up, ask another question.” My point is that sometimes we don’t know what to do or say because we don’t understand our counselee well enough.
  6. Admit that you do not know what to do. It is not “your counsel” that is of first importance anyway. You are a messenger, not the one who wrote the message. It may be that you need to have your counselee talk to someone who is more spiritual and more experienced than you are. Being humble, at times, looks like recognizing the limits of your own abilities. Maybe God will use another person in their life.

I hope this helps and may God give you great opportunities to serve him in the days ahead.

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Rob GreenRob 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.