Working With a Counselee With Learning Difficulties

“But I don’t counsel people with learning difficulties.” You will encounter this to some degree as you engage your community:

  • Homeless in your community
  • Parents struggling with their children (autism, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, special needs, etc.)
  • Those who struggle to read well
  • Those affected by trauma or injury
  • Developmental disabilities

I. Consider the Unique Opportunity to Grow as a Counselor

A. Endurance

James 1:2-4 – Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

B. Living in a manner worthy of our calling

Ephesians 4:1-2 – Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.

C. Dependence on the Word and Spirit of God to empower understanding

1 Corinthians. 2:12-16 – Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words […] But we have the mind of Christ.

II. Consider Your Approach for the Counseling Session

I Corinthians 12:4-8a – Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never fails

A. Session management

  1. Frustration in communication or being understood.
  2. Understand if there are environmental difficulties and distractions that you can mitigate for the counseling session.

B. Adjust expectations for counseling timeline

C. Specific data gathering about the counselee’s daily life, activities, abilities, and limitations

D. Prepare specific questions with clear terminology that are not vague or easily misinterpreted. Make abstract ideas concrete.

  1. Bad Example:
  • “Do you have a good relationship with your parents?”
  1. Better Example:
  • “When you were growing up, did your parents regularly do activities that you liked?

E. Be cautious with humor

Proverbs 14:13 – Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.

III. Consider Your Available Resources to Assist Understanding and Application

1 Thessalonians 5:14 – We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

A. Audio Resources

  1. Audio Bible and Sermon Podcasts
  1. Audio Counseling Teaching
  1. Music

B. Family

  • Ask for permission for family or friend input that knows them well

C. Church

  • Accountability with shorter meetings but greater frequency

D. Visual Resources

  • “Memorials” to help remind and apply what they are learning
  • Break teaching into clear small stepsof obedience

Hebrews 5:11-13 – Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

IV. Consider How You Assess Growth Through Application

A. Repetition considering the heart

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 – These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.7You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Isaiah 29:13 – Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,

B. Recollection and Recording

  1. Counselee fails to give close attention to detail1
  2. Provide checklist based on Scripture to glorify God in HW
  3. Counselee struggles to listen when spoken to
  4. Ask to verbally respond every time they are addressed
  5. Use your fingers to show how many steps to follow
  6. Ask them to repeat what you said
  7. Counselee struggles to organize tasks and activities
  8. Help provide folders or notebooks, and teach how to complete and how to organize
  9. Have some sort of recording method each day
  10. c. Role-playing

Ephesians 5:1 – Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children;

Philippians 4:9 – The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

V. Consider the Unique Joys and Blessings

Think about the affection and joy that Paul had for his fellow brothers and sisters in Philippi. Seeking to minister and love those with learning difficulties grows you in your affections for others in unique and wonderful ways. 

Philippians 4:1 – Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.

A.      The joy of seeing God’s victories that you may take for granted.

B.      The blessing of their ministry to the body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:20-24 – But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, [m]it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we [n]deem less honorable, [o]on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it.

Recommended Resources 

Deuel, Dave.  Help! My Grandchild Has A Disability, Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2019.

Emlet, Michael.  Asperger Syndrome: Meeting the Challenges with Hope, Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2005.

Jamison, Rita.  Parenting Your ADHD Child: Biblical Guidance for Your Child’s Diagnosis, Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011.

Viars, Stephen.  Your Special Needs Child: Help for Weary Parents. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011.

Rita Jamison, James Thomas, and Steve Viars.  Helping Your Child Learn, Lafayette, IN: Faith Church.


Aaron BirkAaron Birk
Aaron is married to Tirzah and has three children: Zemirah, Boaz, and Keziah. Aaron is the Pastor of Global Missions for Faith Church. He serves as a service Pastor for the 11:00 a.m. worship service at Faith West. Aaron oversees international students, missionaries, and short term missions. He is certified as a biblical counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).