Loving Counselees with Low Reading Comprehension

After counseling for almost a decade, I have met quite a diverse group of people. In honesty, it is exciting to meet others that are quite different from me. God has such creativity in making so many different combinations of personalities and abilities. These differences have helped me to be flexible and be a good learner.

One of my earlier challenges was helping counsel a man who had low reading comprehension skills. This was outside of my wheelhouse of experience. I have been blessed to have a great education and receive collegiate instruction. Yet, not everyone has the same level of educational instruction that I have received. I remember listening to him read verses in the Bible. He struggled with common words that a high school education could handle. I remember thinking, what am I going to do? I started to wonder what would counseling look like. Over time, I have been able to develop an approach and resources to love counselees who struggle with reading comprehension.

Get to Know Your Counselee

The first thing I typically do in session one is tell a little about myself, if I do not know them well. Many times, new counselees are nervous, so I break the ice and speak about my background. I then offer them to ask any questions about me as I tell them I will be asking a lot of questions about them. I usually say this with a huge grin that helps them start to understand my personality. I then ask them to read three verses, Proverbs 18:13, 15, and 17. These verses help us set expectations for them and myself in counseling. After asking them to read these verses, I then ask them to explain the verses to me in their own words. It is at this moment I start to get a glimpse into their reading comprehension. If a counselee struggles to explain the verses, I start to understand their reading comprehension skills. This was not my habit when I first started. Sometimes I assumed all I met had the same level of education. I would start diving into a passage out of excitement without knowing whether the content might be difficult for them to understand. This regular practice of going to Proverbs has allowed me to start learning about my counselee’s abilities and start tailoring my methods so as not to discourage them. Imagine this from their perspective. A person comes in with soul-wrenching pain, they are looking for hope, and they are asked to read something they do not understand. My ability to meet them where they are and offer hope is best done in learning about them quickly.

Adjust Your Counseling Style

After I have started to learn about the abilities of my counselees, it helps me to think through my style of counseling. The first thing I start to do with low comprehension readers is that we turn to a passage together. I then read the passage out loud as opposed to them reading it. This allows them to hear the words. I then start to walk through the words and what they mean. This helps reduce any awkward moments. Hearing words spoken with their meanings can often be a benefit to them. Then I ask them application questions on how to put the passage into action. This discussion still invites participation in working through the Bible.

Another way to love your counselees who struggle with reading comprehension is to change the type of homework you give. Instead of assigning the counselee to read a passage in Philippians or a book, I have them listen to the passage once a day on their phone on their way to work. Having them listen to it helps them think through the passage. I also assign audio CDs (or MP3s), DVDs and YouTube videos for them to watch and listen to God’s word or sermons. In my home office, I keep a collection of DVDs that are Bible-based to help. Videos on the gospel, suffering, and Biblical change are loaned out to them. We then use the counseling session to discuss the explanation and the application. I also keep a mental list of videos (as I get older I probably need to write them down so I remember all the great resources I have used over the years).

I am by no means an expert on adult literacy. I do believe that to reach everyone whom I have contact with I should be ready to present the gospel in the best way possible so that they can receive it with joy. Doing this in a way that does not shame them for their skills is just another way I can love them like Jesus.


Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Lee MorrisonLee Morrison
Lee D. Morrison, Associate Director of Student Advocacy and Deputy Title IX Coordinator is located in the department of Residential Life. Lee serves on the senior leadership team that manages all aspects of residential life for nearly 13,000 students. This includes providing leadership and oversight for all residential life staff on threat management, student of concern reports and Title IX case follow up. Current responsibilities include providing crisis management supervision for all students living in the residence halls, conduct case administration, and departmental collaboration. He earned a master’s degree from Purdue University and a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University. Lee is married to his wife Emily who actively helps him in serving at Faith Church. His ministry involvement includes serving on the counseling ministry and teaching an adult Sunday school class. His community involvement is with the Tippecanoe Election Board as a poll worker and the Lafayette Community Foundation – Men Who Give.