Breaking the Cycle of Reaction(less) Counseling

It takes a particular kind of person to be a good quarterback in football. He needs to be able to lead, throw, scramble, think on his feet, evade the tackle, anticipate in the moment, scan the field, and more. Possessing only one or two of these qualities may make for an adequate quarterback, but the Hall of Famers have it all.

Imagine a quarterback who is very gifted at evading tacklers, but little else. Even the greatest of scramblers can only run around for so long before the pocket crumbles and someone eventually gets him. He’s always reacting to what’s happening in the moment and never thinking about the intent of the play. Or what about the guy who has the arm of gold but feet of lead: that hand-canon does little good if it’s constantly laid out on the turf with the rest of him. He may be able to launch the ball 50 yards into the hands of a speeding receiver, but if he doesn’t mind his surroundings, he’ll never have the opportunity.

But what makes for a good counselor?

Take the scrambler: able to respond to whatever issue a counselee may throw at him at any given week. He’s got a verse to suit the moment, homework to combat the issue throughout the week, and the comforting word to put a restless heart at ease. Every week he’s thinking, “what’ll it be today?” Has he got it all?

Compare that to the lead-footed launcher. From just the information provided on an intake form, he’s got the end charted out before the counselee even steps foot into his office. Nothing seems to shake him—no crippling life events, no backslidings into sin, no neglect of homework—nothing. He’s got the long game in mind, and his eyes are dead-fixed on the end (that is, when his counselees stick around). Has he got it all?

The obvious answer to both is “no;” each skill can benefit from the other. That’s why it’s necessary to soberly assess our own strengths and weaknesses and make adjustments where needed. Most often, counselors fall into the pit of “reactionary” counseling where the issue of the week is the topic of the day. But (by way of example) what if a couple came in to fix their crumbling marriage? The problem this week with their son may be a significant one, but it won’t be much of an issue if they keep on their current trajectory! The scrambling counselor who loses the end objective will eventually run out of time.

Conversely, take that same couple that has come in for marriage counseling and has just endured a treacherous week with one of their kids. If that news is met with a shrug, the likelihood of a subsequent meeting has just gone down drastically. And it’s hard to counsel a couple that’s not there (by my experience, at least).

What’s the remedy?

Have a plan, but be ready to scrap it. Those who never stop to consider “what will move the ball forward this today?” will find themselves scrambling week-over week, reacting to the urgent to the neglect of the important. But those who never factor in the messiness of life or our ability to incorrectly read a situation will end up talking to an empty chair. A counselor is little good if he hasn’t learned to scramble.

And as you’re scrambling, don’t lose sight of the end goal.

Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

Stefan Nitzschke
Stefan Nitzschke serves on the pastoral team at Faith Church. He and his wife have a passion for discipleship and evangelism. They are the blessed parents of four carefree boys and one sweet girl.