Counseling and Settling Differences
Introduction: Healing souls and hearts was the center of Jesus’ ministry – Luke 4:16-19; Matthew 12:18-21. Personal counseling involves some of the hardest struggles and some of the most fruitful, life-changing work in the ministry. You can accomplish things there which you can’t accomplish from the pulpit. You can give personal and in-depth attention to problems not solved by general teaching from the pulpit, and you can listen as well as speak. During time of struggle or suffering (which may be part of God’s discipline), people are often more willing to examine their lives and listen to God’s teaching. If the counselor is ready with compassion, understanding and guidance at the right time, he can have a blessed effect on people’s lives.
1. Some qualities that are important in a counselor:
A. Sincere personal dedication to Christ, and firmness of conviction.
B. Compassion and a love of souls – Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:31-34.
C. Knowledge of the word – 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Psalm 119:105.
D. A life of prayer – Mark 1:35; Ephesians 6:18.
E. Understanding of spiritual warfare – Ephesians 6:10-18.
F. Prudence and self-control – 2 Timothy 1:7.
G. Self-knowledge and cleanness of life and heart – Matthew 7:1-5; John 14:30;
2 Timothy 2:19-22.
H. Understanding of people, problems and solutions – John 2:25.
I. Discretion and faithfulness in matters of confidence – Proverbs 11:13.
J. Gentleness coupled with a loving firmness as needed – Galatians 6:1,2;
Matthew 12:18-21; 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
K. Ability to listen, not just talk – James 1:19.
L. Ability to confront – 2 Timothy 4:2.
M. A spirit that can encourage – Isaiah 50:4; Acts 4:36.
2. Some problems and dangers in counseling:
A. Pride – 1 Corinthians 8:1.
B. Counseling to fulfill our own needs rather than those of the counselee.
C. Creating over-dependency in the counselee – Galatians 6:5.
D. Over-involvement emotionally.
E. Moral temptation or the appearance of evil.
F. Overload to the detriment of family or other ministry.
G. Counseling beyond your own area of competency (you can do a lot of damage to people if you go beyond your qualifications).
3. Some general facts to be aware of and sensitive to in counseling:
A. Are there past conflicts with people that have not been cleared up and are producing resentment (especially against parents and family members)? Matthew 18:15-17;
B. Are there real hidden sins that have not been confessed and forsaken, and are producing guilt and spiritual neglect?
C. Is there rebellion against authority (against parents, church leaders, civil authorities, boss, etc.)? What is the relationship with parents?
D. Does the counselee have the right spiritual priorities?
E. Are there stresses in the counselee’s environment which may be causing him or her trouble?
F. Are there physical or medical causes for emotional trouble (glandular problems, lack of nutrition and rest, infections, cyclic stress, menopause, etc.)?
G. Is there emotional or mental illness which might require professional treatment?
4. Some general suggestions for counseling:
A. Be as far as possible the right kind of person yourself – Matthew 7:1-5; James 3:17; Galatians 6:1. This does not mean you must be perfect. If you were, you could not identify with the weak and needy. People will benefit most from what you are learning from your own sincere struggles.
B. An office is usually the best place for counseling. Have comfortable seating and lighting, tissues, privacy.
C. Start every counseling session with prayer – James 1:5; Ephesians 6:18;
D. Go straight to the point of the interview – the counselee did not come for a social visit.
E. Where possible make and record appointments for conferences.
F. The counselor must be moved with compassion at the suffering of the counselee, but must not become so emotionally involved that he cannot help the counselee or others. The counselee needs a stable person to look to. Limit emotional involvement by limiting the length of counseling sessions as a rule.
G. Do not create excessive or unnecessary dependence in the counselee. Encourage as much self-reliance as possible. Encourage the counselee to participate in discovering solutions through carefully guided discussion. “What things do you think you could do to help this?”
H. Listen, don’t just advise. Encourage the counselee to talk freely so that underlying causes can emerge.
I. Accept the counselee. Do not excuse sin, but separate between the person and his sin, and love him while hating his sin. Relationship is one of the most important factors in counseling. Do not be condemnatory in your spirit, but lead the counselee to accept responsibility for his behavior and to accept God’s truth. Remember your own need for God’s grace – Galatians 6:1.
J. Project hope. Do not raise false hopes of quick and easy solutions to deep problems, but assure the counselee that solutions can be reached through willingness to grow. Compare Genesis 3:8-21.
K. It may take repeated sessions before the real problems emerge – the counselee may be timid or ashamed, and may be assessing you before opening up. There may be more than one factor contributing to a person’s problem.
L. Observe professional ethics and be absolutely faithful to keep confidential the information entrusted to you by the counselee. Keep any notes in a secure place. If you ask others to pray, reveal nothing the counselee wants kept confidential. If a person’s sin is not publicly known, protect his or her reputation and Christian witness as far as possible by keeping confidence. If you use examples from counseling cases in teaching, do not use material from current cases or cases similar to current cases, and remove identifying details in any illustration. Even the counselor’s wife need not know sensitive material in most cases (and the counselor’s wife must be as discreet as he is). Note: There are a few exceptions to confidentiality where the counselor is legally or morally required to divulge matters to proper authorities. These include cases of child abuse, intentions to harm self or others, and matters that threaten the welfare of the church.
Keep notes on sessions so you can refresh your memory before another session, and as a protection to yourself if someone brings suit. Keep just enough notes to bring things to mind. Avoid writing down too many details of a client’s sensitive information.
M. Remember that a person who is emotionally upset cannot be fully objective and rational, and make allowance for this.
N. Outward lack of self-care often indicates low inner self-worth or depression.
O. Remember that you will not always be able to help people.
P. Don’t chase counseling work, but don’t evade it. Accept it as a great opportunity to minister. Arrange your other work in such a way that you can make room for counseling even on short notice. Never make the counselee feel that he is imposing on your time or hindering your other work – set him at ease.
Q. Where a counselee becomes too dependent and “clinging,” you need to gently disengage yourself and terminate or limit counseling sessions. It is not right to destroy other work that is helping people.
R. Where you have counseled a person or persons at length without really helping them, you may need to refer them to someone more qualified in the area of their problem. But beware of referring people to counselors who would destroy a person’s faith or morality. Use Christian counselors wherever possible, and learn who the Christian and other safe counselors are in your area.
S. Don’t count out the value of exercise, nutrition, enough rest, music, enjoyable activities, and social life to improve emotional tone. Solutions usually must go deeper than this, but every improvement helps a person cope.
T. Spend more time and attention on cases where people really are receptive to the word and intend to do right.
U. When counseling women, avoid letting a wrong relationship develop. The emotional intimacy of counseling makes this a danger. Also avoid settings such as parked cars or isolated places which would give rise to wrong suspicions and gossip. Avoid unnecessary touching in counseling. This can wrongly affect a counselee who is already alienated at home or is starved for affection, and it can also affect the counselor. Don’t probe in counseling for unnecessarily explicit details (though there must be enough detail to give you an accurate understanding). Limit the length of counseling sessions. Use your office when possible. A secretary in the next room or a door left ajar can be a protection. Your door should have a glass window in it. A third person such as your wife, and elder, or a mature Christian woman can be brought into the conference, especially if you counsel in a home. Remember that though most women have right motives, some may come who are starved for acceptance or who even have wrong motives.
V. Learn the signs and symptoms of emotional and mental illness. Dr. Clyde Narramore lists: changes in behavior and general appearance, self-pre-occupation, forgetfulness, exaggerated self-concept, distorted communication, suspicion, irrational sensory experiences, physical over-concerns, repetitive acts, depression, dangerous acts.
W. Study methods of crisis counseling (threatened suicide, hostage situations, tragedies, etc.) before you are suddenly faced with it.
X. Always let God’s word be in the fore-front in counseling.
Y. If someone is helped, give God the major credit – Daniel 2:27-30.
Z. Give homework for the counselee to do between sessions.
AA. Consider liability insurance against counseling malpractice. Have the counselee sign a disclaimer at the beginning of counseling stating that you are not qualified beyond the pastoral level (if that be the case).
BB. Some extra suggestions for marriage counseling and for settling differences between people in general:
1) Talk to mates separately as well as together – they may talk more freely this way. But most marriage counseling should be done with both mates present.
2) Try to discern any basic selfishness, insecurity, etc., in either partner.
3) Note how long the alienation has been growing.
4) Be aware of how married couples conflict over sex, children, social differences, religion, money, in-laws, friends, careers, job-devotion, recreation, etc., and how these conflicts can affect a marriage.
5) Be aware of the possibility that a third party may be involved.
6) Encourage the mates to understand and truly accept the roles God has given for husbands and wives – Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7.
7) Beware of totally believing one side of a conflict before you have heard the other side – Proverbs 18:17. Do not prematurely express yourself or commit yourself.
8) Be careful what you say to one person about another.
9) Don’t be just a referee. If people don’t really want to do right, but just want the counselor to justify them against their opponent, get free of them and spend your time in a better way – Luke 12:13-15.
10) Always appeal to people’s loyalty to Christ, and show them the fearful damages that result from alienation in a home, church, etc. – Luke 17:1,2; John 13:34,35; Matthew 5:9.
11) Hold people responsible for following Christ’s rules for restoring relationships – Matthew 18:15-17; 5:23,24; Ephesians 4:26,27; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8;
Matthew 18:7-10,21-35. Matthew 18 is the greatest section in scripture showing the root cause and cure of broken relationships.
12) Learn to use techniques for restoring good will and communication between mates (Examples: “Caring Days,” behavioral exchange programs).
Conclusion: When we help to heal lives and relationships, we are really following Christ and doing his work, and we will be blessed – Matthew 5:9; James 5:19-20.
© by G.B. Shelburne, III. May be reproduced for non-profit, non-publishing instructional purposes provided this full copyright notice is included and document content is not altered (format may be altered). South Houston Bible Institute, PO Box 891246, Houston, TX 77289, USA, telephone 281-990-8899, email firstname.lastname@example.org, web site www.shbi.org.
Scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION © 1978 and 1984 by the New York International Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Some courses are available via Distance Learning.