You may not get a Master’s Degree in Counseling, but you’re called to live in Christian community. If you fulfill the biblical mandate of church membership, you’ll providentially be placed in positions where you’ll help counsel other Christians. So, do you know what to say?
I’ve been in the church community much of my life. I’ve read a few books on counseling (which isn’t saying much, honestly). And I’ve gone to several counseling sessions myself. I’ve picked up on mistakes that I’ve made, and I’ve learned many things through observation and experience. All things considered, here’s a few practical counseling tips and reminders that can benefit any Christian.
1. Just Show Up
If you show up, you won half the battle. Much of counseling is allowing people a safe place and space to process and pray with someone they trust. Text back. Answer the call. Be on time. Be responsive. And when you do these things, you’re off to a great start.
The best counselors are godly, trustworthy, responsive, and punctual.
It’s been said that you should listen twice as much as you talk. It’s true in life, and it’s especially true in counseling. The initial points of counseling are a time to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Initially, counseling is not the time for a theological lecture on God’s sovereignty or omniscience. You may eventually get there, but good counseling starts with listening. Active listening with genuine engagement makes people feel loved.
And never ever interrupt people when they talk. The Bible calls it folly and shame when you give answers without listening (Proverbs 18:13).
3. Ask good questions
Ask a lot of questions before you give any answers. You may feel that you won’t give any answers at all. A good goal in counseling is to have people arrive at solutions themselves. Your job is to help them get there. One way to do that is by asking good questions.
Here’s some good questions to ask:
1. “How did _____ make you feel?”
2. “How do you feel right now?”
3. “What are you learning about yourself?”
4. “What are you learning about God?”
5. “Is there something that happened during childhood that makes you feel and think this way about yourself?”
If the opportunity presents itself, it may be good to discuss childhood experiences and family background. Much of the issues that you and I face today stem from things that happened years ago. But you may not feel as if you have the equity and rapport to do that. That’s fine. Stick with opened-ended questions that discuss feelings and underlying issues, and get to the family of origin if you can.
Repeat what other people say. It makes them feel loved. The goal is not manipulation, but to make people feel understood.
Here’s an example:
Bob says: “You know, I just feel terrible after looking at pornography once again. I wonder if God even loves me.”
You: “You feel terrible after looking at pornography, and you’re starting to doubt God’s love for you. Is that what you’re saying, brother?”
Do so in a winsome, tactful tone. Don’t be fake. But repeating what others say in the form of paraphrase is a powerful counseling tool.
5. Remember that counseling is for the long-haul
Counseling is similar to evangelism: in order to see lasting fruitfulness, you must be in it for the long-haul.
Generally speaking, sanctification over personal issues does not happen after reading one book or after two or three counseling sessions. To see fruitfulness, it often takes months, if not years. This is helpful to keep in mind so that you won’t get discouraged if you don’t see a quick change.
I did not include much about “what to say” when counseling others because I think too many Christians rush to this. Continue to grow in holiness, be prayerful, and learn from other seasoned counselors. And trust God to give you the words you need when you need them.
There are no quick remedies in counseling. If you don’t have the patience, perseverance, and persistence it takes, you may not be able to counsel others well. It takes guts. It takes fortitude. It takes heart. And you must be in it for the long-haul to see lasting change. But if you hang in there and play your part, by God’s grace, you can be an instrument that brings healing to others, and few joys in life are greater than that.
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