Understanding the Counselor: Knowing What We Bring to the Table

When my kids spilled a drink at the table, I used to get so mad! It was super frustrating to me. A few years back, I started to ask, why do I get so mad at that? After all, I have seven kids. It’s kind of part of the deal. In fact, at one point, we had six kids aged seven and under. The odds of drinks being spilled were extremely high. Moreover, if the drink spilled, we could simply clean it up with a towel. It really wouldn’t hurt anything. Why did it bother me so much?

For a long time, I had a hard time figuring that out. I really didn’t know what story I was telling myself. I couldn’t figure it out, but I knew that it was dumb. So, I made the effort to try and not get so mad at spilled drinks. I decided that I would not get angry any longer when drinks were spilled at the table. I would just get a towel and clean up the mess. It was hard. I had to check myself regularly, but I made progress, even though I really didn’t know why I reacted so strongly to these things.

It’s amazing how hard it can be to understand ourselves. It takes a lot of work. Yet, when we try to help others, we are bringing ourselves to the table. Our emotional life will have a strong effect on the way we counsel others.

How does this work out? Let me give a couple of examples. Imagine a strong extrovert, someone who loves to get out there and talk to people. Now, let’s say that someone who is also an extrovert comes and complains about someone who doesn’t want to go out and prefers a lot of quiet and time at home. Without self-consciousness, it’s easy for the extrovert to just join the side of the other extrovert. “I can’t believe people are like that,” he might say. Continue reading “Understanding the Counselor: Knowing What We Bring to the Table”

The Goal of Counseling: What Is Our Vision for the People We Talk to?

Why do people go to counseling? It is because they see something in their life or the life of others that is not what it is supposed to be. They are depressed. They can’t find a job. Their financial situation is grim. Their marriage is falling apart. They are bitter. They can’t move forward from loss. Their children are misbehaving. Their work is going badly.

All these reasons presuppose a certain vision of life. This vision exists in the mind of the counselor and the counselee. If the counselee had no goal, then they wouldn’t go to counseling. If the counselor believed people were fine the way they were, then she wouldn’t try to help them.

The question is, what is that vision? How clear is it in our minds?

For many, it is simply the vision of what we might call common or normal life. This is life where you feel OK, make a reasonable amount of money, get along reasonably well with your family, do fine in your job or school, and don’t get into big trouble.

When one of these things are disrupted, people can really start to struggle. This is what leads people to seek counseling. They seek help with these problems so that they can get back to normal life. Often, when that goal is met, counseling comes to an end.

But what if the goal of counseling is not simply the common life? Then, this will have an effect on counseling from the beginning. What if counseling has a bigger vision for life than just getting along reasonably well? Continue reading “The Goal of Counseling: What Is Our Vision for the People We Talk to?”

The Great Blessing of Counseling

When people get in deep trouble, they often realize that they need to talk to somebody about it. It’s a correct instinct. There is tremendous help in talking to people about our problems and hearing their perspectives on it. Sometimes, the mere act of sharing our problems can reduce our anxiety significantly.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is the story of Jonathan and David in the Bible. Jonathan’s father Saul was seeking to kill David. Eventually, David got wearied and was, understandably, discouraged. 1 Samuel 23:16 says, “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” How did He do this? Jonathan reminded him of God’s promises. “Don’t be afraid. . . . My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (v. 17). David knew this, but the promises had new power coming from the lips of a friend.

I have had this experience myself. One time I walked into church and was discouraged about some difficult relationships I was experiencing. One of our deacons saw me and asked, “Are you OK?”

I told him, “Not really. I’m struggling with some relationships.” Continue reading “The Great Blessing of Counseling”

10 Quotes Reflecting on Christian Counseling

A few years back, in the process of working on my Doctor of Ministry, I read numerous books on Christian counseling. These were books on the theory of counseling and its application to specific issues. How do we engage and talk to people in such a way that helps people move forward to what God has called them to be? These are deep waters. Here are a few of my favorite quotes that I still reflect on with links to the books from which they came as I think about how to help myself and others move onward and upward, processing the past well, living well in the present, and having hope for the future.

1. “Tragedy always moves our story forward in a way that shalom could never accomplish” (Dan Allender, To Be Told, 44). My comment: think of the great stories of the heroes of the world and the faith. They experience great challenges, but they rise to meet them. This is one way to re-think the challenges and hurts we have faced in our own lives.

2. “It takes a lifetime to discover exactly how our past shapes our future so we can live wholeheartedly and passionately in the present, but we can begin. We can seize the present with greater insight and vision” (Dan Allender, The Healing Path, 185). My comment: I did a lot of reflecting on my past when I studied these books. Five years later, the insights continue to come and help me engage better in the present. Note: you can see some of the directions I explored with this here.

3. “[I]n this life we must recognize that we will inevitably experience disappointments, pain, and a lack of complete relational satisfaction. When we stop fighting this reality and become willing to accept it, we can be free to move into the world with a real sense of purpose and direction” (Harry Schaumburg, False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction, 99). My comment: this seems almost obvious when you say it, but how easily do we begin to think that we will avoid pain and disappointment? Happiness in this life will not be found by eliminating pain and disappointments but by finding a way to live with them. Continue reading “10 Quotes Reflecting on Christian Counseling”