5 Ways to Become a Better Counselor

Being a counselor is part of life. Whomever we meet and wherever we go, we will find people with problems. We will talk about those problems. We will often try to help them find solutions. There are some people who do this as a full-time job, but almost everyone will be engaged with counseling on some level.

Because of this fact, it is a good idea for us to think a little bit more about how we give counsel. What are the methods that are the most helpful? When should we speak and when should we just listen? How do we listen well? How do we get people to open up? These are things we need to learn and which we can study and practice over a lifetime.

In my profession as a pastor, I do a lot of informal counseling. I listen to people’s problems, pray with them, and help them find solutions that will improve their lives. Because of that, I’ve tried how to counsel people from those who have done a lot of it. Here’s 5 ways I try to be a better counselor.

1. Build connection with people. When people feel accepted, loved, and safe, they are more ready to talk about their own story and listen to yours. There are specific things that we can do to help us connect with people.

Counselor Alan Loy McGinness explained what he learned from years of counseling about how to connect with people in his book The Friendship Factor. I recommend this book and his simple but important insights. Here’s a few from his list:

  • He recommends that if we see something good in someone that we say it.
  • Share things about yourself as well as encouraging others to share about themselves.
  • Find out what people enjoy and find ways to connect with that passion.

Doing these things can help us build a connection that is a context for helping others (and ourselves!).

2. Help people tell their story. When people have been through difficult things, they often have a story to tell but have not told it to many people. They may not have reflected deeply upon it. It just sits there as a sort of open wound. Continue reading “5 Ways to Become a Better Counselor”

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”

Work on Your Marriage at Home

Marriages regularly fail.

At the same time, most people who are getting married think that their marriage is the exception. They don’t see a big threat. Even those who are in higher risk groups for divorce don’t think that their marriage is a high risk marriage.

If we are going to avoid failing, we have to recognize that it could happen. We have to believe the threat in order to avoid it.

On the other side, there are many marriages that do not end in divorce that are not going well or are on life support. The husband and wife are essentially roommates.

How do we move past these threats to flourishing marriages? We have to work at it. It won’t change overnight, but it can happen with time and effort.

Here are a few things that you can study and talk about at home that I believe will help you move toward a flourishing marriage.

I organize this material into three sections: awareness, negotiation, and marriage virtues. The first section includes some exercises you can do to help you come to more awareness about who each of you are and where you come from. The second section includes the main questions that have to be negotiated as a couple comes together. The third section is instruction on how to become better marriage partners through trust, love, and respect. Continue reading “Work on Your Marriage at Home”