Wendell E. Miller
Q. I am a compassionate person, and other women come to me with their problems. How can I help them more effectively? What can I do to handle the emotional stress of counseling with them? Sometimes it seems that they burden me with more than I can bear.
A. Perhaps you had an emotionally stressful problem in the past in which you were comforted by God. If so, you may have been called of God to comfort others by the same comfort that God provided for you (2 Cor. 1:4).
In many instances, knowing that you care, and guiding the hurting person to comforting promises of God, provides just the help that is needed.
However, you need to be perceptive to know when a friend's needs can be met by an understanding friend and when she needs a biblical counselor.
Counseling is emotionally stressful. You would not be a real person, with real feelings, if you did not hurt for others as you listen to their problems. Jesus, whose life portrayed perfect humanity as well as His Godhood, hurt when those around Him were hurting (John 11:35).
A biblical counselor listens carefully as the counseled shares his burdens. In compassion, he re-lives their experiences with them and shares their emotional distress. Then he responds to their needs by providing the God-given counseling that will ease their burdens.
One of the biblical counselor's goals is to help the counseled be "strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness" (Col.1:11).
"Patience" refers to bad situations, and "long-suffering" speaks of the provocations of people. Therefore, God says that His strengthening is sufficient to help believers bear both bad situations and irritations caused by others and even be joyful.
This God-given strengthening comes as the hurting person applies biblical principles to his life and to the situations that are causing the distress.
Thus, after listening carefully and sympathetically to the counselee's problems, a biblical counselor endeavors to give 1) hope that there is an answer to the problem; 2) instructions on how to attack the problem biblically; 3) assurance that the biblical truths will be effective, if applied diligently; and 4) both courage and faithfulness to do diligently those things that will please God.
It is during this time that the prayers of the biblical counselor are needed the most. This is a crucial time in the counseling session.
Unfortunately, a biblical counselor is no more able to persuade everyone to follow a biblical course of action than your pastor is able to convince everyone to respond to his sermons.
So biblical counselors encounter stresses that are greater than the stress of hearing the problems--the stresses of seeing counselees refuse to obey God and knowing that they have rejected help from the only One who can help them.
If you are to provide help for others that is effective and that provides God's strengthening, you must be able to: 1) discern the biblical principles that need to be used; 2) teach the biblical principles; 3) convince them to apply the principles to their lives; and 4) encourage them to apply the biblical principles diligently until God's results are attained.
As shown above, one of the most important functions of biblical counseling is to encourage counselees to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22).
Wanting to help others is a good and godly objective, but there are some important cautions to keep in mind.
Remember, "to encourage" means "to make firm." You are encouraging a friend when you persuade her to follow through on a godly course of action.
If you cannot provide sufficient encouragement for your hurting friends to do those things that they should, then your counseling is of little or no help.
If you instruct them in a biblical course of action, and yet they refuse to take biblical action, their guilt will decrease their spiritual power and increase their discouragement.
It may help to make your friends accountable to you for applying biblical principles to their problems. However, a student will not study as hard for a fellow student as he will for the teacher who checks up on him.
Remember, help that is really effective comes as the counselee applies biblical principles to her life. This is true whether the problem is a situation, an interpersonal relationship, or a personal area.
This means that you will not be helping if the only thing that you do is listen! Your friend may feel better immediately after she tells you her problems, and each time that she rehearses them she may feel better temporarily; however, each time she repeats her problems and does not find a solution, her problems seem larger and an answer seems less and less possible. You can actually lead a person to despair by being a "good listener"--and not provide a solution to her problems!
Be careful about listening to accusations against others. A biblical counselor listens to accusations made against a third party so that he will be able to instruct the counselee in a biblical course of action.
The biblical course of action may include: 1) handling the problem between the counselee and God; 2) making whatever changes the counselee should make in her own life; and perhaps 3) seeking reconciliation with, or changes in, the third party.
As the counselee takes a biblical course of action, her spiritual life is strengthened, her problems seem smaller, and she is less likely to distort the truth.
In contrast, by "being a good listener" you may discourage a friend from taking biblical action, and you may encourage her to exaggerate the situation and/or slander another person in order to obtain more sympathy. If so, her sinful behavior will damage her fellowship with God and she will lose the strengthening power that He wants to supply.
Before being the confidante of a friend, find out if she is seeing a biblical counselor. If she is seeing a biblical counselor, you should encourage her to follow her counselor's instructions (assuming that her counselor's instructions are biblical).
The things that her biblical counselor has told her to do may not be easy and doing them may take self-discipline. Or perhaps pride or selfishness may make the biblical course seem too hard. Perhaps she is indecisive.
Perhaps she knows that her counselor's instructions are biblical, but she may find it much easier to accept sympathy from you than to do those things that are right. Beware: By being "a good listener" you can destroy a counseling relationship and cause the "counseling to fail."
One frequent cause of "biblical counseling failure" is the person who provides an "easier way" (just talking) when God's way seems difficult.
Your friend needs help; but it is not likely that she will get help as long as you are willing to let her exert so much emotional energy in talking about her problems, rather than doing those things that will help.
It may be that one of your friends is calling you every day and talking for an extended period of time. Probably you feel a sense of satisfaction thinking that you have helped her.
However, after talking to you, she may call another friend, and yet another. Finally, after talking on the telephone for hours each day, after receiving a ton of sympathy along with conflicting advice, after allowing her problems to grow larger or seem larger because she has not taken biblical steps to solve them, she may become immobilized with indecisiveness, depression and despair.
Be careful! You may be contributing to her procrastination in seeking the help that she needs!
If you are not really able to help her, being a real friend means encouraging her to get real help. This may mean refusing to be a "dumping ground" for her problems.
You can really love her by insisting that you care too much for her to allow her to be without adequate help. You can really love her by helping her find a biblical counselor. You can really love her by encouraging her to follow through on the instructions given by her counselor.
Real love insists that the one loved follow a biblical course of action.
Copyright 1988 by Wendell E. Miller
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