Taking the Trauma Out of Counseling
* When your friend needs help
“. . . the Holy Ghost is the only One in the true position to criticize,” believed Oswald Chambers, “He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding.” (My Utmost for His Highest, June 17th)
Job knew what it was to be a counseling victim. Given the extent of his suffering and that God meticulously recorded his thoughts for all time, we should take his words most seriously. “To him who is about to despair,” pleaded Job, “kindness is due from his friend . . .” Note what this Scripture says is at stake: “. . . lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14). A person may be much closer to suicide or forsaking the Lord than he/she ever lets on. People’s destinies could hinge on how effectively we live that verse.
No doubt Job’s friends would have liked to have been kind, but their tragic error stemmed from being so convinced of their theory that it outweighed their faith in their friend. They had so firmly locked into their mind the doctrine that good people do not suffer, that they felt compelled to cling to that belief no matter how strong the evidence that Job was innocent. The way they ended up tormenting God’s friend and incurring God’s wrath confirms my choice of the single most important Scripture for counselors: Love “is ever ready to believe the best of every person,” (1 Corinthians 13:7, Amplified Bible).
If only we could live like that Scripture, always interpreting people’s actions and what they tell us in the best possible light, continually giving them the benefit of the doubt. Even if people openly confess a problem, realize that in their depressed state they could well be too hard on themselves. Certainly show that you realize the gravity of their present situation, but always give them hope. Encourage, encourage, encourage.
Be convinced of God’s love and power and of the good plans God has for those you wish to support. Believe in the people God has sent you to, and believe in God’s willingness to work powerfully in them and to mightily use them. The apostle Paul typically showed great faith in those he was writing to (examples). We would do well to follow his lead. It is the most effective and spiritual way both to bring healing to people and to avoid hurting them.
If we are filled with love, whenever we talk with people or even think of them, our first, instinctive move would be to think well of them, to find things to admire and praise in them and to overlook or excuse any shortcomings they may have. Sadly, such an attitude is far from natural to us. Continually seeing things through the pure, loving eyes of God takes a transformation that cannot be perfected in a few days. Ridding ourselves of a critical mind set requires an on-going Spirit-led reprogramming of our mind and spirit, through prayer and practice, miracle and effort. It starts with the miracle of Christ’s likeness being, as it were, divinely impregnated into our genes; taking on the family likeness by being born into God’s own family. It continues with a supernatural explosion of love within us that saturates our whole thinking and personality (Romans 5:5). And as we keep looking to Christ it builds momentum for the rest of our time on earth. It involves killing off old habits and thought patterns and living a new life through the resurrection power of the risen Lord. Divine love and purity are our new nature, but jealousies, resentments and one-up-manship are second nature.
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26 NKJV). For more Scriptures, see Positive use of the tongue.
Christians have a bottomless pool from which to shower encouragement after encouragement upon each other. For example, we don’t have a God who greets the longings of our heart with a stern “No!” On the contrary, we have:
You can tell every Christian that the richest, most powerful, most desirable person is in love with him/her. We are treasured by the wisest and greatest person in the universe. That makes each of us mind-bogglingly important. We are royalty; beloved heirs of the King of kings, and we will soon share his throne and his wealth, not to mention his perfection. We have in God someone who knows our blackest secret and yet delights in us with unswerving loyalty. Every source of embarrassment and shame that clouds our past is wiped from heaven’s records and in its place is credited to us purity and moral perfection so astounding as to be humanly unattainable. You can look at yourself in the mirror and know that no matter what your past, you are now pure in the eyes of the holy God.
For a few more examples and Scriptures urging us to encourage each other, see more.
We need the supernatural inspiration of the Spirit of God, not only for understanding of truths that uplift and set Christians free, but equally for divine enabling in imparting those truths in such a way that Satan does not twist them into condemnation in the hearts of sensitive people.
Most would-be counselors come up with half-baked solutions that will never work and when their advice fails to instantly transform a person’s life, instead of humbly recognizing the limitation of their approach, they blame the person they were trying to help! They conclude the person must be sinful or lazy or must not have followed their sacred instructions to the letter.
Love is always quick to blame itself, rather than the other person. “Do nothing out of . . . vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3).
When progress is not as fast as you expected, be quick to assume the problem is your inadequate “solution,” not their inadequate application. Be quick to blame your insufficient prayer and poor understanding. Pour out your frustration on God, not on them.
Complain to others about your own deficiencies if you must, but do not dishonor those you have been trying to help by complaining to other people about them. That’s betrayal.
Remember how insistent Peter was that he would never deny Jesus. Imagine how hard he would have been on anyone who in a moment of weakness was unfaithful to his Lord. Just hours later Peter did what to his mind was unthinkable. That demonstrates how difficult it is to project ourselves into a situation we are not presently in. Add to this the impossibility of understanding the pressures of living inside someone’s else’s body and of having the entirely different background.
Humility keeps us from foolishly judging people.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
Years ago I labored, to win back a backslidden Christian. After exhausting everything I could think of, it became obvious he would never return to the Lord. I gave up. Soon after, he came back to God. It hit me like a sledge hammer to realize that although I had written this young man off, God obviously hadn’t. Ever since, I have determined to do my utmost to reflect the patience and faith of the eternal Lord whenever I counsel people.
If you are not willing to stick by hurting people’s side, faithfully believing in them for literally years if necessary, why bother to start? Be prepared for their healing to be a lengthy process with many a disappointment and setback, but always believe they will finally make it.
The kingdom of God, declares Scripture, consists not of talk, but power (1 Corinthians 4:20). Don’t abandon your Christ-bought spiritual heritage and resort to the powerless ways of the world.
Power resides not in clever words but in simple, heartfelt prayer.
Hoping for prayer support, I have often shared my needs with people and all I’ve got is cheap advice. Don’t sidestep the pain and the privilege and the power of prayer. Our two cents’ worth is rarely worth even that much, but faith-filled prayers are gold.
How often do we find a writer of Scripture penning a request for advice? Yet we find at least nine distinct requests for prayer (Scriptures). It is noteworthy that although Paul gave advice in his letters, he did so by regularly beginning with the affirmation that he was called of God to give advice (ie called to be an apostle) and by stating that he constantly prayed for those he sought to advise. God’s call and calling upon God are the cornerstones of ministry.
Never be content with something a godless do-gooder could achieve. Reach up to heaven and bring down divine power.
I was appalled to read a “Christian” manual for sexual abuse counseling in which Christ’s sacrifice barely rated a mention. Authored by someone who should have known better, it was secular counseling with the word “God” slipped in now and then.
Never forget that the heart of Christianity, the source of its power, is the cross. We have nothing of lasting value to offer anyone outside the fact that the sinless Son of God bore the punishment for humanity's sin, so that all who come to him can trade their sin for his purity. Every conceivable spiritual blessing – love, relationship with God, answered prayer, the indwelling of God’s Spirit, wisdom, spiritual revelation, power over temptation, the fruit of the Spirit – flows from the death and resurrection of our Lord and from that alone (1 Corinthians 1:17–2:2).
In spiritual first aid, as in physical emergencies, virtually untrained people can save lives, provided they do not foolishly attempt procedures beyond their expertise.
You could be an excellent orator and brilliant Bible expositor, but the perfect wording and delivery for a sermon is usually unacceptable for private conversation. Remarks that bring acclaim when directed at a sizable congregation suddenly become offensive when targeted at one person, especially if that person is already hurting. With the degree of intimacy that personal conversation brings, a gentler, less direct approach is needed.
If you sense any such reaction, immediately back off. Ideally, of course, you will avoid the problem ahead of time by anticipating possible ways what you say could be misinterpreted as an accusation or hurtful remark.
If you are tempted to raise a matter that could cause a reaction, at the very least pray and fast about it for a couple of days. Check it out with a pastor or someone mature in the faith.
It’s my guess that a very high proportion of well-meaning Christian attempts to counsel people end up hurting people. We are all in danger of adding to this statistic. Remember Job’s counselors, who tried their hardest and yet ended up doing the devil’s work and desperately needing God’s forgiveness. They were quick to assume there was something wrong with Job. They criticized and accused. It’s the devil who is the accuser. Our role is to support. Our role is to love; to give people the benefit of the doubt; to be quick to find a good light in which to interpret our brother’s actions.
There is no need to be continually on edge, however. Be aware of the dangers, commit them to God, then rest in him, trusting your Lord to sound the alarm bells whenever needed.
To be the help that we want to be, we need the full gamut of Christian graces:
This is our great motivator. It keeps us thinking the best of a person and pressing through in prayer and faithfulness for as many weeks, months or years that it takes to see a full breakthrough in his/her situation. Love remembers people’s kindnesses and forgets their failings.
Don’t hide your love. Express warmth, enthusiasm, interest, compassion. Let your face light up when you see them. Show real delight in their triumphs. Hang on to their words. Don’t interrupt with lengthy statements, but show you are interested and following their conversation, perhaps by use of words like Wow! or Fantastic! where appropriate, or That must have hurt! or by showing pain on your face, when such a response is called for.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” (Romans 12:18). This, and Scriptures like it, highlights the key role of this grace in calming human relationships. Since anger is an expected human reaction to grief, anyone relating to a hurting person needs the spirit of a peacemaker; always ready with the soft answer that diffuses wrath; displaying the humility that would rather be wronged than inflame a situation.
“Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out” (Proverbs 17:14).
This is the very word Scripture uses to describe the way an erring brother should be restored and the way opponents should be corrected (Scriptures). “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you –” entreated Paul (2 Corinthians 10:1).
Treat people as delicate masterpieces, honoring them as exquisite works of the divine Craftsman, fearing least by rough handling you mar a precious work of God.
Wounded people are sensitive people. Your off-hand remark might seem little worse than a friendly slap on the back, but you don’t slap seriously wounded people, no matter how friendly the intention. “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5).
Be that rock-solid friend “who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) when everyone else turns away. Be dependable, remembering them in prayer, phoning them, keeping appointments.
This is what Job longed for in his friends (Job 6:14). Instead, they were like a mirage to a thirsty man. Like many exponents of the “you have to be cruel to be kind” philosophy, they succeeded only in being cruel.
“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong,” warned Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:15), “but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”
This has been described as “generous kindliness” and as the antithesis of envy. We need to be generous with our time and our compliments and to rejoice in every victory of the other person, displaying the exact opposite spirit of the gossiper, who delights in someone’s downfall.
When a person lashes out in pain, you need self-control. When you are itching to accuse someone, you need self-control. When you long to break a confidence, you need self-control.
“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2).
“Beware of anything that puts you in the superior person’s place . . .” pleaded Oswald Chambers. “Stop having a measuring rod for other people. There is always one fact more in every man’s case about which we know nothing . . . I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God” (My Utmost for His Highest, June 17th).
If there is anything we usually get wrong, it is recognizing who is in danger of pride. “Humble yourself,” says many Scriptures. Instead, we think it our divine duty to humble others. Rather than fear our own pride, the beam in our eye causes us to fear others falling into pride. We’re tempted to not mind how much they fall into despair or how much we wound them, as long as we save them from pride.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2).
The wisdom we desperately need comes not from books but from a relationship with the Almighty God. It is founded not on intelligence but on a fear of the holy Lord. It exalts not in itself but in the will of God.
You need it in abundance, not to flout your joy insensitively in front of someone who feels cruelly robbed of it, but to sustain you, empowering you to minister to hurting people without being dragged down by their oppression. It’s ever so hard to lift your brother or sister if you yourself are sinking into the bog of depression.
In most cases, giving advice is like a doctor opting for surgery the moment someone complains of heartburn. There are usually far more effective and less drastic ways of helping. At best it should usually be the last resort, and often it is totally inappropriate. Additionally, like surgery, it is usually morally wrong to attempt it without the person’s willing consent. And most importantly, no one should perform surgery merely because they feel qualified. Anyone attempting surgery has committed a serious offense unless he/she is pronounced qualified by the state’s medical authority. Likewise, we dare not assume the role of advice-giver or teacher (not to mention the role of judge) without specific authorization from God, the Highest Authority. Nevertheless, we are surrounded with exciting opportunities to take from God’s medicine cabinet the sweetest and most potent of medicines – love. We are divinely authorized to use it in unlimited quantities. And when applied in humble dependence upon the Spirit, astounding things happen. For practical suggestions as to how to show love, see the final part of this webpage series: Christian Carer’s Guide: List of Practical Suggestions.
We often think it Christlike to tend to the needs of the sick. Jesus didn’t actually do this, however. When, for instance, Peter’s mother-in-law was bedridden, instead of waiting on her, he healed her. She then waited on him! (This is a reminder that we must not delight in people becoming dependent upon us.)
Of course, nursing the sick and comforting the hurting is highly commendable, but let’s never lose sight of what Christ, our example, would have done. He was a man of intimacy with God his Father, who acted in constant, humble dependence upon him. He was a man of prayer, who kept urging his followers to have faith in the prayer-answering God for whom nothing is impossible. He walked this earth stripped of his divine glory and privileges, miraculously setting people free and pronouncing that through faith we would do likewise. Even greater works are within our grasp, he declared, because of his triumphant return to heaven’s throne after establishing our spiritual union with Almighty God (John 14:12-13).
Let’s dump small thinking and rise to the challenge of Christlike faith and dependence upon God. Heaven forbid that we be content with merely comforting the hurting. May love drive us until we seek God with such passion and faith that the power of the Almighty hits those we serve, transforming their lives. Truly, the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but power (1 Corinthians 4:20).
Webpages dealing in a sensitive, uplifting manner with dilemmas that often send us reeling
Except the last two in the list, each webpage leads to other webpages on the same topic
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Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1999.
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