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“Ten Commandments” for Counseling the Chronically Afflicted, Part Two

September 8, 2011

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Mark Kelly

“Ten Commandments” for Counseling the Chronically Afflicted Part 2

Note: You are reading Part Two of a two-part blog mini-series on communicating with those suffering from Chronic Pain (CP). Read Part One.

A weeping family member sits across from your desk describing the devastating impact that Chronic Pain (CP) has brought into their family. Their loved one suffers miserably and yet all attempts to encourage seemingly either fall on deaf ears or are given the cold shoulder. As a biblical counselor or pastor what biblical wisdom for communicating with someone suffering with CP can you give this grieving counselee?

The following final five of the overall “Ten Commandments” were written from a CP patient’s viewpoint and specifically designed to assist in the area of communication. Used in conjunction with other biblical principles dealing with communication, these commandments provide a resource that allows grace to flow freely in the conversations between sufferer and care-giver.

Thou Shalt Give Hope by Your Helpful Questions

What is a helpful question? A helpful question is a question that is specific in nature, or open-ended, to allow a full response, indicating you truly understand what the CP sufferer has said, or are interested in learning more about what they have said.

Have you ever asked a CP sufferer to rate their pain? They do it for doctors all the time. They can easily do it for you. Ask the CP sufferer about how they are sleeping. Are they having difficulty concentrating? Observe and inquire about their mood. (Do they appear depressed or irritable?)

Have you asked a CP sufferer if they are satisfied with their treatment? Do not just suggest treatments to them, find out how they like or dislike their current treatment or doctors. Ask them if they feel their pain is bearable. When they are asked the right questions, they feel as if they have permission to discuss their pain with you.

Thou Shalt Not Be Destructive in What You Say

Unfortunately, sometimes as Christians we are good at this when we have nothing else to say.

  • “Remember, All things work together for good!”
  • “Remember, life is a vapor, it will all be over soon!”
  • “No pain, No gain!”
  • “Have you sinned or something?”
  • “Well, you don’t look sick”

Statements such as these and other similar quips only will make the CP sufferer feel worse and do absolutely nothing to help them in dealing with their condition.

Rather, ask them this, “How have you survived this long?” Let them talk to you about the goodness of God and his grace in the midst of their weakness. It allows them to remember that there truly is a God who is in charge and who cares for them in the midst of their hurting. It gives them HOPE.

Thou Shalt Be Compassionate

If you desire to communicate at length with someone suffering from CP, it will mean that you will have to put away your cares, your busy schedule, and your needs. It will be an act of love to reach out and minister well to those who are hurting. It will require compassion. It will be hard.

It will also be worth it. Compassion extended encourages healing.

A CP sufferer does not want to tie up your whole day. They may just want five minutes to  let down their defense and pull back the curtains of protection and let you see what it’s like to be them… to live with CP. If you respond in compassion, it would be incredibly beneficial.

Thou Shalt Recognize That You Don’t Know All There Is about CP

You’d be in good company—neither does their doctor.

Sometimes it is hard to see someone hurting and not know how to help them. One of the goals of this resource is to allow people to move forward in their ability to communicate with those who suffer. Nobody likes to hurt, and most people don’t like to see people hurt.

Sometimes it becomes tempting to offer any platitude (see commandment # 7—Thou Shalt Not Be Destructive) in a feeble attempt to “just do something.” No matter your intentions, those platitudes will not help.

Sometimes acknowledging that you do not know what it is like to suffer, or be in pain, or that you do not know the answer on to help means more to the CP sufferer than if you tried to do something. Many times we just need Commandment # 1 (Listen).

Thou Shalt Understand That Pain Is Not What You Think It May Be

If you were to do some extensive research on pain and pain management, you would find that the medical community has really morphed their understanding of what pain is and how it manifests itself over the last several decades.

Pain is not merely physical, but psychological and neurological. This means that pain can be mental and emotional as well as physical. Pain is not limited to physical injury or deterioration.

When you see someone who is suffering from CP and it does not appear to you that they are physically injured, it is very tempting to not believe hat they are saying. Neurological experts are now coming to understand that there does not even have to be an external factor for a patient to suffer from CP.

For the sufferer, psychologically, the temptation is to respond to CP with fear. They fear that it will not go away, that it will inhibit life in some way, that it will be financially extensive to treat, and on and on. Pain represents a very real hurdle to their identity, their ability to minister, a hurdle in relationships and in recreation. When this pain persists, this fear can easily move to anxiety and depression.

Often when someone becomes depressed they tend to show less emotion (not always but the tendency is there) and as a result they do not appear to be in pain. As we have seen, pain is difficult to translate into words and that makes it harder for you, the listener, to understand what the CP sufferer is experiencing. So you need to understand that pain is very complex and unique to the individual.

Also, their CP symptoms may not be the next person’s symptoms. Pain is unique to the individual and it is different for everyone. Pain may vary as a result of genetics, personality, maturity, history, etc. It is impossible for you to truly know what pain a person is going through—but you can be a helpful listener to the CP sufferer.

Join the Conversation

Do you find that sometimes as a biblical counselor or family member of a person suffering with chronic pain, that you give platitudes instead of true hope? What aspect of helping those who suffer with chronic pain needs development in the Church today?


One thought on ““Ten Commandments” for Counseling the Chronically Afflicted, Part Two

  1. Excellent! Excellent. I practiced medicine for 33 years and have made all the mistakes you mentioned. But, I did learn slowly. Although you didn’t specifically say this, I imagine it is permissible to suggest ways of thinking about the chronic pain if the counselee brings the matter up, for example if you are discussing “How have you survived this long?” I also imagine this needs to be done with great gentleness.

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