Failure in the Counseling Room, Part 2

May 4, 2016

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BCC Staff: Today we continue to consider possible reasons for “failure” in the counseling room.

When Counseling Comes to an Abrupt Conclusion (Facing Our Limitations)

Truthfully, I don’t know when I received the email from my counselee that she was considering ending our sessions. As far as I could tell from our conversations and the feedback she was offering, we were making progress and she was gaining an understanding of God’s goodness and direction in the midst of her disappointing circumstances. However, her email was a brief note that she would be seeking help elsewhere and was no longer interested in meeting with me.

The flurry of questions quickly ran through my head: “What happened?” “Where did I go wrong?” “What else is happening that led to this decision?” “How did I not see this coming?” “Was all of that time and effort on both our parts wasted?” “What does this mean about me as a counselor?” A colleague in a similar position expressed her own struggle when a counseling relationship abruptly concluded. In an honest moment, she shared a genuine concern we all work through with the Lord at some point or another: “How will this impact my colleagues’ and my boss’ assessment of me as a counselor?”

We may have quick answers for these questions in someone else’s life, but when it comes to our own experience of shortcomings, it can be a battle to persevere in fearing God more than man in our counseling. In this case, I might have said something that the counselee did not like, either because of the content of what I said, or because of the way I said it. Perhaps it was my demeanor or a mannerism I have that bothered the counselee. Or she could have been uncomfortable with the verses I was showing her in order to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

It is here, in this moment of neediness and a keen awareness of our own limitations, that the knowledge of God and His Word wonderfully interrupts and answers the failures so glaringly obvious in our counseling. As humans, we counselors are inherently flawed, limited, imperfect, and as desperate for the grace, forgiveness, and power of Christ as are our counselees. So there is no surprise that a counselee will see the limitations of our wisdom or the manner in which we counsel.

Counselors should feel a burden and care toward their counselees, while at the same time taking careful stock of their own expectations. We do not have ability from God to change hearts; it is His work to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Our responsibility before God is to intercede on our counselees’ behalf and to diligently read God’s Word so that we have His truth to hold before their eyes every meeting. We must present them with the forgiveness, compassion, and trustworthiness of our God in response to stubborn hearts and flagging spirits. We must be watchful that we do not assess the work the Lord is doing in the counselee’s life based on our standards and expectations for “growth.” Rather, we must continue asking questions, seeking to understand the heart, and skillfully placing the Word of God before these men and women as the authoritative standard for their lives.

We also must consider our own hearts and bring our disappointments, concerns, and need for counsel before the Lord. Nothing is hidden from His sight, and we may ask with the psalmist, “Search me, Oh God, and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:33-34). And we must pray the He continually equip us to walk with the hurting and the stubborn among His people, for we know that while we are limited, He is limitless. Our inability to change a heart, our struggle to persevere in a long battle, and our temptation to sinfully judge a struggling brother or sister are never outside His power and authority to overcome.

Join the Conversation

How have you tried to discover your limitations as a counselor? How have you tried to overcome those limitations?