The Art of Counseling (Part 1/2)
Counseling is a craft that people spend years cultivating through schooling and experience. There are, however, some specific issues that require counseling that will inevitably come up that you as a microchurch leader will have to field. With that in mind, we want to give you a few pointers of how to handle some tough counseling situations that you are bound to run in to as a microchurch leader and where to go from there:
This is a two part series, so we want to start with the basics. This is a very cursory overview of some foundational aspects of counseling in a microchurch setting that need to be laid before we can move on. Here are some essential elements of a good counselor:
1. Be a Good Listener. When I was in seminary, one of my good friends that was there with me took a class called “Grief, Death, and Dying”. I was super curious to hear what she learned, so at the end of the class I asked her to sum it up for me and give me the cliff notes version. She said that the class went through an intense theological study of both the Old and New Testament but that at the end of the class, the consensus was the best thing to do for a person in a grief stricken situation was to simply be there with them and to listen.
That was the big epiphany.
It seems so elementary, but you would be surprised at how many people can’t just listen, especially leaders. Drop the pride about how much you know about the subject and take the first major chunk of time and listen. That’s it. Many people solve their own problems by just talking it out and having someone listen and ask good questions. So take a deep breath and just hear the person out! You will be amazed at how far that really goes!
2. Questions are Key. After you have spent some time listening, reassess and ensure that you heard what they were actually saying (not how you interpreted it). Saying things like, “So what I hear you saying is…” helps to make sure you are on the same page. After that is clarified, then having a series of good questions ready is extremely important.
The best way for someone to grow in a counseling situation in my mind is through the process of self-discovery, meaning you simply throw out the right questions, and through the person’s response, they end up solving their own issues. It is a way to lead someone to a conclusion without actually giving the answer. No, this is not manipulation, but a way for him/her to come to a conclusion without you having to explicitly say it.
Ex: Let’s say someone comes to you and tells you about a guy that she likes but is unsure about due to character issues. She comes and says, “I don’t know what to do. Should I date him or not?”
A few good questions would be: “Could you see yourself marrying this man? Does he have the character you are looking for in a husband? If nothing changed about the way he acted for the rest of his life, would you be ok with that?”
Questions like these face the person with a reality check and forces them to make some clear cut decisions about the situation they are in. Again, this is not telling people what to do, but pointing them to some obvious facts to you that are not so obvious to them.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say You Don’t Know. Simply put, you are a microchurch leader, not the omniscient Messiah. If you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it till you make it. Just be honest. Say you don’t know. This will save you and the person you are counseling a lot of headaches and heartaches. A good response would be, “You know, I don’t really know, but if you give me a few hours, I can ask [fill in the blank with someone who is a spiritual elder or authority in your life that has wisdom in this area] and get back to you.”
4. Always Bring it Back to the Bible. As much as possible, always bring it back to the Word. There are many things that the Word can shed light on and bring hope, love, conviction, correction, and peace to. Utilize the greatest tool we have as often as you can! Pretty self-explanatory here!!
5. Know When to Get Professional Help. There are going to be times when you simply don’t have the answers and it is not one of those easy fix situations. When there are things that are very serious that you don’t feel comfortable handling be sure to notify someone at the church so we can get the right people involved. We want your microchurch members taken care of, not victimized. Sometimes you can handle it, but sometimes you can’t and we want to be there to help you and the members of your MC.
Next month, we will go a little deeper in the art of counseling, so stay tuned!