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Counseling abuse demands that you choose neither of these evils. If you lean one way or another, you will cause more damage than blessing to those you counsel: you will cause further pain to a sufferer, or you will help an unruly person further harden his or her heart.
These past several years, with the advent of the victim culture, the pendulum has, thankfully, swung away from harshness but has overcorrected into the opposite and possibly more unhelpful ditch of over-caring or empathy.
The Lord gives suffering as a grace-gift to every one of His children, without exception (Philippians 1:29). Nothing whatsoever can happen to a child of God that was not filtered through the Father’s loving hands. An absolute commitment to this truth must undergird all efforts to help people.
The Lord is good, and He does good; further, He is in absolute control of everything that happens. The soul that believes this and is committed to loving God despite what her eyes see is at rest: the righteous person is as bold as a lion.
Most people don’t respond to abuse in this way from the outset. That’s okay. That’s why we need the body of Christ and solid biblical counselors to help us let steadfastness have its full effect, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Abusive situations go better when a person responds to abuse with the fruit of the Spirit. Here’s the rub, though: getting a good outcome to your situation is not why a Christian should respond well. You exist to honor God, no matter what, and to trust Him with the results.
Abusive folks often use gaslighting tactics as a means to control their victims. Bad abuse counselors rightly surmise that the best defense against manipulation is to refuse to be manipulated, so they will often coach their clients to master their emotions, effectively removing the reward the abuser is looking for so he or she will hopefully tire of trying and move on.
Mastering one’s emotions is also an excellent way to obtain credibility in couples’ counseling or in a court. This in itself, done wrongly, is a manipulative tactic. It focuses on the desired behavior in the original manipulator (or the judge or the counselor) and seeks to obtain it, using manufactured calmness as a means to an end.
Manipulation does not seek to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love others as yourself; it’s self-seeking in nature. Manipulation, even manipulation that aims at a good result, wants what it wants and uses any means necessary to get it. Sub-biblical counselors don’t have a problem with this because stopping abuse is their goal; the process doesn’t matter to them, or, at least, it is not a primary concern.
Biblical counseling, in contrast, puts the emphasis not on behavior or outcomes but on heart attitudes that reflect the character of Christ. Peace, joy, patience, and kindness are Spirit-wrought. They are the pure gold of which the manipulation I just described is a cheap counterfeit.
When a person is only faking this fruit, the telltale sign will be debilitating soul noise—crippling anxiety and the like, which a poor counselor will blame on the trauma of the abuse rather than helping the person to see their conscience-sorrow for what it is.
Carefully and humbly considered, it’s not difficult to see why this approach has soul-mangling effects. It promises freedom but delivers slavery, just like every other tactic of the enemy. I am not saying that the counselors I’m talking about are knowingly and willingly serving the devil, but the absence of malice does not change the result.
We must speak plainly about these things precisely because we love God and His people too much not to. I would encourage you to study the articles embedded in this one to help you think well about this topic and evaluate the authors you are considering.
Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Psalm 66:16-20).
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