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You Must Know This Before You Counsel Anyone

You Must Know This Before You Counsel a Teen

Sometimes stereotypical counseling can get in the way of what you want to do with an individual, especially when the counselee has a preconceived, pessimistic instinct about where you want to go with him. You’ll see this with some teenagers, for example, because they sense a three against one setup—parents and counselor versus the teen. Knowing how to predict this possibility and customizing your care accordingly is essential.

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Defensive Counslees

A mother called a few years ago, asking if I would counsel her teenage son. She was more interested in her teenager finding help than he was. I agreed, and she brought him to my office. After two hours of counseling, Biffy asked if I was ever going to talk about God. I asked him what he meant, and he said, “We have been talking for two hours, and you haven’t said anything about God. When are you going to talk about God?”

I responded with, “Well, now since you have brought it up, let’s talk. Tell me what you think about God? What about the church?” I initially and intentionally directed the counseling conversation in a way that Biffy was not expecting because his parents gave him no choice but to see a Christian counselor, and he assumed I would push Jesus on him.

And I assumed he would brace himself against any discussion about God or me probing into his dark life. Just recently one of our Mastermind graduates shared a similar story about a young lady expecting to get broadsided with the gospel. These tense scenarios could put any discipler or parent in a bind: the counseled does not want to be there, or they expect the shoving of the Lord down their throats.

Lower the Bar

In the early parts of any tough conversation, there can be resistance, defensiveness, and even insecurity about the direction you may want to take. For example, an angry teen will try to put the counselor at a disadvantage when he first comes to the session. He shows his resistance by his countenance, his posture, and his words.

The wise disciple-maker will have already discerned the situation ahead of time and prepared his heart for the inevitable. The last thing the counselor needs to do is let a person’s resistance offend them. If the teen were mature and in love with God, he probably would not be sitting in front of you anyway.

We must not elevate our expectations so high, only to be set up for a quick disappointment when the other person is not as optimistic about your time with them. Without being cynical or pessimistic, you want to lower the bar just enough to guard your heart. If he’s glad to be with you, count it as an unexpected surprise. Perhaps taking a more measured, slower approach to your eventual goal would prove to be wisdom in these situations.

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The Unexpected God

There are times when it’s best to be less predictable. God is like this. His thoughts and our thoughts are different (Isaiah 55:8-9). If someone can predict you because you only have one gear, they will fortify accordingly, and you’ll have more difficulty penetrating their defensiveness. These situations are where you have an advantage over the resistant soul.

The Spirit of God gives illuminating insight into what is happening. The Bible provides wise guidance in how to proceed. And God enables you with patience, forbearance, perseverance, and long-suffering when dealing with resistant people. Perhaps you could think back to when the Lord regenerated you. Most of us were not in favor of His excellent work in our lives initially. I was twenty-five years old before I came to Christ. What about since your salvation?

Have you ever sinned and thought God might crush you on the spot? But you were relieved to find out God was not going to send you to hell or punish you in some other way but showed mercy, love, kindness, grace, long-suffering, patience, and forbearance. I’m not suggesting letting every sin go without speaking into it, but sometimes overlooking a resistant attitude because you have bigger fish to fry could prove to be a perfect response.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).

Slow It Down

Most counseling contexts do not come with an already established relational bridge that connects you with the struggling soul. Without that “bridge,” you may end up in the ravine of relational disappointment if you trot heavy truth across to the person too soon. Spend time relating to the person, asking questions, and listening well, so he knows you understand him. Work on building a fortified relationship with him first.

He did not get this messed up overnight, and there is no need to press him into a religious response upon first meeting him. If he senses you’re forcing the issue too strongly, his defenses may go up, and it will hinder your good intentions. The temptation for counselors and parents is to speed up the process, either because the “time limiting counseling context” demands it or the parent is trying to avert imminent danger in the child’s life.

Also, you may want to share with the parents your philosophy of counseling. Just as the kid could come to you expecting to hear about God and a call to change today, the parents could be assuming you’re going to do your “God-magic” during the first session, and progress will be evident and effectual in two hours or less. What they could not do in fifteen years, they want you to do in two meetings.

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End of the Story

My counseling time with Biffy ended well. He came in resistant, so we shot the breeze for nearly two hours. We laughed a lot, talked about random things, and acted like two regular Joes getting to know one another. He began to open up to the point where he wanted to know about God. We had several sessions, and there was no place that I could not go with him.

He wanted help, but before going there with me, he had to know if I was on his side. I was not the only person in that session trying to figure out someone; Biffy was vetting me too. He wanted to know two specific things: was I trustworthy and did I have enough game to help a struggling boy. Why should he reveal his darkest secret to me if I was not a trustworthy soul or did not possess the competency to help him?

Sometimes being forceful or using awkward posturing to gain a redemptive advantage is not an advantage at all. In nearly all cases, troubled souls want to talk to someone if they know you are on their side and will stick with them to the end (Romans 8:31).

Call to Action

  1. Think through a time when you pushed too hard, too soon. How did it go? What should you have done differently?
  2. What is your usual practice? Are you more direct with people—to the point—or are you the person who is not direct enough? Why are both qualities positive and negative? How will you enhance your strength while practicing overcoming your weakness?
  3. For those of us who have blown it with a counselee or child, the call is to rest in the Sovereign Lord. Are you resting in God regarding those who received your imperfect care? If not, what needs to change about you?

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