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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 if the person is a teenager.

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After two hours of counseling, Biffy asked me 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 said to Biffy,

Well now, since you have brought it up, let’s talk. Tell me what you think about God? About religion? About your church?

I intentionally directed the counseling conversation in a way Biffy was not expecting. Biffy’s parents made him come to a Christian counselor, and he rightly assumed I would play the God-card.

Because his parents sent him to me and I’m a Christian counselor, I knew that he would brace himself for any discussion about God. He did not come of his volition. This typical scenario can put a counselor in a three-fold bind:

  1. A teenager who does not want to be in counseling.
  2. A teenager who expects to have God shoved down his throat.
  3. A teenager who believes it’s three against one–dad, mom, and the counselor against the teen.

Non-Offensive with the Offense

Most counselors know the early sessions with a troubled teen can be the toughest. It is common for a teen, who is made to attend counseling sessions, to be resistant.

An angry teen will try to put the counselor at a disadvantage when he first comes to counseling. He will show his resistance by his countenance, his posture, and his words.

A wise counselor will have already discerned the situation and prepared his heart for the inevitable. The last thing the counselor needs to do is be offended because of the teen’s immaturity. If the teen were mature and in love with God, he probably would not be sitting in a counselor’s office.

Christ is an offense (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). If the troubled teen is going to get tripped up, let him trip over Christ rather than an unwise approach to counseling.

It would be prudent to spend some time getting to know him before you begin a discussion about his relationship with Christ.

If he comes to you already in shut-down mode, then quickly going to the depths of his soul without getting to know him is not usually wise. Let him experience the goodness of God in you first.

The Unexpected God

Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. God is always working on a different plane from His creation (Isaiah 55:8-9). It might be helpful to not do the expected thing in the early sessions with a troubled teen.

Because discernment, wisdom, and Spirit-illumination should be the guide, the counselor may choose not to respond according to the teen’s expectations. I have found this approach to work in disarming resistance.

God is patient, long-suffering, and forbearing, which means there are times that God is not in a hurry. Think about your conversion or how God has been patient with you, post-conversion. 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 show mercy, love, kindness, grace, long-suffering, patience, and forbearance.

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

The Kindness of God

A better approach would be to build a bridge to the teen. Relate to him. Listen to him. Ask him questions. Work on your relationship with him first.

He did not get this messed-up overnight, and there is no need to press him into a religious response during the first session. If the teen does perceive that you are forcing the religion issue, his defenses may go up, and it will hinder your good intentions.

It could be he has not seen a clear and consistent presentation of the patience and kindness of God. There is a good chance his parents have not modeled these wonderfully convicting attributes of the Father.

You may want to share with the parents your philosophy of counseling. Just as the kid may come to you expecting to hear about God, the parents could be assuming you’re going to do your “God-magic” during the first session, and progress will be evident and effectual.

Parents may expect you to fix their child in one or two sessions. What they could not do in fifteen years, they want you to do in two hours.

End of the Story

The opening illustration about Biffy was a counseling session that I had with a 17-year old. The teen came in resistant, so we shot the breeze for a while. 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. The Lord was merciful, allowing us to talk about the details of his life eventually. He wanted help, but before he could go there, he had to know if I was for him.

Sometimes being forceful or using awkward posturing is not redemptive. In most cases, troubled teens want to talk if they know you are on their side (Romans 8:31).

Jesus was the Master at figuring out His audience. Sometimes He withheld who He was, while at other times He was more direct. Jesus used discernment and patience to reach His audience.

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