This is my latest post at the BCC. I hope that you find it useful (click on button below.)
This post was first published by the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Written by Ellen Castillo
A Counselor’s Tears
Years ago, when I was training to be a biblical counselor, an experienced counselor warned me about showing too much emotion when counseling someone. I remember thinking, “this will not be a problem for me, I rarely respond to someone’s story by crying, and it is not that hard for me to shut off my tears when I feel them coming.” Fast forward, after many years of counseling women and teens, I have learned that there is a place for a counselor’s tears in a counseling session. I no longer always bite back my tears. Tears are a natural response to a burden that a counselee is sharing with me. When a counseling student is concerned about showing emotion in their counseling sessions, I share the following encouragement with them so that they do not needlessly worry about crying in front of a counselee.
I am not talking about spending entire counseling sessions crying, of course, and there are times that you might need to tone down your own emotions in a counseling relationship (discernment comes into play here). Often, your natural reaction is to feel deeply for someone in the moment, and you might feel tears welling up during the conversation. You can let tears naturally flow at those times. It is often good for the counselor to be honest with their emotional reactions, and it is good for the counselee to sense your empathy, concern, sadness, and deep care.
Biblical counseling is a close and personal relationship. The more natural that relationship, the more a counselee can feel safe to share their stories and struggles. In a relationship, it natural to cry together at times. (If you are not at all a crier, as some people are not, your facial and body language can often serve the same purpose.)
The trials of these past couple of years have changed many of our relationships. That comes with sadness, grief, lament, loss, fears, and many things that might bring us to tears. Our counselees likely feel all of this intertwined with whatever other issues might bring them to a counselor. It can be complicated to untangle emotions these days, and it takes time and empathy.
As I spoke with one counselee, she divulged that she had Covid at that time and was fearful of the lasting impact of her declining health. She works for a ministry that has lost income since Covid began. She has had relational struggles over the divisive issues of vaccines and masks, and she has lost friendships. She has experienced loss of income as her ministry has been unable to maintain the hours of their staff. As she spoke, I empathized with much of it. It could have been my own story in many ways! I felt the uncharacteristic (for me) tears welling. My instinct was to bite them back, but instead, they just flowed, and so did hers. We cried together for part of that session. This was an appropriate context for a counselor’s tears in a counseling session.
Because we cried together over shared experiences, she trusted me more. She opened up during that session in ways she had not even come close to before. It was a session I will never forget, and I learned and gained as much comfort as she did, no doubt.
Process Your Tears Together
When tears flow in counseling, it can be a teachable moment. The Bible addresses our tears. Jesus is entirely relatable as He experienced sorrow and tears. It brings the counselee and the counselor hope and comfort to see Him crying and portraying the same emotions that we often feel while we are counseling.
“And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept” (John 11:34-35).
Our tears are not insignificant in the counseling session. On the contrary, God treasures our tears, as He acknowledges them and captures them in a bottle.
“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book” (Psalm 56:8)?
It is not a waste of time to cry together in a counseling session. It is often a healing experience, and that is a goal in counseling, isn’t it? Counselors often say that they gain as much through what they teach or counsel an individual as the counselee does. This can also apply to sharing tears. It is a profound way to bear one another’s burdens.
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
In one another ministry, it makes sense that we would share tears. It is human and normal to cry about sad things like loss, pain, suffering. A stoic and seemingly unfeeling counselor is less comforting to some counselees. A counselor willing to let tears come is visibly engaging in the one another verses that are all through the Bible. If you are not a natural crier, that is also ok, as you can still show emotional responses in natural ways like posture, facial expression, wording, etc. But if you feel tears welling, it is only natural to let them come. Consider them one of the many tools in your counseling tool belt.
It can feel validating to have someone respond to your story with your emotions. That can go a long way towards bringing someone effective counsel and care. It portrays compassion in a way that words alone often do not. Part of the counseling journey is for a counselee to feel understood and seen. Your tears and other emotional responses can offer that.
A counselor or helper seeks to be Christlike, which includes entering into the sufferings of their counselee. Counseling is not only about giving advice and teaching someone how to think biblically and apply the gospel (although it is very much about those things at the right time.) It is first a relationship as a counselor avails herself to bear the other’s burdens. Burden bearing is an emotional and sacred privilege. As someone who does not cry often, that truth brings me to tears. Counselor, don’t forget to cry.
No More Sorrow
Tears from deep sadness and pain are challenging, but it will not always be this way. You and your counselee can draw comfort from God’s Word when He tells us that one day our sad and painful crying will end. But for now, it is good and biblical to cry together.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).
Questions for Reflection
Due to the crazy logistics of these past years and recent months, a second move to a new town in TX, and the time it is taking to settle in to a church, my ministry life has taken many twists and turns and it is not as active as I had hoped it would be by now. I am working on some writing, projects, and offering counseling as I am able. I hope to be back up and fully functioning as a counselor and equipper soon!
I am no longer using the Word of Hope Ministries branding. You will find all of my ministry content here instead.
This post was first posted at the Biblical Counseling Coalition
As I assign homework to teens, I keep Ephesians 3:17-19 in mind when choosing assignments:
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
The Importance of Carefully Selected Homework
One of the most common questions I am asked about counseling teens is “what resources do you use for homework?” The connotation of the word “homework” is often an issue when counseling teens. After spending a little time discussing why homework is important, they will begin to engage in the assignments as you encourage them.
Homework for teens can include things like Bible reading and memorization, journaling, learning to use online tools to study the Bible, practical assignments related to their current issues, worksheets, etc. There are many options for homework assignments for teens, but I am focusing on just one in this article: books. There are a handful of good teen resources right now that are gospel-rich and applicable to biblical counseling, mentoring, and discipleship with teenagers.
When I assign a book for homework, I appreciate one that has small chapters and spaces to write answers or notes. This is not because teens are not smart enough for meaty content (I use only content-rich books), but because they have an overload of school homework already and I do not want to overwhelm them with lengthy reading assignments that they will not complete.
RecommendationsThe following books are my latest recommendations:
What Do You Think of Me, Why Do I Care? by Edward T. Welch
This is my most commonly assigned homework book for teens. It is safe to say that the topic of the “fear of man” is a common one in all biblical counseling sessions, and teens have their own particular struggles that manifest from this issue. Insecurity, misunderstanding their identity, peer pressure, people-pleasing, comparing and judging, and various other forms of the fear of man are often revealed in counseling. This book helps the teen to learn about the dynamic in their own hearts that tempts them towards making people the ruling force in their lives. The goal is to guide the teen towards freedom from the bondage of the fear of man. This book is an excellent tool.
This Changes Everything, by Jaquelle Crowe
Written by an exceptionally bright and solid young woman when she was 19, this book was written directly to teens. She has a passion for the gospel and challenges teens to understand that they were created for something bigger than “self.” She points them to the gospel in powerful and engaging chapters. Teens I have taken through this book have been changed as they hear the author’s perspective. They see that they, too, can live lives to the glory of God.
Face Time, by Kristen Hatton
Written specifically for girls, the author focuses on “identity” and the struggle to navigate a world where teens are continually exposed to social media and all of its good, bad, and ugly sides. Many teens are in counseling because they have misused social media, or have been bullied on social media, or simply engage in it as a continual distraction to the detriment of other aspects of life. The focus in this book on identity in Christ is why I have assigned it as homework reading for several girls. It opens the door for discussion about the lies teens believe, and the Truth that sets them free.
Get Your Story Straight, by Kristen Hatton
Because this book has quite a lot of content, I use it for teens who are going to be meeting with me for a while. It is applicable for the teen who may not yet know Christ, to the newer believer, and for a teen who is a more mature Christian desiring further growth. The content offers basic discipleship. This is a unique devotional-style book that can be adapted for your use as needed while addressing topics such as: clarifying the gospel, how our stories intersect with God’s story of redemption, and how to navigate issues of fear, worry, friendships, forgiveness, and much more. This is an excellent discipleship tool for you and the youth you serve.
Respectable Sins (Student Edition), by Jerry Bridges
I have found this book to be useful for older teens who lean towards a more studious approach to their counseling and homework. It is similar in content to the original book Respectable Sins, but geared towards youth. It is very helpful for teaching a teen the dangers of legalism and performance-based thinking.
The Gospel-Centered Life for Teens, by Robert H. Thune and Will Walker
This book is written to be used as a small group or youth group study, but can be adapted to the counseling relationship fairly easily. You might find some chapters useful as homework and discussion in your meetings with teens, and others can be used as a guide for your counseling sessions. The content is gospel-rich and helps the teen to understand the gospel and apply it to their life in practical and meaningful ways.
The Peacemaker (Student Edition), by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson
The content of this book is what you would expect from the excellent Peacemaker resources. It is very helpful in counseling youth who are in conflict with family or peers. It provides the same principles you find in the other Peacemaker books, but is written with teens in mind. I find this book to be invaluable in my ministry to teens.
I was once taught the “80/20 rule” regarding books to recommend vs. books to toss out. The rule is that if a book has 80% great content, it is a keeper as long as you can navigate the problems with the other 20% (assuming they are not major doctrinal or theological issues, but areas where we can disagree with others in the body of Christ.) If the books is 80% problematic and only 20% good content, toss it out. It is difficult to make good use of a book that is weighted so heavily toward lack of good, useful content. I only recommend books that I believe fit the 80% great content rule. You can also use the 20% problematic content to teach discernment to the counselee as you work through a book together.
Questions for Reflection
What books do you find useful in your ministry to youth? What other types of homework assignments do you utilize with teens?
This post first appeared at the Biblical Counseling Coalition
Resistance to Authority
A 15-year-old counselee (“Jen”) informed me that she had no intention of cooperating with counseling unless I would help her to emancipate. I did not agree with her ultimatum, nor did I agree that she should pursue emancipation, but I did agree to research the ins and outs of emancipation. This was not the first teen I have counseled who has mentioned wishing they could emancipate, but this was the first one who was completely serious about it. I needed to educate myself, and so the two of us sat side by side at the computer and looked up the California legal requirements to emancipate.
We learned the following:
To get a declaration of emancipation, you have to prove ALL of these things:
It is not unusual for a teenager to want to move outside of her parent’s authority at some point during the teen years. When she googles “emancipation” she sees it means that her parents no longer have control over her and her decisions. That sounds good to a struggling teenager! Legal emancipation is unlikely in most of the cases we counsel because there needs to be a very good reason for it. Much to my counselee’s disappointment, hating your parents is not considered a good reason.
Clearly there is something deeper going on with Jen. Biblical counseling with teens must target the heart but not before we gain a clear understanding of the situation. A teen does not proclaim her independence because of hatred for her parents without cause. It is important to spend time gathering data. It is possible that a teen’s parents truly are mistreating or neglecting her in some way. This should not be assumed, but it should be investigated through careful discussions with both the teen and her parents. Often the teen is simply displaying a resistance to authority that has less to do with her parents than it has to do with her understanding of authority.
Resistance to authority is where Jen and I found common ground. This is where all of us can find common ground! At the heart level, you and I are no different than my counselee who wants to emancipate from her authority. When we avoid God and go our own way and sin, we are doing the same thing.
The Blessing of Authority
Authority truly is a blessing! My counselee certainly has not seen it this way because she has looked to her parents to meet her expectations. She considers herself a Christian, but she has not yet been discipled in many areas of her struggles. This is where biblical counseling steps in. “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).
As we talked for a few sessions, it was clear that my counselee was looking for some sense of peace, but she was looking for it in all the wrong places. She believed that peace would be found in removing herself from authority. As people continued to reject and disappoint her, she became convinced that the only hope was to get out from under the weight of the situation.
Submitting to Authority
Submitting to God’s authority is the answer to my counselee’s wish to be emancipated. As she surrenders to Him she will be able to come to know the peace that is only found in Him.
Authority is a hard concept for many, not just teens. Walking carefully through Romans 13 with a believing teenager can be impactful as it teaches that God’s call to show love, honor, and respect to others represents how God designed His kingdom to function. According to Scripture, authority ought to be submitted to, because all authority has been established by God (Rom. 13:1). This includes one’s parents, regardless how badly a teen wishes to escape this fact. A teen must also come to realize that rebelling against (or trying to run from) authority is rebelling against God (Rom. 13:2). These are hard but necessary truths when you are walking alongside a teen who wishes to emancipate.
It is helpful to teach a teen that despite what may be truly poor parenting (I am not talking about abuse here), God assures us that respect, kindness, and submission are part of His plan (1 Thess. 5:12-18), and failure to follow this plan results in further decline of the family relationship.
Rejecting God’s Authoritative Word
After counseling Jen for a few weeks, she fled. She wanted so badly for counseling to offer her an escape, but she was unwilling to receive counsel unless it would help her to emancipate. Her parents would not partner with me in the counseling process, and it seemed as if so many strikes were against Jen. Ultimately, she quit keeping her appointments and I have not heard from her since.
Pray for Jen, and scores of other teens who are suffering in difficult parental relationships and feel that there is no escape. Jen may give a verbal profession of faith, but she is still resistant to authority. In her lack of spiritual maturity, she struggles to find the purpose in her suffering and to look beyond her circumstances towards the hope found only in the gospel.
Questions for Reflection
Have you known a teen who wants to emancipate? Were you able to offer hope and if so, how? Have you seen a bit of yourself in Jen, too?
Ellen was interviewed by the Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, where she is a part of the leadership council board. Word of Hope is thankful for the work of the BCC as the counseling movement advances!
Word Of Hope is featuring Bob Kellemen, who has graciously offered a guest post about his upcoming book "Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life"
Martin Luther is famous for his Ninety-Five Thesis which launched the Reformation. So, I thought I would collate my favorite 95 Martin Luther quotes from my upcoming book: Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life (releasing August 14 by New Growth Press).
Since 95 quotes would make for a very long blog, I’m breaking these down into several blog posts. Here’s post number one…with quotes focused on Martin Luther and his trust in Scripture.
Martin Luther and Sola Scriptura: By Scripture Alone!
Church historians call it sola Scriptura: by Scripture alone. Biblical counselors call it sufficiency of Scripture—trusting in God’s Word for the care of souls.
Luther always pointed people to the Word of God as their ultimate hope and primary help in suffering, sin, and sanctification. The Scriptures, for Luther, are sufficient to comfort the hurting, confront the sinning, and cheer the saint.
Preach the Gospel to Yourself Daily
1. “You have the Apostle Paul who shows to you a garden, or paradise, which is full of comfort, when he says: ‘Whatever was written, was written for our instruction, so that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4). Here he attributes to Holy Scripture the function of comforting. Who may dare to seek or ask for comfort anywhere else?”
2. “Comfort yourself with the Word of God, the pre-eminent consolation.”
3. “It is thus very true that we shall find consolation only through the Scriptures, which in the days of evil call us to the contemplation of our blessings, either present or to come.”
4. “Nothing helps more powerfully against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts than occupying oneself with God’s Word, having conversations about it, and contemplating it.”
5. “I have learned by experience how one should act under temptation, namely, when any one is afflicted with sadness…. Let him first lay hold of the comfort of the divine Word.”
6. “Therefore, whenever any one is assailed by temptation of any sort whatever, the very best that he can do in the case is either to read something in the Holy Scriptures, or think about the Word of God, and apply it to his heart.”
7. “If you now attempt, in this spiritual conflict, to protect yourself by the help of man without the Word of God, you simply enter upon the conflict with that mighty spirit, the devil, naked and unprotected.” Such an endeavor would be worse than David against Goliath—without God’s supernatural power helping David. You may, therefore, if you so please, oppose your power to the might of the devil. It will then be very easily seen what an utterly unequal conflict it is, if one does not have at hand in the beginning the Word of God.”
8. “Christ heals people by means of his precious Word, as he also declares in the 50th chapter of Isaiah (verse 4): ‘The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the weary.’ St. Paul also teaches likewise, in Romans xv 14, that we should obtain and strengthen hope from the comfort of the Holy Scriptures, which the devil endeavors to tear out of people’s hearts in times of temptations. Accordingly, as there is no better nor more powerful remedy in temptations than to diligently read and heed the Word of God.”
9. “Let us learn, therefore, in great and horrible terrors, when our conscience feels nothing but sin and judges that God is angry with us, and that Christ has turned His face from us, not to follow the sense and feeling of our own heart, but to stick to the Word of God.”
Preach the Gospel to One Another Daily
10. “No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will.”
11. “Those who are tempted by doubt and despair I should console in this fashion. First, by warning them to beware of solitude and to converse constantly with others about the Psalms and Scriptures.”
12. “So we also labor by the Word of God that we may set at liberty those that are entangled, and bring them to the pure doctrine of faith, and hold them there.”
Scripture for the Soul, Medicine for the Body
Luther’s doctrine of sufficiency was robust enough to make room for the appropriate use of medication.
13. “Accordingly a physician is our Lord God’s mender of the body, as we theologians are his healers of the spirit; we are to restore what the devil has damaged. So a physician administers theriaca (an antidote for poison) when Satan gives poison. Healing comes from the application of nature to the creature . . . . It’s our Lord God who created all things, and they are good. Wherefore it’s permissible to use medicine, for it is a creature of God. Thus I replied to Hohndorf, who inquired of me when he heard from Karlstadt that it’s not permissible to make use of medicine. I said to him, ‘Do you eat when you’re hungry?’”
On the other hand, when convinced that an issue was spiritual in nature, Luther did not hesitate to call for spiritual, rather than medicinal cures. Scripture is God’s prescription, God’s choice medicine, for soul sickness. Luther writes to his friend John Agricola concerning John’s wife:
14. “Her illness is, as you see, rather of the mind than of the body. I am comforting her as much as I can, with my knowledge. In a word, her disease is not for the apothecaries (as they call them), nor is it to be treated with the salves of Hippocrates, but by constantly applying plasters of Scripture and the Word of God. For what has conscience to do with Hippocrates? Therefore, I would dissuade you from the use of medicine and advise the power of God’s Word.”
Join the Conversation
These are just a summary of many more Luther quotes on the sufficiency of Scripture from Counseling Under the Cross.
Of these 15 quotes, which ones resonate the most with you?
How could Luther’s confidence in God’s Word make a difference in your trust in God’s Word for your life and ministry?
Luther, LW, Vol. 49, p. 16.
Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 63, emphasis added.
Luther, LW, Vol. 42, p. 124.
Luther, The Large Catechism, p. 187, in Krey, Luther’s Spirituality.
Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, pp. 175-176.
Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, p. 178.
Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 179-180.
Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, p. 179.
Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 333, 126.
 Luther, LW, Vol. 54, p. 78.
Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 117.
Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 333, 126.
Luther, LW, Vol. 54, pp. 53-54.
Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, p. 402.
We Can Counsel Our Friend
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
The word “counseling” conjures up certain images in our minds. We might envision a professional setting of some sort. We might picture the counselor as someone we don’t know very well, if at all. In state licensed therapy, therapists are expected to adhere to guidelines that say not to counsel people with whom they have a prior or current relationship outside of the therapy context. There are provisions for cases where this is unavoidable, although even then the therapist is expected to maintain strong boundaries.
This is a foreign concept to biblical counselors, because they are not required to follow such guidelines. In fact, our philosophy of care is quite the opposite. We often engage with our counselees not just in the counseling session, but also at church, at social functions, and other places our lives intersect. This is not seen as a detriment to the counseling. In fact, it is considered a strong asset.
Licensed therapy requires that the relationship remains clinical. Once counseling is over, the relationship is also over. As biblical counselors, we often counsel friends, and sometimes we become friends with our counselees after the counseling ends. Our counselees are not just “clients”, they often are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are given instructions in Scripture regarding how we are to relate to our siblings in Christ. The many one-another passages apply to our friendships and to our counseling relationships alike. Biblical counseling is not clinical or professional-to-client. It is one-another ministry. It can be done in a variety of contexts such as informal sessions at one’s church, in a parachurch’s office, at a Starbucks or a restaurant, in a living room, wherever the counselor ministers. This dynamic is why we can counsel our friends and often become lasting friends during the process.
When someone who is already a friend of mine seeks counsel, it will look a little different than when a stranger or simple acquaintance asks for counseling. Because we already have a relationship, we can enter into deeper discussions more quickly as we also continue our friendship. I have never turned a friend away from counseling because we are friends. In fact, I am happy to do it because it is, simply put, what the Bible requires of all believers no matter what we call it. We are meant to engage in community, which includes applying all of the one-another scriptures. A faithful friend will care enough to help.
Considerations When Counseling a Friend
It might help to lay some ground rules. It is important that you agree to transparency and complete honesty. However, you must guard against becoming your friend’s secret-keeper. An example of that is when your friend confesses that she is committing adultery, but she has not told her husband. She would like you to keep that secret. If you keep her secret, you are now a part of her sin against her husband. In order to counsel her well, she must be admonished for the sin and called to repentance. She must also be honest with her husband, immediately. (These are complicated scenarios, and sometimes it is wise for you to bring a pastor or male counselor in on the discussion about how to help her move forward with her husband.)
Be aware that your friendship dynamic might change, at least for a little while. That does not end your friendship, it just changes it for a season. You will likely be offering counsel more than you might otherwise in just a social context. It will be worth it. In many cases, the friendship will be stronger because you have loved your friend so deeply.
If your friend is not seeking your help, be sensitive in how you approach her if you feel that she needs help. We are called to admonish one another, true, but that is to be done gently and in love. You want to maintain trust in your friendship, and being too pushy (even if your motive is to help) is a sure way to push a friend away.
Under the Spirit’s leading, you are called to help your friend so that she can be restored to Christ. Check your motives and remember that our desires drive our motives. If your desire is selfish in any way, rethink things. Our desires for others should be gospel-centered, wanting our friend to find hope and healing. If you desire to help your friend become more like Jesus, that will be a very good start.
“Better is an open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:5-6”
We Are Set Apart
Counseling our friends and becoming friends with our counselees sets us apart from other forms of counseling and therapy. This is because as we counsel, the kindness of God is on display as the body of believers relates to one-another as God intends. God has graced us with a family, siblings in Christ, so that we do not have to struggle to exist in this broken world alone.
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15″
This first appeared at Biblical Counseling For Women
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