Counselor, Don't Forget to Cry
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
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