Written by Judy Johnston, staff counselor at Word of Hope Ministries
The New Counselor Series: The “R” Word
Ending one of my supervised counseling sessions with what I hoped was a gentle smile, I waved good-bye to my counselee. As I closed the door and returned to my chair, my stomach muscles were tense and sore. Had I been that worried about the session that I had unknowingly tightened my abdominal core to hold myself together? Counseling in a formal setting was new to me, but God had been preparing me for many years for this new role, bringing women into my life with whom to pray, to weep, to encourage and to study God’s Word. He had also provided excellent training through IBCD’s video program, and some excellent counseling books and He had given me a remarkable mentor/supervisor for my training. What was wrong?
The next day, I met with my supervising counselor debriefing my session. Even as I expressed my apprehension, tension tightened my core again to the point of discomfort. I pushed aside the ache, eager to glean from my mentor how to better bring the hope and encouragement of the Scriptures into the life of my new counselee and allay any fears that might be causing the tension.
By early evening, I could no longer ignore my body’s message. I needed to get a handle on my body’s response to something going on in my mind and heart. Was I letting a sense of inadequacy rob me of peace? Was I allowing the feeling of being out of my comfort zone induce physical tension? Was I going to implode with tension every time I counseled? It was time to examine my heart and get to the root of the tension.
Resting in the sufficiency of God’s Word was foundationally crucial for every counseling session. Knowing that “the Word of God is living and active…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart...” (Heb. 4:12) comforted me. God had already provided all the wisdom and direction through His Scriptures I would need for my counselee.
Evaluation: Was I truly leaning on the trustworthiness of God’s Word or was I expecting to add something to it that would turn my counselee’s life around?
Action: I prayed that God would help me lean on and rest in His truth to change the heart and mind of my counselee.
Reliance on the Holy Spirit was another necessity for insight, discernment and direction that would bring me peace as a counselor. The Holy Spirit would know the heart of my counselee and would guide me in choosing appropriate Scripture passages and homework assignments. He is the one who “guides us into all truth” (John 16:13) and helps us understand that truth. In Him, we can “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
Evaluation: Was I relying on the Holy Spirit, praying before each session for my heart and that of my counselee? Was I calling out to Him in silent prayer during the session when it took a turn I wasn’t expecting?
Action: I asked God to help me totally rely on Him for every session and to remind me to turn to Him continually.
Resting and relying don’t usually lead to tension. What then was the source of my abdominal tension?
Evaluation: A friend’s probing question revealed my heart; what I was experiencing was another “R” word, responsibility. I was feeling responsible for the results of the counseling session. Though I was resting in the sufficiency of God’s Word and relying on the Holy Spirit’s help, I was holding myself responsible for the outcome. Rather than simply being an ambassador of reconciliation, a mere jar of clay, honored to hold the glory of God that others might see Him and know Him, I was placing myself in the role of changer of hearts.
Action: The moment that understanding hit home, I repented and relaxed. I would yield to God’s sovereignty over the results, trusting Him as the Changer of hearts and lives as I pointed to Christ through the gospel. And I would ask God to keep reminding me of my utter dependence on Him.
My encouragement to fellow new counselors is to remember to whom the responsibility belongs. Yes, we are responsible to keep studying God’s Word, keep growing spiritually, keep loving and listening well, but we are not responsible for the change in the heart of another person. He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it!
The Rest of the Story
Several days later as I bent forward in my stretching exercises, the source for the tightness and soreness in my abdominals revealed itself. Prior to the counseling session I had just restarted my core-strengthening exercise routine after a several-month hiatus. I had to laugh out loud! God was using my exercise program to not only help me build physical discipline but also to teach me more deeply the difference between His role in biblical counseling and mine. God is faithful!