What the young woman said alarmed me. I had not met her before. As she sat down at the beginning of a time of Prayer Ministry with me she said simply, “I’ve come to be healed from my counselling!” A short time later it became obvious why she had come to get healing. She had been to a professional secular counsellor who had been inappropriate in his counselling approach. He had asked her probing questions of increasing depth. She felt that information was being dragged out of her almost against her will. She thought she had come to share her thoughts on her problem while the professional counsellor listened quietly. But it was not like that at all. At the end of the counselling session she felt a sense of being emotionally abused and vowed never to return to the same man for a second “bout”.
This happened about the same time as I read of a counsellor being taken to court for what a counselee saw as emotional damage coming from her appointment with him. It was said in court that he had wrongly identified what he thought was her problem. He had shared his opinion that he thought she had been abused as a child. As she acted on what he said, it had subsequently caused great damage to her mental health, and to her marriage and family. No abuse was ever found to have happened. He had got it wrong. Terribly wrong! Many people suffered as a result.
What insights do we find in Psalm 139 regarding counselling? What less damaging approach to counselling can we discover through reading this psalm? There are a number of truths to consider that we looked at in the previous article.
1). God Knows Everything About Every Human Situation. When someone comes to us for help they do not know all the details of the situation they want to share with us. They may come with all sorts of misunderstandings about their situation. They may think that they have understood the motives behind another person’s words or actions. However they may be totally wrong. Often words which have been said as an encouragement have been taken by those who have a deep sense of rejection, as being critical or down-putting or demeaning.
I once spoke to a man who had worked hard with a number of us all day in the heat of summer to clean out a parish hall. I tried to express my gratitude and thanks for all his efforts by saying as he lay down on a pew, “You’re having a well-deserved rest!” But he and his wife, who had both known incredible rejection earlier in life, later obviously talked about the day. It seems his rejection fed her rejection which fed his rejection and so on. They later told my wife that they were upset with me. Why? In the wife’s words, “On Saturday your husband called my husband a bludger!”
Nothing could have been further from the truth. My words of affirmation and thanks were filtered through their combined screens of negativity and came out as the words the wife uttered. People are often guilty of gross misunderstanding. The words we hear in counselling situations may have only some relevance to the real truth. But for the sake of those seeking our help, they need to be accepted as truth until proved otherwise. I tried to encourage those involved in praying for others to listen carefully to people as they share their story. Even when it seemed to be way out. The world is so twisted in its values and practices that the “way-out” things we hear, may in fact be true. God knows everything about every situation in the lives of all of us. No matter how much people think they know about their situation, only God knows the real truth. But praise God He does!
2). We Are Incapable As Humans Of Getting To The Real Truth By “Searching It Out”. Counselling techniques are varied. All of them should consist of letting the counselee share what they have come to share. To express their need as they see it. When we seek to ascertain from them more about the problem to try to help them, damage can occur. In the first example I mentioned above, the counsellor’s probing questions made the woman feel “raw” inside, as she expressed it. There is real danger is getting people to go beyond their comfort zone in sharing. They can feel bruised by the questions asked and by the answers drawn out of them. And less likely to share deeply again.
Another danger might come from the types of questions asked. For example, “Were you sexually abused as a child?” might seem to be a reasonable question. But in the minds of some people it sows the seed that the possibility might have occurred. Their reasoning may be like this. “This counsellor is the expert in these things. He surely would not have asked the question if he didn’t think it had happened. Though I have no memory of it, perhaps it did!”
Yet another danger may come when the counsellor seeks to add “helpful” information to what the counselee has shared. For example one person shared with a counsellor that they sometimes had flash-backs to their childhood. Part of the memories involved the person as a child being on an altar with people moving around the altar chanting. It may or may not have happened. But the counsellor unwisely said, “Oh, I’ve read about that. This is actually what they do.” Then he went on to explain in great detail what he had read of such practices. He fed in information which may not have been true of her situation at all. What he said could have been seen as a subtle form of brain-washing or a form of mind-control. A lively imagination in the counselee may have been fertilised with seeds that were not true. We cannot always understand ourselves, much less other people. As Jeremiah wrote, Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? But Jeremiah answered his own question in the next verse, Jer 17:10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” Only the Lord can search and discern accurately.
3). We Can Invite The Lord To Do The Searching And The Revealing In A Counselling Situation. Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! What a difference it makes when we invite the Lord to do the searching. This is so individually, as we invite Him to search us and to reveal what He sees. This then enables us to seek to remove, with His help, all the barriers to receiving His grace, love and direction. But it also helpful in counselling situations. Especially so where the counselee and the counsellor are both looking to the Lord for Him to do the searching and the revealing of the problems. Because He knows each and every one of them. None are hidden from Him. He knows the time, the place, the people, the damage inflicted. AND He knows the healing that is necessary and how to bring it.
One amusing illustration. I had been teaching at a seminar on the need to be open to God and to trust Him. One of the women present had been having a real tussle with the Lord because she had so many unanswered questions. She would go so far but then would come the “But!” One of things I mentioned was that God could speak to us in all sorts of ways, even by printed signs if necessary, to attract our attention. As they drove back into the caravan park where she and her friends were staying, the first sign she saw as they entered the caravan park was “Put your butts in here.” (Meaning of course cigarette butts.) But it struck her deeply that now was the time for her to get rid of all her “buts” and to really trust God. She did! Wonderfully!
4). He Is Able To Reveal Appropriately What We Need To Know About Our Human Situations. This is the great value of the truth in Psalm 139 verses 23 and 24. When God searches us in answer to our prayers, it seems that He reveals only as much as we can handle for that moment. Then as we are healed of that, we become more open to receive more healing. His ministry as The Only True Perfect Counsellor will always be appropriate. The two stories at the beginning are illustrations of inappropriate counselling.
A very experienced professional counsellor told me of a counselling appointment she attended when she was learning to be a psychologist. She said that the male counsellor probed into his female client’s life with deeper and deeper questions. Eventually he told her he felt that she had been sexually abused earlier in her life. When he shared that with the woman, she became distraught. The male counsellor seemed to be unable to console her. My friend as now a senior counsellor thought that it was almost criminal for the man to leave a client at that point with nowhere to go. The male counsellor was doing the searching, and not the Lord.
I once had an amazingly successful counselling appointment. But you need to know what happened. A world-renowned academic professor missed out on being the head of a University department. He should have been offered the job. He was perhaps the world’s leading expert in his field and very competent. But a female academic with nowhere near his qualifications nor his experience nor his world renown was appointed over him. The man’s wife became extremely angry because of the injustice done to her husband. I heard that she was going around bad-mouthing the university in her disappointment and disgust. Many others were disgusted as well. Then came the day when I saw her coming unannounced to my office. Her walk showed that she was very upset! One could almost see the steam coming out of her ears and nostrils! I did a quick arrow prayer to God which in translation said, “HELP Lord! This is beyond me!” She came in and sat down obviously severely distraught and angry.
I suggested that we might pray before we discussed why she had come. Soon after I began to pray I heard a sudden exhalation of breath. I thought, “She’s exasperated already. She must want to get on with it.” I finished the prayer fearing what I would see when I looked up. To my utter shock I saw that she was smiling at me, looking quite composed. She said gently, “My whole attitude has been wrong hasn’t it? Thank you so much for your help.” With that she got up and left. But she was changed from that moment to become the fun-loving, positive person she had always been. It seemed that during the prayer God had searched her, had revealed to her what her problem was and she had responded instantly in repentance and faith. My contribution? To bring us both before the Lord in prayer. He took over as THE counsellor and healed her. My words of deep insightful counsel? Zero! The whole “successful counselling episode” took less than 5 minutes!
As we came before the Lord in counselling situations we were praying the prayer of openness in verses 23 and 24. Praying that God would search and reveal what He saw to be the problems in individual’s lives. Often the people we were counselling were given by the Lord as they prayed, a scripture verse or a biblical phrase that was very significant to them. Others received flash-backs to some incident in the past that they did not realise to that moment had impacted them deeply. Others had wonderful pictures in their minds of the Lord doing deep healing things in their lives. At other times the person doing the counselling had a scripture he or she felt led to share, to see if it was significant to the person. Most times it was deeply significant. Or it could have been a word of knowledge given to the counsellor that was sensitively introduced into the sharing time. Or a question to ask that was significant to the person.
I had been listening to a woman share with me for about an hour in a counselling situation. There appeared to be nothing significant in what she said. She had shared that she was having trouble disciplining a Grade 5 class she taught at school. I began to wonder why she had come to see me. In the quietness it was as though the Lord put this thought in my mind, “Ask her about her father.” It didn’t seem to be appropriate to do so at that moment because her conversation had been in a different direction altogether. When it seems to be appropriate to do so I said to her, “Tell me about your relationship with your father.” I wasn’t prepared for what was to happen. Immediately she burst out with great emotion, “When I was fifteen he raped me!” I knew then why she had come to see me. Much healing followed. But it needed the right question to facilitate the solution. It wasn’t a question I would have naturally thought of in such circumstances.
There are dozens of other examples I could give, but time does not permit. Suffice it to say that God is highly motivated to answer our prayers for Him to search us. He wants the best for us. He wants us to be whole people. He knows exactly what it takes for each individual to be healed, made whole, and equipped to serve Him in His world.
The Challenge To Us Today. What a blessing it might be to the church and the community if we allowed THE COUNSELLOR do His ministry in people’s lives. He can do it as we look to Him for the answers we cannot humanly find for ourselves. What might happen if we prayed individually for ourselves the prayer in verses 23, 24. We might be the more healed as the Lord shows us what we need to bring to Him for healing. What might happen if we prayed that prayer in our counselling situations and encouraged our counselees to pray it as well. I don’t really know what would happen. But what I think might happen would be a lot more healing taking place than is taking place today.
My encouragement is that we pray the prayer and act on whatever the Lord shows us, to our benefit and to His glory. Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Blog No.145. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Tuesday 25th February 2014