We are blessed not to have to work with people mandated by the court system to be in counseling. The closest we ever get is evaluating a couple for an adoption or foster care agency. But there is a significant difference. The couple is there because they have a positive goal in mind, even though they may not love the process.
The same might be said of other kinds of counseling clients. I must say that when I entered counseling with Nan my resistance was high. I did not freely choose the counseling at the time, but was “coerced” by her counselor. Outwardly I was compliant, but inwardly I was pretty defended. I have real empathy for people who feel like I did back then. It can be stressful not knowing what to expect or what might be required of you. I like to remind clients that they always have a choice whether to continue.
Now that I counsel, I have a lot of compassion for counselors as well. Working with resistant clients is challenging because even though you envision a positive outcome for them, they may not see it. It’s a lot like presenting the Christian faith. You’ve experienced all the gains, but the other person might only see losses.
The longer I counsel, and the shorter my remaining time to work professionally with people, the more inclined I am to only work with those who actually want to grow and change. Except for grief counseling, which is different, I am less interested in just hearing people complain, with no intention of taking positive action. I think that when venting feelings is the goal, it might be best accomplished with a safe prayer partner who can empathize and encourage. Sometimes we need that until we are ready to take action steps. But the work of counseling is transformation, whether of self or relationship or family or work.
Successful clients understand this. We have found a few things that seem to be common to these clients.
- They do the homework
- They read books relevant to their journey
- They are persistent and hungry for growth
- They listen
- They take constructive criticism seriously
So does this mean that I am not open to hearing complaints? Of course not. Processing pain and discouragement and frustration and fear with people is a staple of counseling. It is a necessary step in order to move beyond those things. It is when the only purpose is to vent or hold someone else’s change as the goal that I want to refer a client on to someone else who might work better with them.
Does this sound heartless? I hope not. My deep desire is that people get better, live more satisfying lives, feel safe, receive love and love well in return. I believe that is God’s deep desire as well.
Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)
The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”