Monday, August 30, 2010

Are you a Mr. Fix-it?

The heartbeat of our culture today seems to be fixed on solving problems and moving on to accomplish more. It is not the process, but the result that matters. Unfortunately, this sometimes becomes the mode of operation for relationships and even for ministry. It is tempting to offer solutions or advice, but it does not best serve the one who is hurting. The essential element to open the door to healing is validation. This simple, but critical element assures the helpee that you hear them and understand what they are telling you. It also builds a foundation of trust. People need to identify and state their pain to begin the process of restoration. Validating the helpee’s feelings shows that you want to truly walk alongside them to find healing and peace.

Do not skip this step and jump to advice (i.e., “I think you should just give it to God and move on. . .”). This indicates to the helpee that what you have to say is more important than their feelings. By validating their pain, the door is opened to the path that will lead to healing.

Examples of validation include statements like, “I can see that you feel hurt when you think about it” or “It sounds like you have been in a lot of pain over this” or “I can’t imagine what you have been through. I can see you are hurting.” You do not need to have all of the answers, but simply “be quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19b).

I experienced a powerful example of the effects of validating a couple of years ago when I was helping an older lady. She had talked continually about her hurt and anger for over 45 minutes without seeming to take a breath. Her thirty years of hurt in her marriage had been bottled up, and it seemed as though she was releasing her anger on me. As I was listening I knew only God could intervene. No one could give her back the thirty years she felt she had lost. I realized it could be a very long afternoon so I finally interrupted her, which I rarely do. “I can see you have been through unbelievable pain and many years of hardship. Nothing can ever make up for that,” I said. Amazingly, her face softened, tears rolled down her cheeks and her countenance changed. Did that heal her? Is it that simple? A fool-proof formula? No, of course not, but it was a beginning. No one had ever acknowledged her pain. They had listened but not verbally acknowledged that they really heard her pain.

As a professor of counseling, I have found the most difficult thing for students to remember is to reflect the helpee’s pain by verbally validating before asking the next question. Even worse is skipping validation because the helper feels the need to give a quick fix. Validation is essential for healing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The value of being a warm, genuine person

Your demeanor of acceptance and respect goes a long way toward providing an emotionally safe place for people. The hurting one needs a warm environment to speak out of their heart. If we, the church, cannot be safe and non-judgmental, where will they go? A psychiatrist upon his return from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries, expressed this idea best when he said, “The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army.”

He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with:

1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.

2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.

3. If both of the first two steps fail, still don’t seek professional help.

“I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church --among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatic’s, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties. Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.”

Dwight L. Carlson, M.D. 1

Although I think that Christians on the whole have improved this picture tremendously, we still need to be aware of our attitudes, our judgments, and our words. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just listen, care and pray. God is the ultimate healer, not us.

1 Carlson, Dwight L., M.D. Christianity Today, Feb 9, 1998; Vol. 42, #2, page 48.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tips on Counseling Part 2

Protect yourself from legal and ethical dilemmas:

Keep a list of phone numbers for:

A. Suicide hotline – Different states have different guidelines

B. Abuse (for children and elderly) – find out the time limit to call, etc.

C. Domestic violence hotline (know where to call for shelters)

D. Aids Prevention

If the person you are seeing is going to harm someone else – in some states you must call the police and the person that might be harmed. In other states you can only call the police. Know your state’s policies.

Keep a written plan for each of the above. Keep the numbers and plans available to whoever is at the church taking messages.

Always document each part of your plan for the above mentioned as you carry it out. Write down the dates, times, who you called, what was said and then your next step.

Keep records of each person you see. It is good to keep simple records stating the person’s name, why they came in and briefly what was said. Example: A person is considering divorce. You give them pros and cons of a divorce, you show them scripture, but you don’t make their decision for them. Even if the person is being battered, their husband for example, is a homosexual, etc., don’t suggest that they get a divorce. Keep the information of what you said well documented for your own protection. Keep all records in a confidential place.

As a pastor, if you are not a licensed counselor, don’t call yourself professional, counselor, etc. Simply say that you will “minister” to their needs.

Don’t give advice outside of God’s word. Counseling is not advice. It is showing the alternatives and giving the counselee the keys to learn to cope and make his/her own decisions.

Don’t counsel anyone under 18 unless you have written permission from their parents.

Tips on Counseling Part 1

Protecting Your TIME

Learn the wisdom of referral. You need to know when something is beyond you – entails many sessions or is too involved. Examples are: any type of abuse,

Keep a list of Christian counselors, psychiatrists, etc. you can refer to.

To protect yourself limit your sessions to three. Not only is your time valuable but if the person needs more than three sessions he/she should be referred out..

Assign homework. If you are “working” on their situation by giving your time, they need to work also. This will sort out those who are just wanting to vent and not change. Tell them when they do the assigned work you will see them.

Examples of assignments:

Self-Esteem –Read Telling Yourself the Truth by Backus, write down your negative self-talk each day and then refute it, keep a journal of your devotional life, and give certain scripture passages to read. An alternative book might be Boundaries by McCloud.

Rejection – Read The Root of Rejection by Joyce Meyer. Possibly another book would be The Art of Forgiveness by Smedes. Write out behaviors that they want to change. Choose one of the behaviors to work on each day.

Sexual Addiction – Refer them to a Men’s group (at another church if you don’t have one). Have them read Every Man’s Battle by Arterburn or Pure Desire by Ted Roberts.

Divorce – Read Growing Through Divorce, work on some of the listed questions in the back of the book.

If the counselee doesn’t follow through on their assignment don’t see them again. If they aren’t willing to work on getting better, why should you? This way you weed out those who aren’t serious about changing from those who want to change. Your time is valuable.

Learn to validate – Validation is merely acknowledging verbally what you are hearing them say and what they appear to be feeling. You can “see their pain”. Sometimes you can simplify your life when you learn to truly validate after a person speaks of pain. That in itself can be a healer.

Example: I can see you have been through a lot of very difficult situations.

I can see you are experiencing great pain. I can’t even imagine how difficult it might be to go through something like that.