I don’t usually enjoy taking my car to see a car mechanic. I honestly wish that my car would just work. What is even more difficult for me to handle is when the car mechanic tells me that they do not have the parts for my car, and it will take several days to get them in. At that moment, I am tempted to become impatient. I want it to work and I want it to be fixed now.
This can happen in counseling as well—both for the counselee and the counselor.
Impatience can be normal for a counselee. The counselee comes to see you about their problem and they want you to fix it—now! Likewise, as counselors, we can tend to view counseling like a car problem to be fixed. While we need to be wise about when to end counseling (especially if there is a waiting list for other counselees), we want to avoid short-circuiting the counseling process by impatiently ending counseling too soon.
How can we be patient and help our counselees to be patient?
How to Help an Impatient Counselee
It can be difficult to counsel someone who is impatient and wants you to fix their problems immediately. They may view you like a doctor. You are expected to listen to their symptoms, diagnose their problem, and prescribe the proper medication or procedure to get them back to good health. However, it is important to help the counselee understand the big picture early on in counseling (maybe even in the first session). Encourage your counselees to see counseling more like physical therapy than a doctor appointment.
How can you promote patience in your counselee through the counseling process?
First, help your counselee to understand the process of sanctification. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that believers are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another.” Sanctification is a lifelong process that does not happen overnight. Scripture even says that there are various stages of growth. Colossians 2:7 uses the idea of being rooted, built up, and established in the faith to mark the stages of growth in the Christian life. First John 2:12-14 refers to children, young men, and fathers in the faith. Make sure your counselees really understand how sanctification takes time and solicit their verbal or written commitment to the process. Later on, you can remind them of their commitment to be patient through the counseling process if they begin to feel impatient.
Second, help your counselee think about the bigger picture. Many counselees who are impatient are only focusing on the immediate problem. Helping them to see that there is always more going on than a single problem can be helpful. I do this in my counseling by discussing issues related to the heart very early on in counseling. If I can help the counselee to see that the problem is not limited to the one problem they want you to fix, that can help them be less impatient and more willing to hear what you have to say. Help them to understand the heart problem behind the behavior problem. Help them to see any heart idols that are contributing to their current problem. This will help them to see that the issue is more than just a dent in the fender, it’s under the hood. In doing so, you will help your counselee to realize that the counseling process will take more time and is not limited to a single problem, thereby (Lord willing) increasing patience in your counselee through the counseling process.
How to be a Patient Counselor
Just as it is hard for a counselee to be patient and see the bigger picture, it can be easy for a counselor to be impatient and lose sight of the purpose of counseling. The main goal of all counseling is to make disciples of Jesus, who are faithfully living like Jesus. It is important that we do not forget that the main point of counseling is to help people live more like Christ. The goal is not to fix a problem, but to make and train a disciple.
First Thessalonians 5:14 is one of the most important verses on patience in counseling. If you have not memorized this passage, I strongly encourage you to do so. Paul says, “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” As counselors, we regularly meet with people who are idle and need to be rebuked, people who are fainthearted and need encouragement, and people who are genuinely weak and need help. We need to carefully discern the difference between the state of each counselee. Some may be idle and need to be admonished, and some may be fainthearted and need encouragement. Sometimes a counselee may need both admonishment and encouragement! But how can we discern the difference and respond appropriately? The answer is found at the end of the verse: “Be patient with them all.” Counselors need to be patient with their counselees in order to discern their condition, which also means being a good listener.
Galatians 5:22-23 also reminds us that one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience. Counselors need to set a good example of walking in the Spirit by being patient. This means we need to be discerning and good listeners, and avoid rushing the counseling or becoming annoyed with a counselee. We will certainly encounter difficult counseling cases, but we need to be extra careful to love our counselees, bear with them, and grant them extra grace. If we are going to love our counselees well, it is going to require patience (1 Corinthians 13:4). Make sure you are displaying the fruit of the Spirit by patiently walking with your counselee through their current situation, and graciously walk with them even beyond your destination out of love for them.
It is easy for both counselee and counselor to lack patience in the counseling process. In light of this, it is important for you as a counselor to:
1. Ask God to help you and your counselee(s) be patient through the counseling process.
2. Memorize 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and put it into practice anytime you are struggling with patience.
3. Depend on God’s grace to strengthen you for the difficult task of being patient in counseling.
If you are the impatient counselor or want to grow in being patient in counseling, make the above three points your own homework assignment and counsel yourself to be patient. Ultimately, remember that God is sovereign and He gave you a counseling case that requires patience in order to grow you into the image of Christ. It is a process and it takes time. So buckle up (once your car is fixed) and remember that God is growing you by teaching you patience.