I have been giving some thought recently to the goal of my counseling. I believe it is wise in any task to consider carefully what success might look like, as well as failure. There is a tension unique to counseling because we are not dealing with tasks needing completion, but rather hearts needing transformation. We wrestle not only with each counselee’s proclivities to sin, but also with our own sinful hearts in the counseling room.
To varying degrees, I struggle in any counseling session with the desire to see my counselee “happy” with me, pleased with the things I am telling them, and even impressed by my insight into their situation. The irony is that as I reflect back on my counseling, some of the most effective sessions I have ever had were certainly not characterized by any of those things. My most impactful sessions have been characterized by words I may not have been excited to say because I knew they would be difficult to hear. In my flesh these were not what I would have called satisfactory sessions at all. This leads me to an obvious question with powerful implications: Am I counseling to satisfy my counselee or to be satisfied in the Lord?
Taste and See
On the subject of satisfaction, one of my favorite portions of Scripture is Psalm 34. From start to finish, this Psalm exults in the position of the one who seeks the Lord, for this one finds his soul content. Psalm 34:8-10 of this beautiful passage speak directly to this experience. They challenge the reader to physically taste of the goodness of God and see for themselves that He is exceedingly good. For the counselor, this principle provides a framework of accountability. As I approach any session, as I evaluate the assignments that I have given, as I think about what was said on a drive home from a difficult session, I can ask myself: “Am I satisfied in the Lord?”
If the one who trusts in the Lord is blessed, I should evaluate whether or not my own counseling reflects a trust in the Lord. How do I use His Word in the lives of my counselees. If the one who fears the Lord lacks nothing, I need to examine my last session for illustrations and instruction in the fear of the Lord. Does my counseling proclaim that nothing less than Christ Himself is the greatest good?
The language of satisfaction is the language of the heart, of its desires and motivations. A dissatisfied heart is one that is not near the Lord, and so when my heart is dissatisfied with my counseling, I can humbly ask the Lord to reveal where I have gone astray. Counseling has made me more aware of my own struggles with the fear of man than anything else I have ever done.
Satisfy or Be Satisfied?
If I believe my success or failure as a counselor is defined by satisfied customers, then I have no business counseling from the Word of God. The success or failure of counseling from God’s Word is measured by whether or not the counselor and counselee are seeking to be satisfied by the Lord. Exhortation to taste and see that the Lord is good may mean some hard conversations.
It is not hard to convince a starving person to eat, but it can be incredibly difficult to convince someone with a pantry full of junk food that they would be better off eating the right things. In our Western culture, we often counsel people whose souls are full of junk food, doing the work of showing them that real satisfaction is found in Someone, not in something. We must avoid the temptation to offer the satisfaction of Christ as an addition to their unhealthy spiritual diet. If Jesus is not our sole satisfaction, He may be no satisfaction to us at all. Counseling this truth is made more difficult by my own sinful desires to settle for the satisfaction of men as opposed to satisfaction in Christ. Thanks be to God for His Gospel, that saves me from my sin, helps me in my weakness, and uses me to help others as I have been helped in Him.