We can become discouraged when ministering to others. It is draining to meet with struggling people who have deep spiritual problems. It is not easy to carry someone else’s burden (Galatians 6:1). In fact, to bear a burden means to “carry with endurance.” That means we take on a hard task when we offer to help someone. It is difficult when a counselee consistently cancels appointments and won’t reschedule a future meeting. Maybe she won’t return emails, phone calls, or texts. It seems that she doesn’t want to continue counseling. We might worry that she is not getting the help she needs or even worse, has fallen back into harmful sin patterns. Perhaps we may feel insecure about our competence as a counselor or dismayed over feelings of rejection. When we feel abandoned by a counselee, think of the following truths.
First, God’s people belong to God. That seems obvious (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a) and non-controversial, but we can stray from this truth and begin to think of people as projects. When our project is going well, we are happy. When our project encounters a rough patch or even drops out of our life, we question whether we should even be a counselor. In fact, this blog is the result of the experience of wondering whether I should even be a counselor because of a woman who no longer wants to continue. The answer is to remember that we are used by the Lord to do His will. He changes hearts. Our responsibility is to be equipped and willing to serve the Lord’s people. Galatians 5:13b-14 exhorts us “through love [to] serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Give your counselees to God.
Second, humbly reassess your counseling. Maybe a counselee no longer wants to meet because you haven’t listened well (Proverbs 18:13, James 1:19). Perhaps you used the person’s problems as a reason to begin talking about what is on your mind. You didn’t take the time to allow her to fully express her concerns and emotions. Maybe you didn’t ask enough good questions to bring understanding. The experienced counselor faces the danger of thinking she knows about this counselee’s difficulties because she has seen such cases before. Or it could be that she was distracted by her own issues and emotions. “With the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2b). Use the experience of a counselee bailing out of further meetings to do a self-assessment. We are all frail and need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Third, realize that you may not have connected well with your straying counselee. Frankly assess your counseling and consider factors that might be hindering your efforts. Even a veteran counselor will have trouble relating to each counselee. Personalities may not mesh, the counselee may relate negatively because you remind her of another person, or the age difference may be difficult to overcome. Some young counselors relate better to young people and some young people prefer a counselor from an older generation. Titus 2:3-5 instructs older women to teach and train younger women, but counseling is not restricted to older folks (see Romans 15:14). These facts don’t indicate that you shouldn’t counsel an older person. Maybe you shouldn’t continue to counsel this person.
Fourth, your counselee may not be a believer. Jay Adams has “Fifty Failure Factors” listed in the Christian Counselor’s Manual. Among the items on this list is the possibility that your counselee might not be saved. Biblical counseling directs people to the Scripture with dependence on the Holy Spirit to accomplish change. Lasting transformation is the result of walking by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-21 gives us the truth that the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the qualities are listed which are seen in someone who is gratifying the desires of the flesh. Keeping in step with the Spirit transforms us (Galatians 5:25). If your counselee doesn’t show up for meetings or is continually unavailable, remember that God counseled Cain to overcome his anger, but Cain chose to ignore the Lord. Your counselee might not want to follow the Lord, but you can continue to pray for your counselee’s salvation. Pray that God will bring believers into her life to point her to Christ.
Fifth, if your counselee doesn’t attend your church, you do not have primary responsibility for her. My counselees attend various churches. My job is to assist those leaders as they care for their congregation. The Lord describes the work of our leaders as keeping watch over souls. The term shepherd, or pastor, recalls the example of Christ who protects and guides His sheep. The members of the churches are to obey and submit to their leaders because those are the men who will have to give an account (Hebrews 13:17). If a counselee struggles, I might speak to her leadership. But I am comforted that the Lord calls me to come alongside and help those under someone else’s headship. God gives those leaders the ultimate responsibility.
Sixth, your counselee might be listening to differing advice. Occasionally, a woman mentions that she is not only getting advice and direction from me but is also listening to another counselor who has a different viewpoint. Maybe she is influenced by family members or friends who offer unbiblical advice. This choice can lead to confusion and instability. The lady can become double-minded and unstable (James 1:8). She might be tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching. (Ephesians 4:14). Because of the confusion this generates, some counselors require that the counselee not see a non-biblical counselor for the duration of Biblical Counseling. I can understand the reason for this stipulation. Each counselor must realize that even if your counselee isn’t officially meeting with another person, she will be influenced by other perspectives.
In conclusion, every counselor will eventually encounter a person who discontinues counseling without providing any reason. As Jesus taught in the parable of the Sower, God alone determines the reception and response of the hearer, and He knows the heart of men. We are only responsible for faithfully and lovingly ministering the Word of God with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, you should not be surprised when your counselee stops counseling. Don’t take the disappointment personally. It is possible that the counselee will be ready at another time. A different counselor might be better suited to help. After all, we are all just bondservants of Christ, called to be ready to share the word in season and out of season…with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2).