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When Counselees Attack

How should you respond when you become the target of your counselee's sinful behavior?

Nov 12, 2020

I was sitting at work when I got the call. A hurting wife, who had left the state to get away from her potentially suicidal husband, was calling desperate. She began to recount to me the last 15 years of marriage that they shared. She told me of his pursuit of her in the early days and his willingness to explore Christianity since it was so important to her. She spoke to his conversion experience and subsequent lack of fruit, his first affair while they were engaged and his second in the last couple of years.

As a result, he had been diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression, and was told that the chemical reactions that were occurring in his brain needed to be carefully navigated.

I agreed to meet with her husband and as much I would love to tell you that this session resulted in a deep sense of conviction over his sin leading to repentance, it did not. What resulted was a heavily draining two-hour counseling session that was more blame-shifting his sinful choices on others, his diagnoses, and chemical imbalances than a humble receiving of truth. I asked the counselee if I could share what the Scriptures had to say about some of the situations that he found himself in. He agreed and I proceeded to share the parable of the soils from Matthew 13 with him. After reading the passage, I asked him which one of the soils reflected the state of his life. He responded, “The good soil.”

He explained that he was basically a good guy and other people didn’t understand him or approach him the right way. That’s why he lied to his wife about so much because she just insisted that he read the Bible and change his lifestyle.

I tried to highlight other passages of Scripture to help him see his role in his sin but for every verse I shared, he had a response that pointed to someone else’s responsibility. Ultimately, I concluded this session by telling this man that I was deeply concerned about the state of his soul and attempted to share the gospel with him amid many interruptions and objections. I prayed for him and asked him if he were to want to continue counseling, to simply text me later in the week. He insisted that we set up another time to meet but I told him I would like him to consider what I had shared and get back to me.

He did.

The next day he texted me to let me know that he would not be continuing counseling with me because he concluded that I was irresponsible for telling him that I was concerned for the state of his soul. I proceeded to tell him that I was being faithful to the Scriptures and to him by speaking the truth in love to him. And that’s when he let me know on a phone call, through screaming and profanity, that we were done talking as he hung up.

Well maybe you have had this kind of reaction from a disgruntled counselee before, but it was a new experience for me. As a result, I realized I need to expect some counselees to be hostile and I need to be faithful to act from love and not from the emotion of being treated unfairly. The following are 8 lessons that I learned from the experience above and that I encourage you to reflect on the next time a counselee attacks you, whether they are a believer or a non-believer.

How should you respond?

  1. Let the principle of love for your enemy guide your reaction. Counselees who start functioning as your enemy are those whom Jesus calls us to show love towards. Matthew 5:43-48 calls us to both love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
  2. Don’t take it personally. Remember that the real enemy is active and that those who seek to represent truth will be attacked by those doing the will of the devil. Second Timothy 2:22-26 reminds us that as we respond with truth patiently, God may perhaps grant repentance to the person who has been captured by the devil to do his will.
  3. Remember that you are blessed when you are persecuted for the name of Christ. Being faithful in the message and manner of delivery of God’s Word will result in some level of persecution but God blesses those who stay faithful to Him. Matthew 5:10 reminds us that blessing comes when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
  4. Guard your heart against giving the devil an opportunity. It is easy to believe the lie that you don’t deserve to be mistreated and to respond in a way that seeks to force correction from the offender. Rather, be quick to fight the temptation to hold on to angry thoughts and emotions. Ephesians 4:26-27 reminds us that when we sin in our anger, we give the devil an opportunity to further his divisive work. The counselee who attacks may be giving the devil an opportunity, but we don’t have to join him.
  5. Maintain the perspective that Jesus came to save the sinner. Dave Harvey makes a great point in his book When Sinners Say I Do¸ Jesus extended mercy to non-believers so that they would become believers. Luke 17:11-18 reminds us that Jesus showed mercy to all, not just those who appreciated it.
  6. Evaluate if you could have said something better or different. In my case, I could have done a better job of explaining the hope that is available when one sees their sin as the problem because we have a Savior (Colossians 1:12-14). It is also beneficial, after having a counseling session like this, to walk through the session with a trusted mentor and ask them if you could have done something different. As biblical counselors, we must continually seek to grow in the counsel we give and how we deliver it.
  7. Don’t stop speaking the truth in love if you are permitted the opportunity. If they want out of the counseling, let them go, notifying the appropriate pastoral authorities in their life. Ephesians 4:11-16 points to our goal as biblical counselors, to help people mature in Christ. And we do that by continuing to equip them with truth.
  8. Remember you were lost once too. No one is beyond the reach of God’s sovereign grace. Ephesians 2:1-10 should be a reminder that we are not better than anyone. We needed God to open our eyes to our sinfulness and God may be using you to proclaim His mercy to a future convert.