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Why Is This Case So Hard?

Often our counseling cases are hard because they demand in us a level of maturity that we were not prepared to give.

Sep 28, 2023

You know it when it is happening, and you feel it when it is over. That counseling session was hard. But what makes a counseling session difficult? Often the reasons are clouded. The difficulty of counseling cases can also be subjective, so it becomes important to identify why a particular case is so hard. There may be a case that is easy for you to handle but for someone else that same case is difficult. We inherently know within ourselves when a case is becoming difficult. We start to feel tensions elevated in ourselves and/or the counselee. Speech becomes combative and sharp. The topics raised go into areas we have not studied or are not well-trained in. The counselee becomes hostile, emotional, argumentative, dismissive, hopeless, or even indifferent. The counseling tables turn and now the counselor is questioned on his or her character and ability. Both parties know the counseling is not going well, they just cannot put their finger on why. At the heart of any difficult counseling issue is some kind of demand that the counselor was not prepared to endure. A counselor should realize that exhorting and encouraging others from the Scriptures is spiritually, scripturally, and practically demanding. The work can be exhausting, and we should be prepared for the difficulty.  

Spiritually Demanding 

All Biblical Counseling is engaged in some form of spiritual warfare. We are helping a person take their thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are exposing misdirected love, sinful fears, heart idolatries, and areas of unbelief. Not only are we wrestling with the counselee and their war against sin, but the counselor also has his own spiritual struggles. He struggles with grasping what God is doing in him during the counseling process. Therefore, our faith is tested. Our love for Christ is tested. Our dependence on the truth is tested. Our Spirit dependency is tested and often our spiritual weaknesses are revealed. When fleshly responses come out of us in the heat of the moment, our heart is being revealed. Many times, we must believe that God is at work in someone as we are ministering to them the Word of God. I have faced countless situations where I have left a meeting wondering if the Word of God was going to be received or rejected and all I could do was trust God. My faith was being stretched. This work is hard when we want to feel like we are in control. 

Scripturally Demanding 

Counseling can be difficult because it demands we know the Scriptures well. Failure to know our Bibles will be exposed in demanding cases. Our knowledge of the truth and our ability to walk through the Scriptures and draw out God’s intended meaning will be tested in our counseling. Counseling can feel like an impossible task for a person when they do not know the Scriptures well. Particularly young counselors who have not clocked the hours of personal study in God’s Word can find a case that goes beyond their personal study. Doubt and feelings of inadequacy can flood in, giving the opportunity for sinful fear to rule in the counselor’s heart. At times a counselor may find that he has a shallow understanding of a particular passage. This is revealed when a counselor cannot defend his teaching from the details of a given text. In this case, we are demanded to go back and work through the Scriptures. When we come to counsel, we must always be learning the Scriptures and seeking to draw out God’s message. We are inductively drawing out the meaning of God’s Word and then specifically applying that principle to the current situation. This demands diligent study. It demands that we find the authorial intent. It demands that we harmonize the message with the collective teaching of God’s Word. It demands that we are not reading our traditions and experiences into the Scriptures. It demands that we are rightly dividing the Word of truth so that we assure salvation for ourselves and those who hear us (1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 2:15). These demands on how we handle the Scriptures make counseling difficult.  

Practically Demanding 

A counseling case can be difficult because of the personal practice of holiness required (1 Corinthians 11:1). When the other person is sinning, we must be godly. When the other person is speaking lies, we must be seeking truth. When the other person is filled with fear, we must be filled with love. When the other person is walking in unbelief, we must be modeling faith. When reviled, the counselor does not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23; 4:14). When sinned against he does not return evil for evil (Romans 12:17). A counseling case can demand from the counselor a level of spiritual maturity he was not expecting to exercise at that moment. You may have to show tenderness when you are not a naturally tender person. You might have to exhort when you are not a natural exhorter. We have to be patient with all people (1 Thessalonians 5:14). A counseling case is difficult when it demands us to be godly when the others in the room are expressing ungodliness. These demands on the counselor press him to grow in maturity. The difficulty of others’ sin is compounded by the normal pressures a counselor faces each week. A counselor may have many duties and responsibilities throughout his week. He is counseling, discipling, and studying the Scriptures to be able to teach. But a counselor must always remember that his ministry of the Word will be effective when he is skillfully applying the truth in his own life. As he grows in this way, he is acquiring the kind of wisdom needed to handle difficult situations well. He has forged wisdom in the crucible of life and is ready to explain to the counselee how he too can gain spiritual victory.  


Recently I was talking to a Ukrainian pastor about the suffering in Ukraine. He was grieving over the coming challenges that will face the Church when the people of Ukraine seek to rebuild. The senseless violence, the unnecessary loss of life, and the loss of security are overwhelming people. I reminded this pastor that this is a time when the spiritual maturity of the Church’s leaders is going to be tested. They need to have a clear understanding of what the Scriptures teach on theodicy (the doctrine of the problem of evil). And these men need to be taking their own hearts before God so that they are ready to look into the suffering faces of people who need God’s counsel. If these shepherds are not first taking the Word of God to their own hearts and lives, the demands of counseling these sufferers will be inexpressibly difficult. Their situation is not difficult because they have not learned a new tool to counsel saints who are suffering. It is difficult because it is going to be spiritually, scripturally, and practically demanding on those who seek to help other believers to behold the glory of Christ in counseling. But God is faithful, and we labor, striving according to the power of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, which mightily works within us (Colossians 1:28-29).