Summary: How to counsel. Five mistakes Christians (and others) make when counseling or giving advice. (These errors are common. Whether counselor, pastor or friend, you probably make some of them at times.) Evaluate yourself—How well do you counsel or give advice in light of these five guidelines about how to counsel?
Introduction: Common counseling mistakes
Note: This online Bible study borrows from some of the points in the seminar, “How to Counsel from Scripture.”
When you give advice—as a friend, counselor, mentor, or pastor—it’s easy to harm your effectiveness by making one (or more) of the following mistakes. I’ve counseled with thousands of people over the years, and I’ve made them all!
As you study, score yourself from 0 to 10 on each point.
- “0” means, “I really need to improve in this area.”
- “10” means, “I’m doing great in this area.”
Mistake #1: Giving advice without listening
One of the biggest mistakes Christians (and others) make is giving quick counsel or advice without carefully listening. When we listen, people trust us more and we are able to give better advice.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. (Proverbs 18:17)
Make it your goal to deeply understand the other person. This is more than just being able to repeat back someone’s words. This is understanding emotions and thoughts. Ask lots of questions. “Listen” to emotions and body language, not just words.
My “listening” score (0-10): ____
Mistake #2: Showing a judgmental or condemning spirit
The person with whom you are speaking, mentoring, or counseling may have sinned in almost unthinkable ways or made serious mistakes. However, if you give the message that you are disgusted, he or she is unlikely to benefit from your advice.
Show concern for people who have sinned. They should sense that you care, not that you condemn.
Identify sin as sin, but replace anger, disgust and condemnation with sorrow and concern. Remember that your goal is to restore the other person, to help him or her change.
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Share encouraging words. Be a messenger of hope and encouragement. Let the other person know that with God’s help he or she can change.
Stay humble. Remember that although you may not have committed the same sin, you have committed lots of other serious sins.
My “judgmental attitude” score (0-10): ____
Mistake #3: Talking too much
Has someone ever given you a long speech about your mistakes? If so, you probably tuned out part way through. Speeches rarely work!
When you get people involved in a discussion, they are more likely to change. Remember to ask questions. It’s often effective to ask people if they would like to make changes. If they say “yes,” ask what they would like to change. When you help people work on something they identify, they are more likely to get involved.
My “talking too much score” (0-10): ____
Mistake #4: Giving worldly advice
It’s easy to give “worldly” advice, for it is all around us on talk radio, television shows, self-help books and college campuses. Some of this advice may be helpful, but it is incomplete and not nearly so helpful as the truth revealed in God’s Word, the Bible.
When you counsel, you have the opportunity to help others turn to God and learn how to apply the Bible’s truths. In a sense, you can help disciple people and encourage them to grow in the Lord. Make the most of this opportunity!
Give biblical advice! Do not give unscriptural advice because you feel sorry for someone. For example, don’t encourage people to divorce for unbiblical reasons because they say they are unhappy.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:17)
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
My “giving worldly advice” score (0-10): ____
Mistake #5: Not suggesting homework
Help others choose something to do as “homework.” People are much more likely to change if they make plans to follow up by studying something or doing some activity related to what they have discussed.
Homework is most likely to be completed if it is mutually agreed on. Try to come up with something that seems reasonable to the person you are counseling or advising.
How to counsel—Four ideas for homework:
1. Suggest passages of Scripture to read and meditate on. Also consider suggesting one or more memory verses.
2. Suggest an action plan. For example: Praise your spouse, parent or children twice each day.
3. Suggest reading an online Bible study.
4: Suggest reading a chapter in a biblically-based book with practical personal application questions.
My “suggesting homework” score (0-10): ____
Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com for practical, biblical, cross-cultural books, Bible studies, and ebooks.