My wife and I recently had a cool opportunity to present a "break out" session on counseling in youth ministry at a conference for youth pastors and volunteers called CELS. We talked about some of the "basics" of counseling and then discussed the role of a youth pastor or volunteer when it comes to counseling our kids. Here's the first part of what we discussed:
1. Listen Beneath the Words - If you can understand how to do this, it will take you a long way when talking with people. The Bible says in Proverbs 18:4 that "The words of the mouth are deep waters ..." expressing the idea that there is often hidden meaning or content in our words. Words are a window that help us see what is going on inside of a person. For example, if one of our kids talks to you about how they wish they were more like one of their friends, often times the deeper meaning is that they are unhappy with themselves and may feel as if they don't have much to offer. Instead of simply saying "Oh, but you're OK and God made you just how He wants you to be" ... all true, but be willing to explore what they are truly longing for first. Listen intently and aggressively.
2. Connect Emotionally - This is where we have to realize that we will not be able to take a person farther than we've gone ourselves. If we have not done personal "work" emotionally in specific areas, we can't expect to be able to guide a student down a path that we personally haven't taken. For example, if one of our kids comes to us and talks to us about the difficulty they are having forgiving their dad and we ourselves have forgiveness issues or are prone to harbor bitterness, it's going to be really difficult to guide that student to a place of healing if we haven't been willing to do some healing ourselves.
3. Ask Good Questions - Asking good questions sounds simple, but it takes work. Good questions puts people at ease. Questions can do one of two things ... they can put the responsibility on the counselor (meaning the counselor chooses to carry the conversation for a bit in order to build repore with a student and gain trust) or they can put the responsibility on the student to answer questions that will require more than a simple yes or no or short answer. Be willing to probe all areas and a VERY good question to ask is "Are there exceptions?" For example, if a student says that they feel depressed, ask if there are times when they don't feel depressed or when was the last time they didn't feel this way. Explore what the differences are between then and now.
4. Determine a Goal - Determine what the student wants to see happen. What do they want to be different in their life as a result of meeting together. Help them recognize what they can change and what is out of their control. Help them determine the difference in order to minimize frustration and anger. When you allow them to determine the goal, it puts the power in their hands and does not keep them relying on you personally for answers and help. It's also important for us to check our own personal goals. Are we trying to make ourselves look good, get our needs met by feeling competent about our skills and abilities. We need to clear that out of the way so we can focus on the student and the role that God wants us to play in their lives.
5. Understand Your Students - Students often feel misunderstood by the adults in their lives. They often feel this way because their experiences were not validated or responded to by key people in their lives. One of the most effective ways that we can help students to change is to validate and confirm their experiences. This does not mean we agree with their decisions to hold grudges or not to forgive, but what we are doing is letting them know we can understand what has made it so hard to want to forgive. We are letting them know we can understand how difficult it is for them at home, etc. Once we convey validation, we now have an opportunity to present truth, the kind of truth that heals and gives hope beyond just sitting in the midst of pain.
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