VIRTUES OF COUNSELORS
(III)—Be Able to Build Relationships
Based on a lecture
series by Vuthy Nol-Mantia—Dallas, Texas, USA
In the earlier two installments
of this series on Christian counseling, we established that counselors should
have the image and likeness of Christ, maintain a close relationship with
Christ, know the spiritual weapons available, and be filled by God’s love. This
third and final installment of the series explores how counselors can build relationships
of trust with those who turn to them for advice.
BE ABLE TO
As Christian counselors, we must be able to build good relationships
with all the brothers and sisters who turn to us for advice. But as humans, we
often relate to certain people more than others; or we tolerate certain
idiosyncrasies but not others. Hence, we must first be close to God and be
filled with His word, Spirit, and love. Only then can we overcome our personal
biases and accept our brethren just as God accepts them. As we go forth to
build relationships with our brethren, there are a few points that we should note.
That Everybody Is Unique
First, we should recognize that God has created us as unique individuals.
Since everyone is unique, we should accept people for who they are, unless they
brazenly lead sinful lives. We should then understand that people react
differently to similar situations; thus, accept one another as we are.
Accepting each other is the foundation of any good relationship. Within
the close-knit community of faith, it is quite natural that we form
expectations of brethren with whom we worship or serve. However, understanding
that people are different and appreciating these differences will help us manage
our expectations of others. For example, members gifted in evangelism may think
that those who do not evangelize are not exemplary brethren. But we are all
different members of one body, and this body cannot consist of only an eye or a
mouth. The person we have dismissed as “lazy” because he or she does not
evangelize may be one who is the first to volunteer for visitation work. Therefore,
let us always remind ourselves that God has given us different talents, and we
ought not to jump to conclusions about our brethren’s commitment to God based
on our personal standards.
and Maintaining Eye Contact
Second, we must listen well, for listening is undoubtedly the most
important element in developing a relationship. Any husband who knows how to
listen to his wife is a good husband; any friend who can listen attentively
makes a good friend. In any relationship, if we are good and attentive
listeners, the other party will have no qualms talking to or confiding in us. This
quality is especially precious in our modern attention-deficit world. Life is
so hectic and people so burdened by a range of anxieties that they generally
have no time to listen to others anymore. Therefore, if we seek to be good
counselors, we must first be good listeners.
So when they continued asking
Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you,
let him throw a stone at her first.” (Jn 8:7)
On one occasion, the Pharisees and scribes caught an adulteress red-handed.
They took her to Jesus, intending to test Him. These Jewish leaders cited the
Mosaic Law and asked Him whether the woman should be put to death (cf. Jn 8:5).
Instead of answering immediately, Jesus sat there, wrote on the ground, and
simply listened to the accusers. He knew that without listening to them, He
would never be able to give them suitable advice. Similarly, if we do not listen
to the complete story in any matter, we will not be able to give sound advice
to our counselees.
Besides listening, good counselors also need to communicate with their
counselees through their eyes. It is often said that the eyes are the window to
one’s soul, as they reveal much about a person’s state of mind. Hence, we need
to maintain appropriate eye contact with our counselees. By maintaining eye
contact and angling our bodies towards our counselees, we convey to them our
genuine interest in them and our willingness to give undivided attention to their
Remembering, and Asking
Third, in order to communicate effectively with the counselee, it is essential
for counselors to be able to digest, acknowledge, repeat, and remember what the
counselee has said. In communication between spouses, the proof of proper
listening is always when one party can paraphrase what was said by the other
party. A husband who can answer his wife’s question is a good listener. If this
husband can repeat and paraphrase what his wife said, or even what she had said
but forgotten, he is superb.
Likewise in counseling, it is important to build a relationship of trust
with our counselees. This starts with us exhibiting genuine interest in
whatever they share with us, remembering that they have plucked up great courage
to do so. One way to demonstrate our interest is by asking questions, an
essential component of active listening. Asking gives us the opportunity to
paraphrase and clarify what was shared. More than this, it allows us to have a
proper conversation with the counselee; asking the right questions prompts the
counselee to share further and pushes the counseling session forward.
Further, our ability to remember what was shared with us one week or
even one month later indicates a deeper level of genuine care and concern. This
can be very comforting to the counselee. If we desire to be good counselors to
our brethren, we ought to maintain continuity in the relationship by following
up on what was shared previously: “How
was last week? What about the suggestion that you shared with me last week?”
LEARN TO LISTEN
As noted earlier, active listening is an integral part of good
communication in any relationship and a powerful weapon in the counselor’s
arsenal. It is important to reiterate the following aspects of listening.
Listening Is Not
Although Jesus listened to the scribes and Pharisees in the incident recorded
in John 8, it did not mean that He agreed with them. In other words, although
we need to provide a listening ear for our counselees, it does not mean that we
have to agree with everything they say. A good counselor does not allow his feelings
to shut his ears. Instead, he continues to listen without showing any overt
expression, positive or negative. Critically, disagreement or disapproval is
never registered on the counselor’s face.
For example, if the counselee talks about something hurtful or painful
that is happening in his life, we must be particularly alert that our body
language does not betray our personal thoughts. Maintain a caring but
professional demeanor and continue listening to the counselee without shutting
off our ears and our heart.
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry
of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard. (Prov
This is crucial for counselors to note—if we are unwilling to listen,
then the counselee may also not listen to us. Quite often, this happens when adults
attempt to counsel the young. Even though they have clearly much more
experience, and know more than youths, a good counselor should allow young
counselees to express themselves fully before they give appropriate advice.
In short, listening and agreeing are two separate matters. Counselors may
or may not agree with everything that they hear, but they withhold agreement or
disagreement while the counselee is speaking. Only after listening thoroughly
to the counselee, do counselors offer appropriate advice.
Listening Is to
Understand What Is in Their Hearts
Listening to our counselees does not only help us to understand their
situation, but more importantly, it should help us to understand what is in
Now it happened as they went that
He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him
into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet
and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she
approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to
serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
In this incident, Jesus visited the house of Martha and Mary. Martha was
distracted with much serving, so she approached Jesus with her disgruntlement.
What exactly was Martha feeling? Perhaps since Martha was the older sister, she
may have felt responsible for serving the Lord and therefore interrupted Jesus
to exert her dominance over Mary.
But one thing is needed, and Mary
has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her. (Lk 10:42)
From Jesus’ response to Martha’s complaint, we know that Martha did not
recognize the importance of listening to Jesus. By pointing out the right and
more needful choice to her, Jesus addressed Martha’s feelings of disgruntlement
by applying the balm she needed. He understood what Martha really intended to
say, what was in her heart, and what she really needed, because He listened to her
with love and concern for her soul. Therefore, He allowed her to interrupt Him
and air her grievance, withholding His (dis)agreement, before He eventually
pointed out to her the better and more beautiful option.
Similarly, in all our counseling work, we should do the same for the
brethren whom we are counseling. Listen intently not just to their words, but
to their hearts. Then, point out the better portion to them in order to lead them
to Jesus Christ, the chief Counselor.
In conclusion, effective Christian counselors
do not just process cases by churning out standard platitudes as advice.
Importantly, they invest time to build relationships by recognizing each
individual’s uniqueness, underlining this recognition through the willingness
to listen attentively and follow-up. During the counseling session, allow the
counselee to speak first. Maintain a neutral expression while listening and
only express our agreement/disagreement after having a complete understanding
of the situation. Most essentially, point out the more beautiful portion to our
May our Lord Jesus give us the wisdom, the heart, and these virtues to
be a counselor for Him. Amen.