The Peril of Giving Advice

by James Rudy Gray

What do you do when a counselee says, "Tell me what to do and I will do it."?  That statement is loaded with issues! 

While we can present biblical truth in a forthright manner, we must guard against making decisions for people that they really need to make for themselves. A counselor can be a tool in the decision-making process, but often a person in distress simply wants someone to take the responsibility from him/her and make the decision for him. There is also the very real possibility that the client can later blame the counselor for handing out bad advice or making a poor decision.

What can we do? We can help counselees see the alternatives. We can guide them into a process of understanding their feelings and their circumstances. We can offer solid and concrete ideas that they must then choose to act on for themselves. We can share with them what Scripture teaches. We can even share with them our values and beliefs. But what we should not do is do the work the client needs to be doing. What is therapeutically important is that the client be involved in his/her own therapy.

A counselor was once being pressured by a counselee to tell him what to do. The counselor exhibited a degree of wisdom when he said, "We have looked at several alternatives. Some are not good. Some are good. Some are questionable. What do you think you should do?" The client made a decision that involved a significant lifestyle change. The counselor reminded him, "This is a decision you must make. No one can make it for you because you are responsible for it and you must live with it."

Sometimes a counselor can be tempted to help a hurting person too much. When this happens an improper dependence can be created. In the case of an opposite-sex client, an unhealthy attraction can be formed. We must be genuinely caring but we must also be carefully objective. The goal of our counseling is not to produce long-term needy people but to help them become healthy, right thinking, well-adjusted people.

At times, counselors may feel like their work with a person is a failure. They may not see enough progress or change in the person's life. We must remember that God does not call us into this ministry of counseling to be "successful" by some worldly standard but to be faithful to Him and His truth. Progress should not be measured by the amount of change in a person's life but by the fact of change. Counseling is about generating real hope and enabling healthy change. Some people will make changes quicker than others. Some will be able to make large adjustments in a short period of time while others may require more time for smaller adjustments.

In a world where sin has affected everything and everybody, we cannot expect perfection. We can be sure God is at work in His world and in the hearts and lives of people. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we have as counselors is not to expect great results but to labor for godly results.

We will invariably counsel with many different types of people, who will present to us a variety of problems. Everyone is not the same. We cannot treat everyone the same but we care for each one the same. A constant temptation will be to give advice instead of helping the individuals come to their own good decisions and commitments—those which reflect what is good and right in the sight of God.

                  James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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