Seven Questions to Consider When Counseling Someone

15 Nov

Recently, I heard this talk by David Powlison on counseling from this year’s Gospel Coalition national conference. Among other things, he encourages us to constantly think about seven questions that those we counsel will inevitably be asking. The motivation behind this seems to be a greater effectiveness in leading people to trust Christ – whether they be believers or not.

Here are the seven questions (note: the following contains direct quotes from Powlison and my comments):

1. “Do I Trust You?” “Do I know that you are not going to take the fine china of my life and mishandle it, but rather handle it with care and discretion? Are you giving me reasons to trust you? We ask the same question all the time: ‘Is this person trustworthy? Do I dare speak about what’s on my heart? Or are they going to mishandle it?’”

2. “Can I Pour Out My Heart To You?” “Are you a safe person to bear my burdens with? Are you a safe person who will deal with me mercifully [when I confess my struggles to you]? Even if you have to correct me, will you do it in a constructive, loving manner?”

3. “Do You Understand Me?” “Do you understand my circumstance? My experiences? Do you really understand what it’s like to be in my shoes in my circumstance?” The main thrust behind this question seems to be to emphasize the need to truly empathize with the person we’re speaking with.

4. “Will I Listen to You” If careful attention is paid to questions 1-3, then the chance that their answer to the question to this question will be “Yes” is greater. It is after we have built up this relational “credit” that when we “withdraw” money from our relational account, it will be easier to speak the truth.

5. “Will I Take What You Say to Heart?” “The call of ministry is to speak truth in love. And truth is a complex combination of things. It’s not just the word of the Bible; but the word of the Bible as it illumines life, our struggles, our sins, our heartaches.” So, is the truth that we speak breathing life to a particular need that one has?

6. “Will I Take Action?” “Taking it to heart then leads to action. There are things to be done, choices to be made, relationships to be reconciled, courage to be shown, people to approach, money to be given, someone to care for, sins to be repented of, people to ask forgiveness.” The heart behind this question, it would appear, is to encourage the counselee to some sort of action.

7. “Will I Carry on in the Midst of All the Troubles to Come?” This assumes that we’re (both counselor and counselee) in it for the long haul. It assumes that we understand that there is not closure in the care of souls until we see Jesus face to face. Or, to put it another way, sanctification is progressive.

These seven questions have so many far-reaching implications. A few of them include:

  • Preaching: David Powlison mentions this in his talk as well, but for those who preach, are questions 1-3 considered as strongly as questions 4-7 are in preparing for a sermon?
  • Evangelism: Do we work hard to build “relational credit” (Questions 1-3) so that when we “withdraw” (Questions 4-7), our “checks don’t bounce”? This has particular application-power to those who work part-time or full-time jobs.
  • Disagreeing with People: I’ve come across situations this quarter at Fuller where being conscious of these questions would have been helpful. But, when we disagree with people, are we taking into account the fact that there is more involved than merely showing people their errors? In other words – and we’ve all been on the receiving end of this – but when someone you don’t know tries to correct you, what do we instinctively think? “You don’t know me!” So, are there ways we can try to build relational credit in that moment quickly before we speak?

I’m sure there are more, but sitting in a freezing Starbucks isn’t helping my ability to reflect on these issues clearly. But, if I think of more, I’ll post it (for all two of you who actually read this) later.

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