I haven’t been a counselor for very long but in the short time I’ve been practicing, the majority of clients I’ve worked with have endured some really traumatic experiences in their lives.
It never ceases to amaze me how we never know what another person has gone through. The lady checking you out at the grocery store, the business man in the three-piece suit that you pass on the street who appears to have it all together, the college student with stellar grades and a seeming thriving social life. Each one of them have stories that have left a mark on them, for better or worse.
As a person’s story unfolds before me, I’m always desperate for God to come and fill the space, my words, and my delivery with intentionality and wisdom. Although my education has equipped me with tools and techniques, I’m fully aware that only God can truly know the details and depths of another person’s experience. And with that “divine awareness”, so to speak, He alone knows what they need, and consequently what they don’t need.
This, “what they don’t need”, may require me to lean on the Holy Spirit and refrain from being explicit about faith and scripture in session, especially if the client does not adhere to a particular faith, or is not interested in integrating their faith into the sessions.
I’ve learned that timing and capacity are key to another person being able to hear what you’re saying, and then be transformed by what has been communicated.
A genuine, honest, gracious, empathetic relationship is the bedrock and breeding ground for others to open their hearts to truth.
As I’ve worked in this new profession as a counselor, I started to discover a vital link that appeared to be responsible for these monumental, breakthrough sessions I was having with clients.
It seemed way too simple though. I thought, “How could this one, almost elementary statement, hold the power to break the most intense strongholds in a person’s life”?
But I kept seeing it happen, and it would move me to tears every time.
After building a relationship with clients and hearing their stories, I would help them piece together the narrative and untangle the mess of things that they couldn’t understand. And it was this statement that would almost fall on the session with impeccable timing.
I’m sure it’s been said to them before, and I’m sure they even tried to tell themselves this time and time again. But somehow this time it was different.
“IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.”
When this statement would find it’s way into the sessions the person would resist it at first. They would look down and shake their head, or get visibly uncomfortable and begin squirming in their chair, smiling or even laughing.
And even though you would think that continuing to say a statement that is making a person that uncomfortable would be a mistake, I was compelled to say it over and over again.
It is not your fault.
It is not your fault.
It is not your fault.
And then just like that, their defenses would crumble, and like a dam breaking, the tears they had held back for so long would come flooding out uncontrollably.
It’s definitely been one of the most powerful and confounding things I’ve had the privilege to witness.
As this began to happen, I realized that it’s not sophisticated words or techniques that have the power to set a person free. But rather it’s when a person feels safe enough to allow the things they may even “know” or have heard before to settle into the deep parts of their hearts and souls to do their healing work.
We’ve heard it said before that the simplest things are usually the hardest things. So much of counseling, and really true friendship for that matter, is helping to remove the barriers and walls that keep a person from letting those simple truths permeate their hearts and dissolve their burdens.
As good friends, the most powerful force to dissolve the walls that people have erected to protect themselves is unconditional love. A love that is gentle but constant, and waits for a person to be ready to receive it.
Those barriers are usually guilt, fear, and shame. And all of us in varying degrees know the debilitating power of these three. When a person’s guilt, fear, and shame have been acknowledged and validated, they can start to feel safe enough to allow truth to come in and heal their hearts.
Freedom is a process, and even though we can have moments of breakthrough and healing, we all need to continually acknowledge the things that make it hard to believe the truth that is waiting to set us free.
And it’s ok that it takes time to get there.
I’ve learned that the point is sitting with a person in the midst of their pain, hearing their stories, and acknowledging their pain so they can really hear those powerfully simple statements that can break their most complicated and sophisticated burdens.
So, let’s do that for each other. Let’s be much quicker to listen than to speak. Let’s learn to sit with a person in their trouble, and one day when they’re ready we’ll be able to speak into those hard places with power, life, and peace.