Using the Principles wisely in Counseling

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5 (KJV)

Scripture is full of practical and useful counsel on how to manage our lives. The Bible provides much immediate and practical instruction. Your job as a Christian Counselor is to learn these truths and learn how to use them in your counseling.

Not all truths have specific verses associated with them. Often you arrive at truth when you study verses, passages and/or stories found throughout the Bible. The combination of these will lead us to understand certain and specific truths for our lives, these truths are the principles.

We will review several principles and teach you the process for using them. The first goal has to be to learn to identify the principles to begin with. The process you will learn here will teach you a standard way of working with all principles. All principles will lend themselves to the process taught here, and some principles will have minor variances that one must take into consideration before using them.

We will not try to identify all the principles in Scripture, as they are too numerous. On the other hand, we will cover some that will be necessary and beneficial in most counseling sessions. As well, there will also be principles (truths) which come from common sense (or at least that should be “common sense”) which have proven to be applicable to the counseling process. We will consider both Scriptural and common sense principles.

With that said, let us begin.

Some principles, which you will use often in your counseling, include, but are not limited to:

1. People do what they do because they believe what they believe.

2. The concerns the client expresses to you are rarely the real (or root) problem you will have to eventually deal with.

3. Belief in a lie can be as powerful as the truth, and sometimes seem more real.

4. Change is not change until there has actually been change.

5. If you do the same thing you have always done, you will get the same thing you have always gotten.

6. All cases of counseling involve some level of spiritual warfare, and you are as susceptible to it as is the client.

7. You must change the way you think if you want to change the way you live.

8. There are many ways to say, “No,” but there is only one-way to say, “Yes:” just do it.

9. You cannot change a man, but you can take away the goodies until he does.

10. You cannot change the past, but you can change how you feel about the past.

11. Change is inevitable, be ready for it, and change along with it.

12. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

13. You do not want to try to forget the memories, but you want to eliminate the feelings attached to them.

14. And so on.

You now have two very real choices. Either you can look at these principles as some “pretty good suggestions,” or you can choose to believe that they are very truths that will become like tools for you, just as a hammer and nails are for the carpenter. Anyone may use a tool correctly, or incorrectly, the difference lays the training the person gets. You can keep waiting for others to train you, or you can get your own training while waiting for others to train you. The choice is yours.

Below is an example of how some of these principles, and maybe others, can be used in a real counseling session.

Lilly (not her real name) came for counseling because, as she says, “I got real problems. I get angry a lot and do and say hurtful things to people around me.” She continues by adding that she had just had a serious argument with her “husband” (Tom), in which she said some very mean and hurtful things to him on purpose. “I just wanted him to hurt,” she said. Asked by the counselor to give her own impressions of why she feels she behaves this way, she said, “I don’t know. I do not want to continue being this way. I just don’t understand why I get so angry.”

To start getting some information to work with, the counselor asked her some questions. “You may think these questions are strange, and that they don’t seem to have any connection to what you are experiencing, but I need you to answer them, I will connect them for you as we go on.” The client agreed.

Now, the counselor started with several principles in mind:

1. People do what they do, because they believe what they believe.

a. What this says to the counselor is that Lilly is experiencing uncontrollable rage because something in her thinking causes her to react to certain stimuli. For example: if her husband tells her she’s wrong about something, that may trigger, in her, a memory of her abusive father always putting her down by calling her stupid, or something like that. Therefore, she reacts to Tom with all the pent up anger she had for her father, and wants to defend herself by attacking Tom for what her father did. Part of her mind tells her that by attacking Tom she is somehow punishing her father instead.

2. Belief in a lie can be as powerful as the truth, and sometimes seem more real.

a. You do not have to be fully conscious that a lie is a lie. If you believe the lie hard enough, it becomes your truth. The lie can become so ingrained in the pattern of the person’s life that when faced with the truth, and have the truth proven to them, they still prefer to believe the lie, just because they have lived it for so long. To admit they had believed a lie is kind of like saying that they have been stupid or retarded, and that they really do not want to be true of them.

3. All cases of counseling involve some level of spiritual warfare, and you are as susceptible to it as is the client.

a. As Christian counselors, we cannot, and must not, eliminate the spiritual from our counseling. The enemy is real, and his attacks are real. We must come to understand our position in Christ, and the authority He has given us, so that we can better understand the limitations of the enemy. Without question, at some point the enemy attacked Lilly by some means. The counselor must work at identifying how and when.

4. The concerns the client expresses to you are rarely the real (or root) problem you will have to eventually deal with.

a. Armed with the knowledge of the above three principles, the counselor must also remember that most, if not all, of the concern expressed by the client, is emotional confusion that may seem clear to the client, but is probably just hurt and/or anger speaking. The counselor’s primary job, at the beginning of the counseling sessions, is to wade through all the emotional hurt and pain, and find the root (or real) problem.

The counselor asked Lilly to explain why she picked Tom to marry.

o She said, “I met Tom about the time I was going through a separation with my last husband. He …”

o “Wait,” said the counselor, “you were married before?”

o “Yes, to a guy named Jimmy,” she replied.

o “Why did you and he break up?” asked the counselor.

o “Well he was having an affair,” she replied, “and I caught him with the other woman.”

o “So you left him?” asked the counselor.

o “Well, no, he left me to go with her.”

o “How long were you and Jimmy together?”

o “I met him when I split up with my second hus …,” she tried to say.

o “Wait again; you were married with someone before Jimmy?” Questioned the counselor.

o “Well weren’t really married. I haven’t got a divorce yet,” she answered.

o “Yet? Are you saying that you were not yet divorced when you met the second guy, or that you are still not divorced from the first guy?” asked the counselor somewhat puzzled.

o “Uh,” she said, “I am still married.”

o “Uh, huh,” the counselor said softly.

o And then he asked, “Why did you and the second guy break up?”

o “I was having an affair with him and my husband found out and left me. Therefore, I decided to move in with him. It was ok for a while, but soon we started being so jealous of each other, and suspicious. That quickly destroyed the relationship.”

o “Uh, huh,” answered the counselor. “And why did you pick the first guy, your husband, to marry.

o “I vowed to do anything to leave my home, even if it was to marry the first guy that came along. Anybody, just to be able to escape,” she said.

o “Why did you use the word, ‘escape.’” the counselor queried.

o “When I was 14 years old, my step-father (Her father had died when she was only three years old), snuck into my bedroom one night and molested me,” she said while beginning to cry deeply.

o “I think we may have found the real source of all your anger,” said the counselor.

Putting the principles into action:

Armed with the above four principles the counselor asked Lilly to express her feelings after this happened to her. “I felt fear and hatred toward him. I had always loved him before that. He was my daddy,” she said in tears. “I always knew I could trust him. He taught me that people who love you would hurt you in the worst ways. I felt like I had somehow made him do it. I was so scared that I did not even try to stop him. I let him do this. I wanted to be ugly so he would not do it again. I felt ruined for life. I felt like no one would ever find me attractive again. I felt dirty.” Lilly cried for a while.

Having been well trained, the counselor knew that events like the one she suffered can cause serious trauma to anyone. All events, good and bad have the potential to be life changing. Disastrous mistakes (which could even take a life), or epiphanies (a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization) can change the course of the rest of your life.

Read this carefully, it is NOT the event, or even the epiphany, that changes you. Change comes from the way you respond to the event that has the potential to stay with you for the rest of your life. It was not that her stepfather molested her, which has caused the problems to all her relationships. Nor did it cause her other bad choices she has made. It is how she has defined herself, due to the event, which has stayed with her all these years. Though she was only 14 years old, and obviously not old enough to clearly analyze what had happened to her and how she should react to it, is was herself, not her stepfather, that made the mental decision she made afterward.

What happened spiritually was that the enemy came to her in that moment of vulnerability and told her vile and ugly things about herself. Not realizing what was happening, Lilly decided that these thoughts were hers. She accepted these horrible thoughts as being the truth. She allowed the event to define her. She did not realize that she had just written the pattern she was going to follow the rest of her life. Though it was not her fault, none of it, she condemned herself to a terrible life with those thoughts.

The enemy accomplished his goal, to destroy Lilly by getting her to destroy herself.

Her own self-image told her that she needed to have sex with men to try to convince herself that maybe somehow she was attractive. Most of her choices and decisions in relationships with men somehow associated with sex. Distorted sex. Confused sex. Every time she had sex with any male, she would vividly remember that hateful night. Her hatred and anger would rise to the surface again, and the bad times would start all over again.

She believed a lie. A lie perpetuated by the traumatic event. However, more importantly a lie created by her own mind. The lie became so real that her emotions had no choice but to align themselves with the dictations of her mind that said that the lie was true. Your emotions have no way of discerning right from wrong, or true from false. They will feel whatever way the mind directs.

The thought processing pattern:

Refer to the diagram. The pattern there is the one that all humans follow. As romans 12:2 teaches, the crux of all change begins in the mind (Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2 [NIV]).

Notice also, these two verses as additional examples:

· “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, But counselors of peace have joy.” Proverbs 12:20 (NASB95)

· For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he . . . Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)

In both cases, these verses support the idea in Romans 12:2. The mind creates the belief structure. Moreover, the mind defines the emotions of the person. Once the feelings line up with the mind, and this may or may not happen immediately, then the emotions will dictate what the person’s actions (behavior) will be. It takes a disciplined person to react contrary to how they feel.

When those persons known as the “Angry People” of this world, learn this concept, and apply it, they learn to control how they will demonstrate their anger. The principle here is, “Angry people will always be angry people, but they can learn to control how they respond to the anger.” God gets angry. There are examples of His anger throughout Scripture. Jesus became angry and whipped the moneychangers in the temple. In both cases the anger was a righteous one (it was deserved), not just imagined by the one who got angry.

It is very possible and probable to get angry for the right reasons, and be in full control of your anger, thereby choosing how you will react to the anger, and not let the anger decide for you your responses.

Because of the cycle Lilly was now on, she was doomed to be a reactionary and a victim to her emotions, because of the lie that was constantly in the forefront of her mind. She was, unintentionally (at least, consciously), feeding the “monster” of fear and anger which produced the rage within her.

That brings us to that last part of the above diagram, the world view. Lilly’s actions would continually result in negative products, so therefore how she saw the world was as one big negative experience. Because she saw life and other people this way, she reacted to all of this as though she was protecting herself from constant attack. Everything that triggered her was another chance to relive the wrongs of the past (the molestation and all her bad decisions thereafter). Each time she relived these events in her mind, she fed the monster. Her monster was big, healthy, and powerful.

Feeding the monster.

How does one feed the monster? By “celebrating” the bad times. As in any celebration, there are certain patterns. There is first the reminder or trigger:

1. A person’s birthday. (Annual)

2. A recognized holiday. (Annual)

3. A Promotion (Occasional)

4. A wedding (Occasional)

5. A wedding anniversary. (Annual)

6. Graduation (Occasional)

7. And more (both annual and occasional)

Then there is response. People either do or do not make plans to celebrate. Once the person decides to celebrate, they will follow a specific pattern of behavior. Once followed, the pattern should result in a good and great time by all.

Likewise the angry person. There are certain times and events (reminders) during the year, or occasional circumstances or situations (triggers) which trigger in them a time for celebration. They remember the event that happened in the past, and then they choose to celebrate by already having a set pattern of behavior that they always follow. The behavior always results in the same negative reactions and responses from those around the angry person, and the angry person again feels justified for his or her actions.

Using Lilly’s case, she told of how after her step-father had done this to her, he bought her a game station which she had been asking for, he also told her that every Christmas he would give her something really good, “because we have a special relationship.” Lilly grew to hate Christmas. It was only a reminder of what had happened to her.

From then on, Lilly would go into a depression about two weeks before Christmas, and remain like that until after the New Year. It was like clockwork, everybody already knew what to expect, and tried to avoid her during that time, which only made matters worse. She was mean and “crazy” during those times, and she always followed the same pattern. She would deny it if you pointed it out to her, but it was true nevertheless.

Her “occasional” celebrations came in the form of intimacy. She craved a real intimate relationship with a man. The problem was that every time she would start being intimate, whether it involved sex or not, she remembered that horrible night, and became angry all over again. Her set method of behavior for this celebration was to picture the night again. See her stepfather coming into her room. Pulling back the sheets, and then all she felt was terror. In addition, this happened every time she was intimate with any man. She had so many men in her life because she was looking for the right man, the one who would not make her feel this way. She believed that he was out there, but had not found him yet, and because she wanted to, she was destined to find and lose men throughout her life.

Hurt people tend to celebrate their hurt (another principle for you to use). They have, whether conscious of it or not, a set method of behavior for the triggers. They will repeat this behavior every time, though they will deny doing so. In fact, the only one who denies it is the angry person. Everyone around them already knows what to expect. They cringe at the idea that a trigger point is coming up. They are usually more cognizant of the triggers than the angry person is. Such is the life of the angry person and her victims. Yes, her victims. Once she had been the victim, now she is the victimizer.

How do you stop feeding the monster?

Two things are important to keep in mind. First, understand that the event(s) will not change. Do not go there, its fruitless. Second, know that what can change is the person’s self-definition relating to the event. In Lilly’s case, she was 14 years old. As a teenager, she was not old enough or experienced enough to cautiously evaluate and analyze the circumstances and situation with which she suffered. Because of her lack of maturity, she found it easier to define herself as being bad, instead of placing the full blame on the rightful culprit. She cannot change the event, but she can change her memory of what happened.

Memory is a tricky thing. You can believe that what you are recalling is 100% exactly what did happen, but when others remember the same event, they may remember something different. You can be 100% sure in your mind and be 50% wrong. Sometimes we remember things exactly the way they happened. Sometimes we remember things a certain way and they did not happen that way. Sometimes we remember things that never even happened. Moreover, sometimes we just plain forget some things that really did happen, and we will argue that they never did.

Remember, memory is a tricky thing. You can even play with the things you remember correctly and adjust that memory to what you now want to be true. Repeat it (to yourself) enough times, and it becomes a “real” memory for you. Repeat it to others often enough a most people will except it as being the truth as well. The conscious mind is able to discern between real memories and fake memories, but the subconscious mind does not have that capacity. Whatever the subconscious learns it takes as fact. When the subconscious and the conscious mind have trouble distinguishing between each other, you have someone with mental problems. The point here is that a person can alter a memory, and so alter their emotional response to that memory.

Redefining the memories:

Lilly’s next step in the counseling process was to redefine her memory of what happened that night. After some discussion, between Lilly and the counselor, she redefined that night in this manner. “I was asleep and heard a sound in my room. I was not fully awake and could not see what it was.  Suddenly I realized my stepfather was in my bed. He pulled the blankets up and started to touch me. I jumped up to my feet, on the bed, and started yelling at him to leave my room or I would go and tell my mom what he was trying to do. He became afraid and backed away. After he left I cried to myself that the man I trusted had proved he was not a good man. I decided not to trust him again. I decided that I would instead lean on God for comfort and direction. I decided that it was my stepfather, who had some sick and twisted problem. That I had done nothing to encourage his sick behavior. I decided that I was still going to be happy in my life, in spite of what he did.”

Lilly repeats this new memory to herself as often as she thinks about it. This memory produces different feeling in her than the old memory did. With this memory come feelings of self-confidence, self-control, and a trust in God for the security she needs.

Practicing the new memories:

The next step in Lilly’s therapy was practicing the new memory. This was she did by identifying other bad memories, and finding a way to alter them so that the results were such that Lilly took some action, which, though she could not change the event, she did change the way she handled the event. The more she did this, the more she changed her self-perspective in the present. This will produce, in her, new actions and behavior in the future.

Practice fixing bad experiences

Another useful process is to practice fixing bad experiences mentally. Just imagine yourself in a confrontation with someone with whom it is difficult to communicate. In real life, the result may have been that you both ended up arguing and upset with each other. Probably you and this other person said some hurtful things that you now wish you had not said. On the other hand, maybe you behaved in some way that you wish you could change.

The thing here is to imagine the confrontation (or possible confrontation) and run it through your mind in slow motion. Start the confrontation as always begins. However, this time (since you are in full control of the proceedings in your mind) do a freeze frame like in television shows. Just stop all the action. Now ask yourself what should be the next step on your part. Think about what the consequences may be if you say this or do that. Decide, while you are in freeze frame what you should do next. Once you have decided, start things up again. Your new decision should have different results. For example: let’s say that at some point in the real life confrontations, you start getting angry at the other person because they are not listening to you but are trying to force you to hear them only, then you start to yell instead, thinking somehow that you might get their attention. Now you know that has never worked, but you probably have repeated that behavior often with little to no helpful results. Let us say that this time, just when you normally would start to yell, you decide instead to walk away from the confrontation. You go to another room or somewhere else where you can relax and calm down.

If you repeat this every time from now on, things will begin to change. The immediate result will be that you will not get into a shouting match with anyone, you will feel better about yourself afterwards, and you will look for other ways to make those confrontations better for you. The funny thing is that many times when we change how we confront others, they seem to make changes of their own. At least we can hope so.  We cannot control others, but we can control ourselves. We should never choose to remain in an argument in which the other person is unwilling to consider our points, as we are willing to consider theirs.

So, what did Lilly learn?

1. People do what they do because they believe what they believe.

2. There was another more serious problem (the root problem) that was causing most of her more seeming immediate concerns, she had to deal with that first, then deal with the rest (if they were still there).

3. Belief in a lie can be as powerful as the truth, and sometimes seem more real.

4. Change is not change until there has actually been change.

5. If you do the same thing you have always done, you will get the same thing you have always gotten.

6. All cases of counseling involve some level of spiritual warfare, and you are as susceptible to it as is the client.

7. You must change the way you think if you want to change the way you live.

8. You cannot change the past, but you can change how you feel about the past.

9. You do not want to try to forget the memories, But you want to eliminate the feelings attached to them.

What about Lilly’s other complaint? Well, she stopped behaving with her children and the “man in her life” in the same manner as she had always done. They are not as frightened about “setting her off” again. They have calmer discussions and controlled arguments when issues arise. She does not explode on them when things are not going well. Why? Because she is now dealing with present problems, and not with all the burdens of the past pains and traumas. Is she “perfect” now? Not by a long shot! However, she and her family are off to a good “beginning,” to the rest of her life.

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