Connect…Before You Correct
I think Jesus Himself was a “CONNECTOR” before He was a “CORRECTOR.” Remember how He dealt with the woman at the well, the tax collector found in a tree, and the lady exposed in adultery? He took time to personally connect with their feelings before he began to share His specific advice. So let me give you a few simple counseling highlights that go along with this principle:
- Remember that listening is usually more healing than talking. We often forget this vital counseling insight. When a teenager starts to share, we break into the conversation and quickly begin to dispense our “vital wisdom.” I think that’s a mistake. In short, listen more and talk less. I think that simple awareness alone will make you profoundly more powerful in counseling situations.
- Teach yourself to make “say-it-back-statements” so the student senses that you really are deeply connecting with what they are feeling. By this I mean saying things like, “That must have really hurt” or “I can’t imagine how painful that probably felt.”
- Don’t cheapen every problem by saying, “I know just how you feel.” It’s great to relate your own personal struggles to their situation, but often, we spend 3 minutes listening to their situation and the next 10 minutes then relating our own situation. In reality, it almost feels like we’re having a “problem competition.” I’m constantly amazed how many students say things like, “Thanks, Jeanne…you’ve really helped a lot,” before I get a chance to say anything substantial at all. Why? I think the sheer act of deep listening is often more helpful than our lengthy babbling.
- At all costs, avoid “T.R.T.” That stands for “typical religious talk.” I’m not saying to leave Scripture or prayer out of the conversation. I’m just suggesting that you listen to yourself talk and make sure you are doing more than spewing back some often-repeated religious jargon.
- Know when to call in the pros and do a counseling referral. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve been “over my head” in a counseling situation. I’ve often said, “I want to be your friend and help you through this situation; but can I connect you with someone who can be even more help to you than me?” Yet, student after student has told me later that the pro’s advice was not nearly as meaningful as my personal love and concern. So even when you do a referral, don’t underestimate the power of your continued listening and friendship.
In short, I have great news for you today. If you’ve had little or no professional training in counseling, you can still be immensely significant in a teenager’s life. When they start to share their heart with you, just mentally repeat to yourself, “Lord, help me not to fix it before I feel it.” The results will make you one of the teenager’s most valued counselors. I promise.