Pitfalls of Psychology #3: Counseling and Giving Advice

In high school I was part of the Peer Counselors’ Club. It was an extension of the guidance office services that trained students, selected by the class through a vote, to be counselors themselves, talking to their peers in confidence about the common problems that teenagers had to struggle with. The school administration thought that it would help plenty of those who didn’t feel too comfortable visiting the guidance counselor and having a chat about their relationship issues and other personal problems. I was one of those humbly selected by my class, and so I became a member of the club.  I wasn’t just a member, I was President.

Psychology’s View

We had a lot of training and seminars, and that’s how I learned to appreciate Psychology (it eventually became a potential career choice, but that didn’t work out — and that’s a whole other story). Again and again we were reminded of the key premise of counseling, and that is to never, under any circumstances, offer anybody any advice.

The reasons were these:
1. You are there to listen, not to tell them what to do. And most of the time, the people you will be counseling just need someone to listen to them. Although it may seem like it, they are not really looking for a quick fix.

2. If you give someone advice and they take it, they’ll blame you for the outcome of that advice if it doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. And if they’re kind enough not to do so, then you’ll feel guilty for it yourself.

3. Even if they themselves will ask you for advice, know for the reasons stated above that you still cannot indulge their requests.

You were simply there to “just listen attentively, nod occasionally, and if you must speak, simply say, “How do you feel about that?” — credits to Freaky Friday for that epic line. Eventually the person will, from out of his own thoughts and mental processes, come to a solution on his own. He will feel you have helped him get to that solution, when in fact he was the one who thought it himself and you were only there as a listening ear.

That’s what Psychology says.

Theology’s View

Last week’s study in Bible class was actually what brought this issue to light. A pastor is also a counselor in his own right, and in such counseling sessions it is his duty to advise a person regarding what he ought to do in line with Scripture. In the Bible we also find quite a lot of verses that talk about the value of advice:

Proverbs 19:20
“Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction, that you may be wise in the time to come.” (AMP)

Proverbs 12:15
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (ESV)

Matthew 18:15
“If your brother or sister sins,go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.

So what does this mean?

I see that it is completely reasonable for Psychology to discourage the giving of any advice. After all, it does not adapt any standard — as Christianity does — by which we distinguish right from wrong. In this arrangement, the person who comes up with a solution to his problem all on his own is judged by a relative morality. Is his decision right or wrong? How are we to know?

Christianity is an extreme contrast, however, because we do have standards and morality is absolute. And that is why we are to advise one another and help each other to decide according to the mighty Word of God. Yes, we listen attentively; yes, we nod occasionally; yes, we ask how they feel about it; but afterwards we give counsel. Right counsel. Counsel from the Holy Scriptures.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
– Psalm 1:1-3

 

More from this Series:

Pitfalls of Psychology #1: Zuckerman’s Sensation-Seeking Theory

Pitfalls of Psychology #2: Perceived Self-Efficacy

Pitfalls of Psychology #3: Counseling and Giving Advice.