When Counselors Disagree

Have you ever disagreed with someone’s counsel or counseling approach? Have you ever disagreed with someone else’s approach to care? Counseling is about caring for others in the discord of life. As counselors, we transact with dissonance. When someone disagrees with your counsel, or you disagree with theirs, you find yourself in that dissonance.

What to do with concerning counsel

Perhaps you have had situations where people share “biblical counseling” they have received that raises an eyebrow of concern. What should you do?

When this happens, try and keep in mind that what you are receiving is the person’s recollection and interpretation of what they heard their counselor say. Also keep in mind that most likely, the Christian counselor is seeking to care. Despite what might sound like concerning counsel, presume they meant well, are trying to honor God, and want the best for those with whom they are counseling.

Your own counsel could raise concern when shared in sound bites or through the interpretive grid of another. What do you do when someone disagrees with your direction of care? With your methodology? With your application of ministry? How you respond is your counsel in practice.

Truth and Love

Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” This quote by Warren Wiersbe captures the essence of why we must approach difficult conversations with both truth and love. It is important to take time to look closely at what it means to hold both truth and love in balance. We don’t want to be bristly or harsh but we also don’t want to be solely sentimental or people-pleasing. Jesus balanced these perfectly. In his interactions with people he was a champion of truth and, at the same time, he was a loving friend of sinners.

In his book, Speaking Truth in Love, David Powlison shares a story where this occurred in his own life. Below are words someone shared with David at a significant time in his life.

“’I love and respect you as a person, and I want what is good for you. But you are destroying yourself with what you believe and how you are living.’ Those were precisely the words that changed my life (says Powlison). The cruise missile of wise love blew apart the bunker of self-will in which I lived. My friend’s words were not a product of technique. They were artless. But they had four things going for them. They were true, loving, personal, and appropriate.”

There is significant wisdom for us in this excerpt, but I want to highlight three words easily missed. “My friend’s words.” These three words are so important to how we interact with colleagues or anyone with whom we disagree. It is the phrase that brings the needed balance. “My friend”- speaks of investment, of knowing, of commitment, of love. “Words” mean that there is active and engaging truth shared.

There were not just words, there was friendship– loving friendship. There was not just friendship, there were words– true words. This is a picture of truth and love.

When counselors disagree are we equally committed to being a loving friend as much as garrisoning truth?

United on essentials while valuing differences

When working with married couples in conflict I often share a bit of wisdom that was once shared with me. “If  two people in a marriage are exactly alike, then one is no longer needed.” This phrase has served me in my own marriage when my husband and I disagree. We both have strong opinions about a lot of things. Despite the declaration in our dating years that “we have so much in common,” we often see things quite differently. Many of these differences are in the application of issues on which we actually agree. We are united in essentials, yet varied in practicals.

What if my goal is to get my husband to be just like me, or vise versa? If either of us succeed then it would mean that one of us is no longer needed. But I need him. And he needs me. Without him, our children would have painted our hardwood floors to satisfy their budding artistic expression, without me our home would likely be managed by spreadsheets and run like well oiled machine. Each of us may feel differently about which of those ideas would actually be a good thing, but we need each other.

We need our unity on the foundation of love we want our home built upon, and we need our differences in how life plays out practically. Our marriage needs my grey and his black and white. I am the bend in his straight path and he is the guard rail that keeps me from falling off the cliff. We are different and necessary. When counselors disagree yet remember the unity of essentials we share, it is then that we are open to the value and helpfulness of our differences.

Can you see value in the different approach of counsel you are hearing? Can you help others see this value? Where does it bring balance? Where might it bring creativity to care? What might you learn from their different approach? Are you open to have loving conversation with a colleague that differs with your model or method of care?

As biblical counselors (or anyone giving counsel, advice, or care), we must be committed to speaking the truth in love and not compromise on either. We hold on to the fact that the Gospel is the most unifying element for all of us. We cling to the Scripture to lead us as we care. In that unity we seek out the value in our differences believing that the Lord actually uses are differences as well as our similarities.

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