Empathetic Relationships are Therapeutic

Last Monday I spent an afternoon with a very old (he is young but we have known each 32 years) friend. The few days before were pretty dark ones for me emotionally.. I was depressed about life in general and honestly I was feeling sorry for myself. As we shared our lives with each over lunch and many cups of coffee I felt something happening to me.. the darkness was lifting and my burdens were lightening. I went away from our time together renewed and refreshed.

I think that counselors and psychiatrists do pretty well these days.. the stigma of going to these folks is different than it was years ago.. sometimes these counseling professionals do little more than listen and offer supporting words to hurting people.. of course many times therapy is much more than simply listening.. but I am not sure it is all that much more

I took a pastoral counseling class in bible college and studied various approaches to "biblical" counseling. One approach offered in a book by Jay Adams is called nouthetic counseling.. it is basically counseling by confrontation.. the classic example is responding "You can't or you won't" when a person says they cannot change. I think on rare occasions people do need this kind of kick in the pants by people who love them.. not sure that this works apart from a loving relationship. Who would pay to be talked to in that way?

I think that what people need most in life is a sense that they are "heard".. that someone really hears them and understands what they are saying. President Bill Clinton used this phrase that I like: "I feel your pain".. yeah.. I know that it has been mocked and overused but it does capture what people really need in life - empathy.

I think that most of us do not need nouthetic counseling.. we do not need people in our lives who only offer "tough love".. what we need most when we are hurting is empathy and people who are willing to sit with us and hear us out. My thought for the day.. hope yours is a great one! And I would be interested in hearing about your experiences with counselors.


  1. I think that's what most people want...someone to listen to them. Many times I really haven't wanted advice but just a chance to vent and have someone just be there for me. A good listener is worth gold.

  2. I think this is true. Even nurses are taught that most patients just need someone to listen to them, not to give advice... just listen

  3. I think Jay Adams' stuff is actually quite dangerous in the wrong hands. I have seen people in churches read it, decide that they are "competent to counsel", and proceed to do a lot of damage. basically it was assumed that if someone was hurting they needed to repent of their sin -- never mind that their hurts might be the legitimate result of someone else's abusive sin. Blaming the victim is very easy when you work within that peradigm.

  4. I so agree Lynne. I remember how a few of us mocked a page in Adam's Christian Counselors Manual that gave a list of responses to things that people would say. Really.. you would think that counseling would be more than a bunch of comebacks.. especially the Christian variety.

  5. Bob, you are right on about empathy and being heard. I've been confronted in the "nouthetic counseling" method by friends who meant well. It hurt me, put me deeper into depression and made me feel like I was weak. Being encouraged and listened to is what helps me.

  6. I was in seminary when his books were the rage and we had him lecture us in person a number of times. He was bombastic and came across as an expert in everything. I never found it to be much use in my ministry either.

  7. Thanks Barbara and Don.. I think ego and pride (not love) surfaces a lot when folks emulate the attitudes offered in self-help counseling books like the ones Adams wrote.

  8. Oh, word, Bob! If you only knew! As I look back on my years of being the imformal counselor and the counciled, it's quite the convoluted story. However I'll cut to the chase and tell you what I've learned.

    Sometimes it's necessary to be a truth teller. There is no getting away from that when the people in your life are talking about giving into temptation to do evil. Making them stop and think about the possible consequnces of their actions (confrontation) could be the best (and only) thing you can do.

    Often being an encourager helps a lot and sometimes encouragement that comes from an unexpected source can be the most helpful. It is discouraging when the people whose opinion you value don't see the vision you have and put down something you believe in or enjoy. Yet a kind word from someone else can turn things entirely around.

    Sometimes to simply keep one's mouth closed and listen is the best gift of all. When someone is grieving, just sitting with them quietly for an hour or two can make a difference. Most often people simply need someone to love them where they are.

    The one thing I've learned NEVER to do is to give advice when it's not requested. Most people want to be heard, not "fixed". Oh, one more........ never insert yourself into a heated dispute between two angry people unless you're bigger than either of them and your aim to prevent physical violence. At best, you'll be ignored and worst, they may both turn on you. ;(

    The bombastic "counselors" can all go suck an egg. Only God knows how many they have hurt, rather than helped.

  9. I loved this CR..

    Most people want to be heard, not "fixed".

    ..it is a good thing to respond by telling a counselor that you do not need to be fixed.. I have done it a time or two.

  10. Hi Bob,
    Likewise, I really enjoyed getting back together again with you, reminiscing about earlier times, talking family, and just warmly accepting one another. You were/are good therapy for me as well. I appreciate your uncritical, empathetic spirit. See you next week!


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