Don’t Proxy Counsel

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.  -Proverbs 18:17

I’m not an expert counselor.  But I hope I am growing.  Early on in my ministry I dealt almost exclusively with counseling teenagers.  As one in my early twenties and still  with plenty of youthful vigor (or perhaps rebellion) in my heart I listened intently as teenagers would tell me about how much they were victimized by their parents.

It is much to my chagrin that I confess that for the first year or two I really thought that these kids had horrible parents that simply did not understand their teenagers.  I spent a good amount of my counseling trying to help these teens cope with crappy parents.

Things really came to a head when a particularly difficult and troubled teen came in tears and fearfully did not want to go home.  An elaborate story was told and charges were brought up.  I informed this person before hand that I would have to report this to the police as a mandatory reporter if she was going to continue on.  She remained undeterred.  So we went over to the police station and filed a report.

Her parents grievous offense?

They were making her do laundry.  Of course that is not what she told me.  It was a much different story.  But it was believable and I didn’t want to take the chance of it actually being true.  Something happened, though, after that encounter.  I began taking Proverbs 18:17 more seriously.

There are always two sides to every story.

What I have noticed over the years is that a good number of people coming for counseling actually want you to do proxy counseling.  They don’t actually want counsel for themselves but frequently they want ammunition for another person that they want to counsel.  And it can be tempting in the beginning stages to dog on that other person to try to build report with the person in your office.

The wise counselor realizes that he/she is not called by God to do proxy counseling.  God has placed the person sitting in your office, or across from you at the coffee house, into your life.  Knowing that there are always two sides to every story the person that you are talking with is never only a victim.  God has placed this person in your life to help him/her expose heart idols and find redemption in Christ.

Yes, you may on occasion have to defuse or speak truth into a statement that a wounding spouse lobbed at the person in your office.  “Sally, it is not true that you are worthless.  Let me tell you what God says about you”.  But even while you do that you need to remember that you aren’t to engage in proxy counseling and give her advice about what to say to her potential loser of a husband.

Our goal must be for the person we are counseling to be helped by the gospel and motivated by the gospel to make his/her soul aim to please the Lord regardless of the response of the offending husband, wife, parent, child, or friend.

Comments

  1. says

    There might be two sides to any story, or there might not be. As one who was sexually abused when I was 8 (by a 17-year-old cousin, and not by a parent), I caution you not to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused.

    • says

      Thanks for bringing up that point. I’m not in any way suggesting that we not take these accusations seriously. In the story above I would have done the same thing given the information received. (I may have asked a few more questions to try to get at the truth, but we always have to take accusations of abuse seriously).

  2. John Wylie says

    Ken,

    I’m sure Mike isn’t advising not reporting things that are mandated by law. If anyone reveals abuse of this kind the law mandates that we pass this information along to authorities.

    But overall I absolutely agree with the tenor of Mike’s post. Many times people use counselors to sort of team up on others. BTW I worked with youth for a considerable amount of time and the last thing a youth worker needs to be doing is driving a wedge between parent and child.

    • says

      John and Mike,

      I think we all agree on that. I just wanted it specifically stated because my own experiences have shown me that there is a warrant to emphasize this point. And back when I was a kid, there was a prevalent “head in the sand” approach. Things have improved greatly since then.

  3. Bruce H. says

    I know a Christian family that CPS destroyed. CPS believes in divorce and promotes it, if not, forces it. They claim to “empower” the victim but brainwash them to hate, not forgive. They employ young college grads who seem to enjoy the power they have. They claim to use “counselors” but they are only used to get information, not offer counsel or help. These people are ruthless and treat every case as if it is the worse. Make sure you have both sides of the story and know exactly when to turn someone in.

    • says

      Bruce,

      I’m not sure where you are getting your assertions about CPS, but none of what you said is in the “handbook”. In fact, CPS workers are overworked and most do not desire to create more caseloads for themselves. Also, CPS social workers don’t act without court orders. They are not a law unto themselves.

      • Bruce H. says

        Mark,

        I have followed this case and know it to be true. Talk to any attorney that works on CPS cases. I have talked to several. Also, my in-laws were foster parents and experienced what CPS does to families for many years. Not all deserve to be treated the way they treat them. I would do some investigation into CPS to see what people go through. CPS tells one story but the people who have to deal with them will tell you a much different story. CPS needs a major overhaul when it comes to dealing with kids lives. I just don’t have much good to say about CPS.

        • says

          Bruce,

          I personally know a Christian who worked for CPS for years. I know about cases and families and what those families do t their kids. I also know that CPS workers are not a law unto themselves. They cannot act without a judge’s orders. CPS workers rarely, if ever, get to tell their side of the story – I know this. I’ve seen the CPS side of stories vs. what was reported in the media and they have been very lopsided against CPS; unfairly so.

    • Christiane says

      It is mandated by law for teachers, school counselors and medical professionals to report any signs of abuse to authorities so that this can be properly investigated.

      I reported a case to my principal of one of my students who came to school crying (sixth grader) . . . I called him into the hallway and asked him what was wrong . . . he said that his aunt, who lived in the home with the family, had hit him because she thought he had stolen money from her purse.
      He said his arms hurt. I asked if I could see his arms. I did. We immediately went to the principal . . . the child’s arms were swollen and covered with welts and bruises . . . he reported that his aunt had used a metal pipe to beat him with. We walked him to the school nurse.

      Authorities were called and we understood that they investigated the case.

      • Bruce H. says

        Christiane,

        I know that it is mandated. The case you described could not be avoided. The thing that isn’t right is how the State handles all cases. They do not just “investigate”. That is my point. They make decisions for you that changes everything and that is what I have a problem with. Family relations are changed forever with no restoration or forgiveness. Each case is approached and dealt with the same way even if it is a minor incident. There is no discernment used.

        • Christiane says

          Hi BRUCE H.

          Yes, and I am aware that, in the presence of injustice on the part of authorities, there is a need for advocacy for those who have endured are unfair treatment. It is a shame that in the case you are describing that no one came to support those who were unfairly treated.
          You are a person who has credibility here on this blog, and I believe you if you feel a great injustice was done in a certain case, but I do know that there are those who will help folks to appeal decisions in such cases.
          These advocates will sometimes work ‘pro bono’, or at least for a much-reduced fee according to the circumstances of those they serve.

          I can see that you are much troubled by the outcome of this case you have mentioned.

  4. says

    Mike,

    What you described also happens when friends “confide” in friends about another with whom they disagree. It can happen among church members when someone has a strong disagreement with leadership decisions and begins a campaign to get people on their side. I think what you describe is something we all need to guard against.

  5. says

    Ken makes a good point. If an accusation of sexual or other abuse is made, we cannot wait to hear from the other side. We report to the appropriate authorities.

    But Mike’s point is still true. I remember my youth pastorate (we are talking the mid 80s – wow, I’m old). There was a feud between one of our youth and a dad of some other youth (they had worked together and it didn’t go well). I talked to the kid and thought the dad must be Hitler. Then, I talked to the dad and got a completely different story.

    They did not have different perspectives on the same story, they had different stories from different universes.

    Proverbs is right. (and so is Mike).