10 Counseling Skills for Ministry
Do you minster to women who are struggling with different types of crises and traumas? The book, Crisis Counseling, is a great resource to turn to again and again as different circumstances are brought up. I frequently use the counseling skills listed below in my current ministry to women struggling with sexual brokenness and in my future ministry with college students. All ten skills listed below have been taken and adapted from Crisis Counseling. You can buy the book here.
10 Counseling Skills for Ministry
Understand trauma. Understanding trauma will help us better minister to women. Crisis Counseling defines trauma as “an event outside of what is normally expected in the life of an individual, and that breaks past normal coping and defense mechanisms, causing strong emotional pain.” Trauma may look different for different women, but ultimately the trauma causes deep pain.
Because trauma is different for each woman, we must understand how a person perceives their situation in order to offer help. Two people could experience the same situation and one could perceive it as trauma and the other as a simple challenge. For example, look at how each disciple responded to the trauma of the crucifixion. Out of the disciples, some try to help, some hide, some run, some freeze, some mourn and all are stunned, fearful and confused. We must understand that people react differently to losses.
Understand the symptoms. It is important to know the symptoms of trauma when ministering to women. Many women may be in denial or not realize that what they experienced was traumatic. A woman may easily share that she struggles with difficulty sleeping, anger or stress, but she may have difficulty sharing a specific trauma that she went through. It is important to understand the symptoms to be able to conclude that maybe something deeper is going on—a trauma that is causing these symptoms.
To best help her deal with the symptoms, we have to first help her heal from the trauma. If we only focus on the symptoms, we will never help her find lasting healing. In my ministry, when women are addicted to pornography, many times a woman experienced something traumatic in her past. This does not mean that the trauma necessarily caused the addiction, however, until she finds healing from the trauma, she will have difficulty finding freedom from her addiction. (3 Ways to Help Women Addicted to Porn)
Find comfort in Jesus. As Christians, we can find comfort in turning to Jesus, who was wounded for us. Isaiah 53:5b states, “by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus was wounded for us. Jesus experiences trauma for us. When women are in crisis, how powerful it is to share the gospel—that Jesus went through trauma for them. He understands their wounds and pain. He can relate with their suffering. In my ministry, I am constantly reminding women that they are not alone in their pain. Jesus is there with them, by their sides. He knows exactly what they are experiencing and feeling. Often times the women have difficulty believing this or remembering this, because the pain from the trauma is crushing their hope.
Be prepared. To be effective ministers, we must be prepared to deal with crisis and trauma events instead of reacting to them in shock. One way to be prepared is to know about support that is offered in your city. Where can you send a woman who is struggling? What books can you recommend? What are some names of counselors? Develop an action plan for different circumstances.
In my ministry, women often join my groups wanting to change their behaviors. For example, many want to stop looking at porn. As we work through the group book, we discover that they have deeper heart issues. They most likely need to work on those issues first, before finding freedom from their addiction. To help women find freedom, I have a list of book recommendations for their specific heart issue. You can find that list here.
Recommend counseling. We must be willing to send people to counselors and admit that we can not help them. If a woman has not experienced any change, you might recommend a counselor from your list of trusted people. Also, if the woman experiences self-harm thoughts, you should refer them to a counselor. In my online and in-person groups, I always say that this is not counseling and I am not a counselor. I encourage each woman to seek out a professional counselor to work through the things that they bring into light during group. For a list of trusted counselors who are graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary, click here.
Encourage friendships. Help all women, those in the midst of trauma and those not, to develop close friendships. The more support present while undergoing a loss, the easier a person will be able to heal. The types of friendships matter in this situation. Encourage your women to find Jesus loving friends who will ask good questions, provide a space for grief, allow her to react to the loss, and not try to fix everything. I always encourage my women to seek accountability friendships outside of the people in our group. Especially for my online groups, I encourage them to meet regularly with this friend in person.
Understand coping mechanisms. Many people try and replace the sadness of a loss with a behavior like drinking, drugs, sexual pursuits, over spending, etc. Help women see that certain coping methods are ineffective, especially: regret, blame, bitterness, depression, magical thinking and incomplete grieving. In my ministry, many women have filled the hole in their hearts caused by a loss with pornography. Thinking this will fill the hole in their hearts, it ultimately makes the hole larger. We must teach our women effective ways to cope. Some effective ways are adjusting to losses, utilizing support, appropriate grief, appropriate depression, and an accurate view of God.
Learn about grief. Grief is a good thing—this is hard for us to understand. We must encourage women that it is appropriate and normal to experience and express a large range of emotions as they grieve. We must help women realize that it is normal for grief to look different each day. One day you may think you are healed, and the next you might feel depressed. This is normal. Grief has no shortcuts. We must dive into the pain instead of trying to avoid it. In our society, we sometimes think grief is to be avoided. Instead, we must encourage women that grief is good and necessary for healing. In my ministry, women often experience grief and always view it as a negative thing. I want to help them begin to see grief as a good thing, to help them find healing from the pain.
We can help women before crises, during crises, and after crises. Before a crisis, we need to help women remove stress from their lives. This could include helping them make decisions about time management, eating properly, taking time to relax, being in right relationship with God, and saying no to things by setting boundaries. During a crisis, we must gain an understanding of what occurred, help them cope by meeting physical needs, provide encouragement, and be aware of available resources. After the crisis, we must listen and allow the person to tell their story. We do not need to correct her if she messes up the story, rather we want to create a safe place for the woman to share her story. If she has experienced many crises, losses, and traumatic events, one practical idea that the author shared in Crisis Counseling is to encourage victims to make a timeline or history of significant loss events. Have them write them down and then describe each one on the intensity of the loss from 1 to 10. This will help us to understand which losses have impacted them the most and which could be the leading heart issue.
How to talk about trauma. When talking through a trauma with a woman, start with the facts, then thoughts, and then emotions. It is hard sometimes for the victim to talk about emotions, but it is critical for healing. As ministers, we want to normalize the experience and the symptoms of the victim to help them know they are not alone or weird. This will reduce shame, guilt, and anxiety. In our conversations, we do not want to take away their pain, but rather walk beside them in the midst of their pain and struggle. We also do not want to rush people through the recovery process. In my ministry, especially in my groups, I have to make sure my mindset is not that the women will leave the group completely healed. I have to remind myself that healing is a journey, and my group may only play a small part in that, and that is okay.
Would I recommend this book? YES, I loved this book and would highly recommend it to any woman or man in ministry. Every person has or will experience some sort of loss, grief or trauma, so we must be prepared to minister to them. You can buy the book here.