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The Making of an Effective Counselor

April 2007
By: Linda Hull
Several years ago I had the privilege of serving in a crisis pregnancy center as a lay counselor. Those years have stayed in my heart and mind, forever impacting my perception about abortion and its victims.

When I began, I was very ignorant. Although I had received some prior training in Christian counseling, I had very little understanding of abortion. In fact, since my husband and I were pursuing adoption, I wasn't sure I would be able to counsel. Could I even "love" that client who was contemplating abortion?

On the day my training began, my heart raced and my brain numbed. What would they ask? What would I say? My emotions shifted from total fear to euphoria. I was thrilled to be doing something worthwhile to serve my Lord! In hindsight, I shouldn't have been fearful, for my training was more than adequate to equip me for every situation.

After studying the comprehensive training manual, viewing the required videos, and attending seminars, I was ready to be paired with my "sister counselor." She would work with me during my counseling shift—advising, encouraging, and helping me through the procedures. She sat in on my counseling sessions, ready to bail me out when I floundered.

The first order of business when a client entered our door was the screening and intake process. Through a question and answer period, I was able to gain detailed, delicate, and often confidential information about the client in order to properly assess our ability to meet her needs. Then I could determine what resources were needed to help her become pro-active in the process of making a decision about her situation. During this time, the client revealed her attitude about her situation and expressed her expectations. I learned to wear a "poker face," keeping my judgment and emotions neutral, waiting to see what God would do to change her heart through our time together.

I learned to be sensitive to the client's emotional state. Many came with fear and trepidation, making it necessary for me to alleviate any misconceptions and anxieties. Expressing my honest concern and desire to be of assistance was important to establishing the rapport necessary to work through an assistance plan. Recognition of my client's emotional need softened my heart, enabling me to extend mercy and grace. God calls us to treat others as we would want to be treated. How could I not extend to others what He had extended to me?

I began by providing pertinent information about pregnancy, abortion, and adoption. By providing information, we hoped to resolve any assumptions on the part of our client. We wanted her to be educated on all of her options regarding an unplanned pregnancy and the resulting consequences from a medical and spiritual standpoint.


I LEARNED TO WEAR
A 'POKER FACE,'
WAITING TO SEE
WHAT GOD WOULD
DO TO CHANGE HER
HEART THROUGH OUR
TIME TOGETHER.



After the information session, it was necessary to again interview the client to determine her reaction and understanding of the material presented and to determine if she would accept our center's assistance. My training enabled me to evaluate the given information, form a basic assessment of the client's situation, and make a determination of what assistance to provide.

In our initial assistance plan, I enlisted the cooperation of the client to determine what immediate goals needed to be established in order for her needs to be met. Sometimes this involved scheduling medical appointments, financial counseling through government agencies, or other outside referrals. It was also our center's objective to provide spiritual counseling to help the client develop the necessary coping skills for overcoming fear associated with her circumstance.

In my role as counselor, I was often a sounding board for my client. As she worked through her plans, I was able to share my perceptions and insight. I learned to offer reassurance, acceptance, and encouragement. Usually most clients did not need follow-up appointments, so it was imperative that they leave confident and motivated to follow through on their assistance plan. My case notes were filed for use by other counselors should the client make a return visit. Often this would be for a new pregnancy.

In any ministry, there are always the stories—those events that stand out in our minds, which make us cry or chuckle. It's then that we counselors realize how well our training has equipped us. For example, I had an experience with a client who was very evasive and uncertain about her answers. It turned out she was supplying information for the girl in our waiting room who was afraid to come in. Since my training enabled me to recognize the inconsistencies of her behavior and remarks, once the deception was revealed, I was able to provide assistance to the real client.

I learned to maintain confidentiality in all of my dealings with clients. Any identifying information was closed to all people except the counselors. Trust is so important. Keeping our word, following through when we say we will do something, and listening with hearing ears are the actions that foster trust. When my clients understood that I could be trusted, they came back, enabling our center to expand our ministry to them.

Our God is faithful to provide fruit in response to our ministry efforts. I was so thrilled to see hurting women give their hearts to Jesus. Only He knows the private decisions that were made that went unshared. Being a counselor grew me as a Christian. I found that our God softened my heart, bringing a new level of compassion and love for the hurting soul. Thank you to all the ladies who mentored me through the process!

Linda Hull can be contacted at woehome@frontiernet.net.

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