The process of change is detailed in Ephesians 4:22-24, and then even more vividly displayed in verse 28. A common question that is asked in counseling training is, “When is a thief no longer a thief?” Having studied the passage carefully, a careful observer will notice it is not just when the thief stops stealing, but when he works with his hands in order to have something to give.These passages serve as some of the core influences in the sanctification methodology as well as the end goal of counseling. We start by putting off the old man: its wants, its desires, its actions. Then, we renew the mind with the truth of God’s word. We memorize passages, study new concepts, we learn to think on what is true (Phil. 4:8). Then, the passage tells us to put on the new man which is like Christ.It is right at this point, when we are told to put on the new man, that so much of the homework in the counseling world begins to fall short. Counselees are assigned scriptures to read, passages to memorize, journaling assignments to complete, and books to learn from. However, in all of these homework assignments, the focus on the cognitive aspects of the person dominates the homework.This dynamic of more cognitive-based homework is especially true in western society and for those who have received higher education. So much of our lives is spent in the realms of thinking, and rightly so. Christianity is a thinking person’s religion, and the church will only be served by Christians being more and more thoughtful, not less.However, when it comes to the process of change, being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, we must also engage the volitional aspects of personhood. Or, to say it a bit simpler: we need to make sure our counselee has to get off the couch in order to do their homework. If they can complete all the assignments that you have given them as part of their growth and change process from the comfort of their lazy boy recliner, then we have not addressed all the requisite aspects of change that will be necessary.There must be a delicate balance that is achieved between homework that is focused on doing and homework that is focused on renewing the hearts of our counselees. Each case with each person will look different. However, there must be evidence of growth across all areas of our counselee, and not just in the arena of the mind. Consider these examples of how you might sharpen your homework writing skills to better serve your counselees:
Let’s make sure that we are helping our counselees be doers of the word and not just hearers (Jas. 1:22). Let’s make sure that we are following the Bible in its process of change and not just parking on renewing our mind. Let’s ask ourselves when we are done writing homework for a session, does my counselee need to get off the couch to do my homework? If the answer to that is “No”, then let’s take another pass at the homework!Photo by Paul Weaver on Unsplash
There are times when a counselor may believe that their counselee is relating to them in a manipulative way, because there is so much going on with each counseling situation that may be hard to determine. However, at times the counselor might conclude that their counselee seems to be trying to control the counseling relationship. Lou Priolo maintains in his booklet “Manipulation” that “manipulation is often an attempt to gain control of another individual or situation by inciting an emotional reaction rather than a biblical response from that individual.” Often that is accomplished through intimidation and involves selfishly attempting to coerce someone to or inhibiting someone from a course of action by making him sense some sort of threat.
The scripture most frequently uses one of two terms to describe manipulative situations. “Fraud/deceit” describe the ways manipulators often conceal important information from the person they are trying to control. Instead of just coming out and asking for what they want or need, a manipulator often moves inside of relationships in furtive ways to try to get the other person to give them what they want. Motivating others to do something without clearly stating what you need or want does not allow the other person to evaluate what they believe is wise or loving in that case with that need. Additionally, Scripture uses the term “oppressor” to indicate abuses of authority, power, or influence to trample, burden, or crush those lower in station than them.
I have found several reasons counselees may be willing to manipulate within counseling situations. Often a counselee is willing to manipulate because they are greedy, jealous/envious, or discontent about something within the counseling relationship. The counselee may want more of my attention or time. The counseling progression may not be going their way or focusing on what they want to be the problem. Other times I have found that laziness or self-love is the motivation behind manipulation.In any situation, manipulation is one of those issues that is hard to understand, because the manipulator’s motives and actions are not clear or transparent, and actions are not always overt. The manipulated person is often left feeling confused or guilty but not entirely sure why. That is one of the reasons that I encourage an advocate or co-counselor to be involved in counseling cases that involve habitual manipulation or are especially confusing or unclear. Having a second person making observations or helping to sort through data helps clarify. I have also found it helpful to be able to talk through cases involving manipulation with a supervisor or counseling team.
Generally, manipulation involves influencing or deceiving people to serve you or give you what you think you need, expecting others to sacrifice themselves for you, or forcing others to meet your needs or desires. Manipulative people use their mouths to plead or beg, misquote you to others, or lie. They play on emotions by crying/sulking/withdrawing, using guilt trips, or making empty promises. They bully or threaten by calling people names and attacking others with constant criticism.
Remembering that sin is the enemy in manipulative situations helps you know how to respond when your counselee is relating to you that way. Proverbs 12:15 and 10:23 help us understand that fools think their own way is right, and that doing wrong is fun. Scripture helps us understand that manipulation is a foolish way to function within relationships. Because of that, it’s important to refuse to answer a person who is being foolish with a foolish response. You’ll need to respond, but don’t respond in kind, or you will be just like him (Proverbs 26:4). Instead answer the foolish arguments as they deserve, so the manipulator does not think his unbiblical means of relating are wise (Proverbs 26:5). Because it is not wise or loving to allow a manipulative person to continue communicating manipulatively, we need to be willing to cautiously and lovingly speak into those difficult situations, not with accusations but with questions about their decisions and the motives behind them. It helps to remember that the ultimate goal in relationships is to honor and glorify God by loving and obeying him. With that motivation, when you are being manipulated it’s important to appeal to the conscience of the manipulative person and remind them to fulfill specific, personal, biblical, responsibilities, using the Bible as the standard of truth by which they will be judged (Manipulation, Priolo).
As with all other counseling issues, asking good questions and listening carefully will be important as you begin to sort through motives and actions. It will also be important to truly love the counselee who is manipulating by addressing sin when it comes up even if you are the person being sinned against and continuing to love and serve biblically even when the counselee is doing unloving things to you. When a counselee lies or misleads, you’ll need to lovingly draw attention to that. If they misquote you to others you should correct with the truth because truth matters but not simply to protect your reputation. If a counselee begs or pleads, you can teach them to make a request and allow you the time to evaluate whether meeting the request would be wise and loving. Learning to forsake selfishly motivated interpersonal habits will take time and effort, but the safety of the counseling relationship and setting allows counselees the opportunity to learn to address heart issues within relationships and participate in producing lasting biblical change for the glory of God.For a more in-depth conversation on this topic check out Lou Priolo’s booklet “Manipulation,” or Jocelyn’s teaching in this 2023 BCTC session or Joyful Journey Podcast Episode.Photo by SHVETS production: https://www.pexels.com/photo/crop-psychologist-supporting-patient-during-counseling-indoors-7176325/
Have you ever stopped to think about why you sin the way you do? Maybe that’s an odd question. But let me ask it this way: Why do some people get hooked on video games while others get hooked on working and making money? Or why is it that some people always love to give their opinion—even when not asked...like me—versus a person that is afraid to give his opinion even when someone else wants it? Or why do some people get stuck in yelling, domineering anger while others are stuck in people pleasing and never standing up for themselves?I think for the most part everyone understands that sin is selfish and proud, but I think it’s still an important question to consider why I sin the way I do while others sin in other ways that I haven’t done and have zero desire to do.Before we consider the question of why I struggle with my specific sin like being a worrier vs. being really depressed we need to answer generally: why do I sin?
There are a few answers to this question. All of them being quite important.A very important answer to this question is, I sin because I’m a sinner and have been born into sin (cf. Rom 5:17–19). But beyond just being born a sinner scripture makes it clear that as a sinner I love to sin. That might seem like a strange concept, but I think it’s a critical concept to helping people hate their sin and grow in righteousness. Here’s a couple of verses that support the truth that as sinners we love to sin:Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.”
John 3:19–20 says, “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
A failure to help your counselees understand that they love their sin and that’s why they keep doing it will leave them frustrated and stuck wondering how they can change.
Once we’ve grasped that we sin because we love it, we are prepared to answer the question more specifically of why do I love the sin that I do (i.e. why do I sin the way that I do)?Let me give this illustration that most people can relate to because they’ve done it. Did you ever put your hand on the stove as a child? Many people have done that as a child even though they were warned by parents not to (myself included). But apparently something about the orange glow from the stove top was just far too welcoming that we couldn’t be reasoned with, we just had to touch it to see what we were missing. Almost instantly though, we learned that all we were missing was a significant amount of pain! As a result, the number of people that put their hand on the stove the next day, or the day after that on purpose is infinitesimally small compared to the number that put their hand on the stove at least once. The question is, why? Hopefully the answer is quite obvious. There was NOTHING beneficial that came from putting their hand on the stove!Unlike the stove, when it comes to sin and rebellion that we repeat and repeat and repeat, there is some sort of benefit that we are receiving. In other words, we are getting something we want which cultivates a deeper and deeper love for that sin which is why we continue doing it over and over. And as Romans 6:16 teaches, if you present yourselves as an obedient slave to sin you will enslaved by sin.Now, if you think back to the opening question why, do you sin the way you do? The stove illustration should begin to illuminate the answer. The answer is because the manifestations of sin that you chose and pursued are the ones that you believe benefited you the most. And conversely, the manifestations of sin that you chose not to do where not things that you saw as worthwhile or giving enough benefit to try.For example, there are many people who smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol but they did it only once and never again. Why? Because they didn’t like it! It tasted bad, made them sick, made them fearful of legal trouble or parental disappointment, etc. But for others, the bad taste (at first), the sickness (at first), and the potential legal trouble or disappointment from parents wasn’t enough to deter them from the benefit they were getting from smoking or drinking (benefits might be fitting in/peer pressure, desire to be in control and rebel against authority, escape and forget pain/problems, etc.). In that case they will smoke and drink again and as long as the benefit outweighs the cost, or the perceived benefit outweighs the cost they will keep going.
Addiction is a great test case for why cultivating hatred for sin is so important. Cultivating is a key word here, because the implication is that you must work diligently to produce a true hatred for sin. That doesn’t just happen naturally.That’s why addiction is a great test case. If we sin because we love it, then we will never truly kill and give up sin until we truly hate it. In the addiction world, this is what confuses people so much about why people keep going down the path of addiction when all that it brings (eventually) is relational pain, financial trouble, health issues, career woes, legal problems, and more. By the time people are considering giving up drugs or alcohol or sexual addictions, etc. the consequences of their addictions are usually quite severe. They can recognize that they are having problems because of the addiction and the problems that have come from the addiction they genuinely dislike. However, their dislike for the consequences is much different than a dislike and hatred of the addiction and sin itself.Addicts will often say things like, “I hate it,” and “I don’t want anything to do with it anymore,” but then curiously, they end up doing it again...and again...and again. Love for sin is what explains going back again and again. As long as they still love the sin and see there being benefit there, they will keep going back. It’s not until they are convinced that there is nothing good in it, that they will truly give it up for good. And that has to be cultivated! As long as they keep going back, they are not convinced that “the wages of sin is death” (cf. Rom. 6:23). They still believe that there is blessing, good and life to be found there.As counselors, if you’re going to help your counselees become more like Christ, you must help them learn to cultivate a genuine hatred of their sin not let them be fooled thinking their hatred of consequences is the same as hating sin itself.Romans 6:20–21 is great passage to have your counselees meditate on to really understand how to hate their sin.Romans 6:20–2120 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.Notice how in v.21 Paul asks what “fruit” they were getting. Counselees should spend time mediating and thinking about all the terrible things that came from their sin. They do not need to move past their sin too quickly. If they forget the consequences of their sin, they will be tempted to “remember” the benefit and good that they sought from the sin in the first place and go back.V.21 goes further and encourages them to remember what they are now “ashamed.” How unnatural is that!? We hate to think about things that we are ashamed of, and yet that’s exactly what Paul wants us to think about! Thinking about how much shame came from our sin is one of the ways that we reinforce that there truly is nothing worthwhile in sin, period!And then finally, v.21 tells us where that sin goes. We got horrible fruit from it, we are ashamed of it, and the ultimate end of our sin is death.The point: sin is a lose, lose, lose!Most counselees can give intellectual assent to that. But when the rubber meets the road often a love of sin is revealed that causes them to go back to the same sin again and again.If you want to help your counselees overcome sin and learn how to grow and change, then you need to make sure that your counselees have a robust understanding of sin and a robust understanding of how to cultivate a genuine hatred of sin, not just a hatred of consequences. Cultivating a hatred of sin is not the only element needed to help your counselees grow, but it is a crucial element that is often overlooked or treated superficially. So I’d encourage you to consider, how does your counseling help your counselee truly hate their sin the way that God does?