The following can be considered a “random sample” of fundamentals which all competent counselors should consider.

SESSION PREPARATION:

~Remember you are are under no strict obligation to counsel anyone.
~Should you feel uncomfortable for any reason, decline the opportunity.
~Maintain a referral list. If you feel unqualified to handle a particular situation, make recommendations.
~Bear in mind that counseling is a privilege – not a right.
~Contact the counselee ahead of time, when possible, to remind them of the session.
~Pray beforehand for a heart of compassion, empathy, and a meaningful session.
~Depend heavily on the Holy Spirit for advice.
~The Holy Spirit can give you direction for every counseling session.
~Remember you are representing Jesus in that room.
~Know that a productive session can alleviate fears, anxiety, and despair by replacing these with peace, fortitude, determination, resilience, and hope.
~If the counselee has an unusual name, learn how to pronounce it.
~If you hold ministerial credentials, follow denominational policies.
~Leave any “personal baggage” at home. Do not display your own troubles.
~Know your own emotional limits.
~Keep your emotions in check. Your own feelings may be a struggle, particularly if you have had the same needs.
~Guard your heart.
~Establish boundaries.
~Maintain realistic expectations.
~Allow the counselee to sit nearest the exit. Do not allow the counselee to feel “trapped” should they wish to leave.
~Establish immediately the reason to eliminate any phone use, yours and theirs, during sessions.
~Keep all information strictly confidential unless it involves suicidal statements, abuse, exploitation, or neglect.
~Be fully informed regarding city, state, county, and federal laws concerning these crimes.

DEPORTMENT AND ATTITUDE:

~Dress appropriately. 
~Be polite and respectful.
~Sincerity and empathy are paramount.
~Competent counseling is based on building trust.
~Make each session friendly, casual, and encouraging.
~Bring a positive attitude into the session.
~Be cheerful and make pleasant conversation.
~Accentuate the positive.
~Maximize your time.
~Don’t allow the counselee to set the entire agenda.
~Point out dysfunctional behaviors with empathy.
~Be mindful that you will not receive full disclosure.
~Try to determine how the person feels, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
~Never express shock or comment on a counselee’s appearance, aroma, remarks, or attitudes.

PREMARITAL AND MARITAL:

~Encourage unmarried couples to date as long as possible prior to their engagement.
~On line dating is on the increase. This frequently results in unrealistic expectations and disappointment.
~Even if engaged couples have had several on line pre-marital sessions, insist on three live sessions before you perform the ceremony.
~Avoid individualized marital counseling. Both husband and wife should be present.
~Do not be manipulated into “taking sides.”

COMMUNICATION:

~Demonstrate respect for the counselee’s “space.”
~Avoid hugging unless the counselee initiates it.
~Be aware of what your body language conveys.
~Neither sit too close for comfort nor to distant to communicate warmth.
~Know your Bible in order to provide Scriptural examples and solutions.
~Be on guard against giving unethical advice.
~Agree as much as possible. Disagree as little as possible.
~Never ramble. You are there to listen.
~“Be quick to listen and slow to speak”  (James 1:19).
~Establish “rapport” rather than giving a “report.”
~Avoid being judgmental.
~Gently guide the counselee to assume responsibility, as necessary, for helping to solve the issue.
~Probe carefully the heart of the counselee.
~Ask clarifying questions rather than giving advice.
~Solicit feedback.
~Don’t try to fix everything in their life.
~ “I know how you feel” is not appropriate phraseology.
~Never say, “Everything will turn out for the best.”
~The counselor is not an interrogator.
~Do not become defensive.
~Laughing or talking loudly is just rude.
~Eliminate condescension.
~Don’t get “preachy.”
~The counseling office is never an appropriate atmosphere for a theological debate.
~Avoid aggravating their situation.
~Avoid topics that may upset the counselee.
~Realize they have lost some sense of control in their life because of their problem.
~Their current situation may only be the tip of the iceberg regarding their real issues.
~“Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mt. 10:16).
~Listen carefully and give your undivided attention.
~Listen without feeling you must respond.
~Take notes.
~Do not fear their silence or their tears.
~Focus on what they need from the session.
~Allow the counselee to control the conversation to some degree without compromising your goals.
~Try to view things from their perspective.
~Ask what causes this person the most stress.
~Inquire what gives them the strength to cope with their situation.
~If the counselee is married, attempt to discover how the issue has affected their spouse.
~It is appropriate at some point to ask if their problem has caused them to reevaluate their spiritual life.

CLOSING A SESSION: THE ENDGAME

~Know when to wrap things up.
~Watch for nonverbal cues that it is time to close.
~Frequently checking the time always sends a negative message.
~Observe their body language to determine if the counselee is uncomfortable or showing signs of irritability.
~If the counselee becomes argumentative, wind down the session tactfully, but as soon as feasible.
~Better to shorten any session than lengthen it.
~Even if the person wants to stay longer, it may not be wise to do so.
~Paraphrase what they have told you for clarification.
~Be willing to be corrected.
~Summarize to determine if your listening was accurate.
~At some point, inquire about their personal relationship with Jesus.
~Never assume they want to pray. Ask permission.
~If the counselee desires prayer, ask what he/she would like you to pray about.
~Pray for God’s solution to their problem.
~Affirm your continued prayer support.
~Never assure them God will solve their problems quickly.
~Do not make promises or give false hope.
~Make no impromptu “guarantees” regarding solutions.
~Remember that ultimately it is their obedience to God and His Word that brings positive results.
~Make goals realistic and attainable.
~Ask if they would like to return.
~If a future session is agreed upon, schedule it and make a copy for yourself and the counselee.
~Clarify expectations for any future sessions.
~Make your sessions pleasant and memorable.
~Mention how enjoyable visiting with them was.
~Follow up is always appropriate.


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