Monday, October 19, 2015

What makes good counsel

Counselling has become a big issue in recent years. Indeed it's reached the point where whenever tragedy strikes one of the first things we are assured is that counselors are on the way. Not that's there's anything wrong with that of course. But what bothers me is when I hear that we are expected to counsel people in a value neutral atmosphere. The idea cries out for greater discussion.

So, there are those who suggest that the role of the counselor is to offer value neutral advice to the person being counseled. But that idea is not itself value neutral and thus self contradictory. It can dismissed out of hand as useless to the arena of valuable, helpful counseling. Still, people seek counsel, and often very wisely. Therefore, we must understand what counseling means, so that we can offer good counsel ourselves when and if asked. After all, it is not a realm given solely to the supposed professionals. Often, perhaps generally, family and friends with no actual training in the field can offer the best advice and support.

Counselors, as we understand value neutral counsel, are expected to make recommendations which are in line with the advice seeker's worldview. This must be seen as nonsense. What good can that approach achieve, especially on the rather safe presumption that the counselee already knows what their worldview expects of them. Yet should they not and desire clarification, wouldn't it make more sense for them to go to an adviser of their own stripe? Should not a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, seek a counselor who is Christian, Buddhist, Muslim? Why go to some sort of generic counselor if what you want to hear is best offered by someone of your own stripe?

Indeed, that brings the whole idea of a generic form of counseling itself into question. How could such a counselor possibly be an expert in all areas: Christianity in all of its forms, Buddhism in its, Islam in its, and even secularism in its? Indeed again, what kind of a counselor would they in fact be if they merely told the person before them what they wanted to hear?

There are two basic ways in which we approach counsel. One is that we want to be told what we already believe is true. The other is when we need an objective, impartial observer to show or tell us why, and in no uncertain terms, our current approach to an issue or problem is errant and must be changed or altered. This is because if all we need of a generic counselor is essentially to be told that what we are doing is right based on the options our own worldview already allows, then such a job is superfluous. It must only encourage selfishness and self centeredness within the minds of those seeking counsel.

There is nothing wrong with being a yes man when the boss is right. Yet obviously when he is wrong it displays a complete lack of integrity. A decent and useful counselor must be willing to tell you you're wrong when you are. That must mean making judgments brimming with proper values. It means calling right things right and wrong, wrong. It does not mean that a counselor shouldn't be charitable towards the counselee's feelings nor inconsiderate of their background. But a refusal to call bad ideas bad and good ideas good, to wit, to be value neutral, fails on all levels. It leaves the advice seeker at best in Limbo and at worst in Hell. Meanwhile, it makes the counselor a sort of devil when he should be a friend.

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