Holding hope as Christian Counselors

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” —Jeremiah 29:11

Recently I came across an article that was chosen by professors at a secular university here in Canada to share with our students. It was an article on how we as counsellors should hold hope for our clients, and how we need to share that hope for our clients with them so that they can have hope in their lives. I found the article interesting: what the author was saying is very true, but I also noticed that the kind of hope talked about in the article was a temporary kind of hope, devoid of power. It is clear to me that as Christian counsellors, we have a much more firm foundation of hope to share with our clients. Even though what the secular writer was true and noteworthy, they could not communicate the incredible power of the Christian hope that we as believers can share with our clients.

Before I get into discussing this great Christian hope, I do want to talk briefly about the helpful research done by secular counsellors. The research on the concept of hope in counselling is quite fascinating: simply stated, when counsellors believe that there is hope for the client, even in the darkest times of need, the client has been shown to have the best outcome in their lives. This is true, regardless of the situation being counselled about (whether addictions, trauma, depression, anxiety, abusive relationships, educational problems, or other issues), or kinds of counselling. What has been found as most important for counselling to work well is a sense of hope: that the counsellor promotes what is called 'self-efficacy' in the client (or, the belief that the client can meet their challenges). What this means for us as counsellors is that when we meet with clients, we need to enter into the counselling room as people who will have faith that the client will resolve whatever the issue is. It cannot be a fake hope, but a true one! Sometimes this might be hard, as sometimes clients' situations are so bleak that we really don't have an answer for their situation.

I am currently counselling a 40 year old woman who has a horrific abusive past, an active eating disorder, and she is also currently dying from cancer. Clearly, I can't just manufacture a fake hope that 'Everything is going to be alright' when she is most certainly facing a shortened lifespan. However, I CAN hold hope for her that she will be able to meet her challenges with courage and resilience, and find happiness during this painful time. And, indeed, I can also hold hope for her that she can make the world a better place. I believe that my hope for her has helped to translate to her seeking out ways to contribute to the world, through speaking out about mental health to encourage others, and through her writing, which is reaching many other people who are struggling with discouragement or depression.

As counsellors, it is imperative that we hold a realistic hope for our clients: a true, sincere hope that they can reach their goals. This power of hope has been shown across many academic studies, and it gives us great hope that as counsellors we can be effective as long as we shine that light of hope onto our client's situations. Now, of course, as Christians, the word Hope holds a great deal more importance and power than the secular counselling world, however well-meaning our non-Christian colleagues might be.

As Christians, we have a great hope that God can provide strength, faith, resilience and wisdom for today, enabling people to meet incredibly difficult circumstances with His grace and mercy. And, of course, once we have put our faith in Him, we have the tremendous hope of having our sins forgiven, living in communion with the Holy Spirit, and the hope of eternity with Jesus! This hope is something we cannot neglect in our counselling: indeed for the people we meet with, Jesus is the only true hope for their lives. Sharing the hope of a future in heaven and the hope of a current deep walk with the Lord will pay eternal dividends for our clients. Now, if you're like me, many of your clients may not be Christians, and may not be interested in hearing the Gospel as you present it. It takes wisdom and listening to the Holy Spirit to know when to share this hope, but even if the client is not interested in hearing about Jesus, you can pray for them in faith, hoping that Christ has brought them into your path to minister to and love them. Hold the eternal hope for your clients: you might be the only Christian that they really have a chance to open up to, and by hearing the cries of their hearts, you can not only minister lovingly a hope for their future through your kind and understanding presence, but also undertake a ministry of prayer that will break down the barriers so that they can be led to the true eternal hope of a life with Jesus.

After having spent a bit of time with you in November 2018, I hold a firm hope that out of this seminary will emerge incredibly gifted and compassionate counsellors who will serve their clients through sharing this incredible hope we have in Jesus! “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” —Romans 15:13

Brent Diaz works as a trauma counsellor in Canada, supervising other counsellors as well. He teaches on counselling, trauma, and addiction in universities and a seminary, and is also a former youth pastor. He leads a Christian education class with his wife at his church for young adults, and has had the opportunity to teach as a Volunteer in Mission with his church denomination (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) in Korosten, Ukraine, Lithuania, Malawi and Kenya to help equip Christians to better serve people who have experienced trauma and violence. Brent is happily married to Christy, and together they have four children.