In chapter one of Workmen of God, Oswald Chambers has this to say about the work of curing souls (bold emphases mine):
Keep these three things in mind—reliance on the Holy Spirit of God, keeping in contact with people, and above all, keeping in contact with the revelation facts in God’s Book; live amongst them, and ask God how to apply them.
Another thing I want to mention—never believe what people tell you about themselves. There is only one person in a thousand who can actually tell you his or her symptoms; and beware of the people who can tell you where they are spiritually. I mean by that, never be guided by what people tell you; rely on the Spirit of God all the time you are probing them.
Let me read you this in regard to medical treatment—
Recent evidence in the law courts has pointed to a fact which the medical profession holds of great value—the necessity, not only of personal and private interview with a patient, but of the penetrative ability to get at the real facts and symptoms. In other words, successful diagnosis depends on the doctor’s acumen in cross-examination. “Cross-examination of a patient is almost always necessary,” says an eminent medical man. “They will give me causes, or rather what they think are causes, instead of symptoms. The rich patient is more troublesome in this respect than the poor, for he has had leisure in which to evolve a sort of scheme of his illness, based on ‘popular’ medical knowledge.
“Patients always colour facts, speaking absolutely instead of relatively. They never tell the truth about the amount of sleep they have had or as to appetite. They frequently say they have had nothing to eat. Casually you find there were two eggs at least for breakfast. A minute or two later they remember stewed steak for dinner. Perhaps the greatest need for cross-examination is that it gives an extended opportunity to the medical man to examine the patient objectively. The most important symptoms are generally those the patient never notices.”
If that is true in the medical profession which deals with men’s bodies, it is a thousandfold more true about spiritual symptoms when it comes to dealing with a man’s soul. Do beware, then, of paying too much attention to the talk of the one that is in trouble, keep your own heart and mind alert on what God is saying to you; get to the place where you will know when the Holy Spirit brings the word of God to your remembrance for that one.
If you are unacquainted with Chambers, you might think him rather harsh and condescending to those he ministers. To the contrary, he very much cares for the souls he serves. In fact, his next lines are some of my favorite. He confronts those who love to hurl bible texts at others without listening to the Spirit.
So, how might these thoughts from Chambers inform the counselor?
Listen to what is being said, even if not the actual words. It is not hard to hear the heart cry despite being dressed up in words that accuse the self or other for causing the misery presently experienced. Then, consider what the Spirit and the Word have to say to that heart cry (Chambers alludes here to John 14:25). It is a delicate balancing act to listen to our clients describe their dream of a solution to their problems, validate that dream, and yet bring reality into that dream. Sometimes, we are called to help them see how their dream leaves themselves out of the solution? Sometimes, we are called to help them work where they have the power to make changes and let go of those areas where they do not.
So, listen, validate, and yet point to those areas where God is leading the client. Of course, this assumes that the counselor is in touch with the Spirit and not just in touch with their own mind.