Counseling Those with Medical Illness
By Pastor Scott Roberts
Your friend was just diagnosed with cancer Your spouse has taken ill and will not be well again for some time Your child was admitted to the hospital for appendicitis. What does counseling look like in these situations?
The truth is that all of us will undergo physical pain and suffering at some time in our lives and depending on the extent of the illness or its timing, we may need to seek counseling to work through the issues that medical illness presents. In a like manner, we may find that people seek us out to help them work through their issues. When that happens, our goal must be to extend compassion, comfort, encouragement and a plan to help those in need to face their trial in a way that honors God.
We should seek to understand the extent of the hardship that those facing medical illness are experiencing. Sometimes it will be the struggle of living with short or long-term pain. At other times the illness may create financial strain, relational struggles, and/or emotional distress. All of these are real and it is important that we do not minimize the struggles that a person or family are sensing. We need to seek to understand their pain and to love them through it. Furthermore, they need to know that God has a plan and He is still in control in the midst of their struggle.
Practically this means allowing a person to talk and learning to listen patiently and insightfully. One may need to ask probing questions, like ‘How is this affecting your financial situation?’ or ‘Is your employer understanding?’ or ‘How is this affecting your lifestyle?’ or ‘Are there side effects to the treatment? How are you doing with them?’
As we listen, one temptation is to offer our own insight into the medical diagnosis. We must resist the temptation to give medical advice or diagnosis and instead accept the medical prognosis while helping the person to see how God is working in and through the situation. Maybe a question like “God could have prevented your illness. Why do you think he didn’t?” will help the individual to refocus upon God to receive whatever he wishes to impart through this trial.
As we listen, it will become clear where the person needs hope. We must give it. People need to know that victory exists even when pain and suffering can’t be relieved (2Cor 12:10). They need to be reminded of God’s promises to his children and his good plans (Jn 14:18, Jer 29:11). People also need to use the biblical terminology of their situation. Are they fearful or worried? Don’t let them use words like concerned or apprehensive. By using biblical terminology, we can help people to cast their eyes back upon the Lord. Furthermore, we don’t downplay a tendency that modern people have developed: the minimizing of sin.
We want to encourage people to remain faithful, even in their struggles and pain (2Cor 12:8-10). We want them to find peace (Phil 4:7). We want them to seek to have the glory of God expressed in their lives (1Cor. 10:31). These are a few thoughts on helping you to counsel those undergoing short and long term medical trials.