Language is very important in counseling. Of course, God created language and he uses it all the time. He used it to create the universe. He used it to visit us in history. He used it to communicate with us to help us in our infirmity. We use it to communicate with one another. Involving people in the communication, thus language of God, is one of the goals of counseling. Consequently, language is very important in the counseling process.
Language is a two-way vehicle. It communicates information from one person to another. It can also be thought of in the opposite direction, it is the means by which one person receives information from another. It is very important for the counselor to keep both directions in mind when he interacts with the counselee.
When the counselor talks, he needs to keep in mind the frame of his counselee. If the person is a small child, he needs to use words that represent the notion he is trying to get across in a way the child can understand. The same is true if the counselor is another ethnicity, education level, social level, or from another country. Even Christians from different denominations use different language to describe the same things. One Christian may say he is “being led by the Spirit.” Another might say that he is “walking with God.” Both mean the same thing. Part of the data gathering the counselor needs to do is related to understanding the language the counselee is using and how to use language that the counselee will understand.
At the same time the counselor needs to be precise and careful about what he says. He needs to be careful about using euphemisms and slang.
He also needs to be careful and watchful about the words the counselee uses. If the counselee mentions tension, does he mean tension like that of a rope? Or is he saying that he doesn’t get along with someone? If he says he can’t do something, does he mean that he literally can’t or that he has decided he simply doesn’t want to? Or does he mean that he won’t do the thing?
Another area where language can be a problem is when it is exaggerated or used in an extreme way. For example, a counselee may say that her husband is always nagging at her. Or he may say that she never says she’s sorry. The reality may be very different.
Sometimes counselees may use these kinds of words because that’s the way they normally talk. But if they are actually listening to themselves, it could be a hindrance to their progress in sanctification. While this may be the way they talk, it is also a subtle or not so subtle form of lying. If her husband does nag her on occasion, but promptly apologizes afterward and asks her for forgiveness, she is lying when she says he always nags her.
For more on this see The Christian Counselor’s Manual, p. 103ff. and Competent to Counsel, p. 102ff.