Can we talk? Those three words can either make us excited that a student finally trusts us enough to ask, or freaked out because we feel so inadequate to help them. Let’s be honest: not many of us have degrees in counseling, but over and over again we walk with students that need to be heard, healed, or saved, and it all begins with, “can we talk?” We have an open office environment at my church, so I usually meet at Starbucks when I get that question, so here’s my 10 Starbucks counseling basics. They are not all inclusive, and I’m sure you have others… but it’s a start.
Before you meet
1. Pray. Pray before. Pray during. Pray after.
2. Follow the safety guidelines laid out by your church. If you don’t have any, it’s time to create some for the protection of your students and yourself. Our leaders follow these simple rules. Same gender (guys meet with guys and girls meet with girls), public place (my favorite is Starbucks) or at church when others are present, parents are aware of the meeting, and the youth pastor is made aware of the meeting.
3. Set a time frame. A time frame helps the meeting stay on track, keeps you accountable, and gives parents a clear idea of when to pick up their son or daughter. An open-ended meeting can lead to awkward waiting, wasted time, and can leave parents wondering what you’re up to. Your time is valuable and so is theirs.
When you meet
4. Listen. Most students that need to talk will come with a bit of shame; it’s probably why they asked to talk in the first place. How you engage the conversation makes a difference. Students need to know that you won’t judge, that you won’t love them any differently, but you need them to be honest. We show this by listening with no agenda. Listen with love and no judgment; listen without thinking of what you’d answer; listen for what they are not saying and be honest in return.
Many students are just looking to be heard in a world of social media and texting. They want to know that someone cares and they are finding out if that person is you. Be who they need you to be by being fully present, don’t take any phone calls or texts, lean in, and ask good questions.
5. Parents. After you know the issues, it’s time to decide, do parents need to be informed? If so, be honest with the student and let them know that you need to talk with their parents. It may mean going to their parents together. Many times parents already know the issues and are looking for help but as youth workers, we are in a partnership with parents and we need to respect that role. If the issue is with parents, walk carefully making sure the student knows where you stand.
6. Truth. Students need truth. Point them to Jesus. The cutters, the unworthy, the rebellious, the abused, the lonely, and all the other types of hurting are answered in Jesus.
Check your heart
7. Know when you’re over your head. Some students have some serious challenges that require more than a basic understanding of counseling or good questions. It is important to have a solid list of trusted professionals that you can refer families to.
8. You can’t meet with them all. Share the load.
After you meet
9. Remember, God changes hearts. God heals hurts. God brings redemption. Let him work. They are his children, he loves them more than you.
10. Follow Up. Nothing says you care quite like remembering and asking if they have done what they have been given to do. For instance – did they talk to the person they are having a struggle with, did they break up with the boy, or did they sit down and share with their parents.
A resource: If you don’t have it already – Helping the Struggling Adolescent – A Guide to 36 Problems for Counselors, Pastors, and Youth Pastors by Leslie Parrott III is a great tool for walking with students.