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How to Counsel: When A Student Says, “I Need To Talk”

In the last few weeks our students have been opening up quite a bit about personal struggles. I thought I’d share some insights about handling these sensitive of conversations:

For the youth volunteer to know:

  • There are no new sins, only new ways to commit them
  • God is not surprised
  • Struggle is a normal part of owning our decision to be sold out to God
  • Don’t be surprised by anything a student tells you
  • Don’t promise to keep secrets before you hear what they are going to tell you
    • You cannot keep secret about
      • A student being harmed
      • A student who will be harmed
  • Don’t counsel students of the opposite sex one-on-one

For the youth volunteer to communicate before the student shares:

  • Ask, “Are you nervous about sharing?”
  • Say, “There’s nothing you could share that will make me or God…
    • …think less of you.”
    • …hate you.”
    • “We’re here for you.”

Allow the student to share and ask follow-up questions

After the student shares:

  • Affirm him for opening up
  • Reassure him that
    • You are not surprised by what was shared
    • You are here to help him go down the right path
  • Come up with action steps and an accountability plan to help the student go down the right path
  • Plan for follow-up conversations to check progress
  • Pray for the student
  • Assure the student that the problem will not be fixed during the course of one conversation
    • Health takes breaking habits and starting new ones
    • Health requires forgiving others/asking for forgiveness
    • Health won’t happen without God’s intervention… and he wants to intervene in a loving way


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Dennis Beckner has served in youth ministry leadership for Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA since 1999. Dennis is a contributor and speaker to youth training events, writing projects and other engagements. Contact him at his blog, VolunteerYouthMinistry.com.