Ten Common Masks People Wear When Coming for Counseling (But Don’t Usually Know It)

In recent months, I’ve been reviewing my well-worn copy of Paul Tripp’s classic counseling training and one-anothering book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Reading and re-reading certain chapters and underlined portions has been challenging and reaffirming, as I seek ongoing growth as a biblical pastor who counsels his flock.

One particular section that stood out to me, which I want to draw your attention to is Appendix 1, “Opening Blind Eyes.” In this appendix, Tripp states:

Because sin is deceitful and fallen people are so naturally blind to issues of self, data gathering must always pursue two goals. First the process must give the counselor the information needed to provide wise biblical counseling. But an even more fundamental purpose is that we would be the Messiah’s instruments to open eyes that have been blind for too long.

Spiritual blindness is different from physical blindness in this way: “A fundamental part of being spiritually blind is that you are blind to your blindness.” Tripp then goes on the describe ten of the typical masks that spiritual blindness wears.

  • The Mask of an Accurate Sense of Self: “The counselee is unaware that he has a distorted sense of self. He has the Word of God, but he has used it more as an encyclopedia of religious thought or a devotional tool. Even when listening to the Word preached, he will miss the revelation of self that is there. He hears stories or principles expounded but does not see himself mirrored in the passages.”
  • The Mask of Being Sinned Against: “There is no more powerful metaphor to describe how spiritual blindness masquerades as a sense of being sinned against than the ‘plank and speck’ metaphor of Matthew 7. Imagine a person literally obsessed with a piece of dust in another’s eye while walking around with a plank jutting out of his own! He is gripped by a sense of being sinned against, not of being a sinner. Thus, to him, the change that is needed is change outside himself.”
  • The Mask of Trials and Testing: “Since most of our counselees do not have a harvest mentality, they tend to look at the things they harvest not as the result of their planting, but as the painful trials they do not deserve. Also, because sinners tend to exchange worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of the created thing (see Rom. 1:25), they tend to miss the good things that the Creator is doing in a situation.
  • The Mask of Needs: “If you really want to understand what is important to a person, find out where he feels needy. Values become desires, desires become demands, and demands get expressed in counseling as ‘needs.'”
  • The Mask of Wise Counsel: Most counselees have many voices they are listening to. “Proverbs says that the fool has ‘no desire to get wisdom’ (Prov. 17:16).
  • The Mask of Personal Insight: “Spiritual blindness can even masquerade as wisdom! To be intellectually bright and actively analytical does not necessarily mean that you are wise. True wisdom begins with humility, the recognition that I do not have in myself all that I need. I need to be a seeker after the truth that is found only in God’s Word. Real insight does not result from being analytical but from being biblical.”
  • The Mask of a Sense of Values: “Counselees often do not recognize their blindness because it is masked by a passionate sense of right and wrong. The angry man who has hurt his family for years with his violent responses sees only what he has lost by being separated from them….A wife’s focus is on the coldness and distance of her husband. She wants the counselor to turn him into a man who cherishes her, yet she is blind to the constant stream of criticism that has driven him away.”
  • The Mask of Theological Knowledge: Counselees may have a lot of knowledge of Scripture and use many theological terms. However, this can lead to a false confidence that they rightly interpret life. What they need is a insightful people (biblical counselors) who “are insightful not because they have the right answers but because they have the right questions.” They need someone to ask questions that reveal the heart.
  • The Mask of Personal Holiness: Like a Pharisee, counselees easily reduce God’s law to doable human standards, they emphasize behavioral standards that make no demands on the heart. “Perhaps this is the epicenter of spiritual blindness. At its core, to be spiritually blind means to think you are righteous when really you are not. This makes the grace of God and the obligation to change non-issues. If I am righteous (so I think), I do not need Christ and I do not need to change.”
  • The Mask of Repentance: “Many of those we counsel tend to see the talking they do as confession and their staying in the counseling process as repentance….The counselees see themselves as repentant, but in reality there are times when counseling becomes a way to avoid working on the issues on God’s agenda.”

Tripp ends his appendix with this admonition: “It is vital to remember the profound effect that spiritual blindness has on every sinner and his view of life. Our data gathering needs to be motivated by the counselee’s need to see….We commit ourselves to be God’s means of opening blind eyes and to see this as a necessary data-gathering function.

If you’ve not read Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands then you really should. If it’s been many years since you did, then I encourage you to spend time reviewing some of it’s key lessons.

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