Counseling by Women for Women

Report on an one-week womens seminar on counseling in the church context (Erer-Bole Parish): „Counseling by women for women“
January 8 – 12, 2018 at Kotobe Congregation, Addis Ababa
1. Introduction

Two years ago I have been conducting a similar seminar for women in leading positions in the Mekane Yesus Church. That seminar was organised by the Womens Department of the Mekane Yesus Church (EECMY) in coopetration with the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD).

This time the focus was on parish level. The participating women have been sent each from one of the eleven congregations of Erer-Bole-Parish. In this way the seminar had eleven participants plus sisiter Abebech and me as instructors. Just recently the Erer-Bole -Parish has been established. The seat of this new parish is EECMY Kotobe Congregation. The coordinator of the seminar has been Rev. Arfasa, who is responsible for parish work. Sister Tadelech is the new director The EECMY central office/ womens department. She adviced Sister Abebech to conduct the seminar together with me. Sister Abebech has been participating in the seminar which I conducted two years ago. The understanding is that in the future Sister Abebech is supposed to be a cordinator and instructor for (women) seminars with the focus on counseling. Also the office of the Central Ethiopian Synod had been informed. The Synod President, Kes Abraham and the director of the synod´s womens´desk, Sister Aster have been invited for evaluation and certification at the end of the seminar. Sister Tadelech joined in conducting during the first day of the seminar. She also took part in the evaluation and certification of the seminar.

2. The every-day schedule

Beginning at 8:30, devotion, warming-up exercises, 2 lessons (90 minutes) in the morning and 2 lessons in the afternoon. Lunch was provided by Kotobe

Congregation as well as coffee and tea during the breaks. We have been working on several case studies which were provided by the partcipants.

The structure was like this:

– presentation of the case
– clarification for better understanding of the case
– (duo/trio: two or three participants discussing the problem as they see ist
– diagnosis of the problem
– role-play/ role change between counselor and counselee
– on-job counseling training of several participants who exercised their counseling skílls in regard to the case
-. evaluation and learnings

During the morning of the last day of the seminar we had time for reflection and evaluation. And in the afternoon a wonderful certification ceremony took place in the church of Kotobe Congregation.

3. Learnings

Everyday we collected quite a number of „learnings“ . We wrote them down on a flip chart.
Thus the first small „textbook“ ion counseling n Oromifa can be provided for the participants. Examples for „Learnings“:

– Counseling is like acting as a midwife: A midwife as well as a counselor is helping to accomplish a new
life perspective
– Counseling is like this: One beggar is showing another beggar were food is available
– Both counselors and counselees are children of God – not less and not more, As cildren of God and human beings they are on equal level.

4. Exercises in awareness and communication

Duos: Two participants looking at each other and while doing this being aware of what they see (recognition/ eyes), think/associate (mind), feel (heart)

– While encountering another person many dynamics are happening. A competent counselor is always aware of this.
– He or she is in touch with his or her own thoughts, assumptions, association and feelings.
– At the same time she or he is aware of what the counselee is saying and how she or he is expressing it.
– She or he is aware of the facial expression, gestures and the emotions shown by the counselee. – The counselor is „reading“ the counselee – and not only the apparant words but also the „hidden messages and emotions“ behind/ beyond/ underneath the words.

5. The informative and the emotional communication level:

Communication (especially in relationship dynamics ) is often taking places on two different, however parallel levels: „rational/ informative messages are being sent as well as „emotional messages“ underneath the rational messages. ( I am saying one thing, but also transporting hidden emotional messages. I am hearing one thing but also emotions are coming up while listening to what the other person is telling me.). I have the choice on which of the two levels of communication I am answering on the message which I received.

6. Steps in Counseling

(1) Try to always be open for the counselee as person and be aware of the counselees words, gestures and emotions

(2) Try to be self-critical (Am I the best counselor available for the counselee? Do I feel strong enough to do the counseling in this moment? Am I feeling sympathy with the counselee in a sufficient way? Do I feel close to the counselee and distant as well in a reasonable way? Is this the right time for counseling? Is this a good place for counseling?

(3) Do not forget (silent) prayer, asking God for encouragement both for yourself and the counselee.
If it fits into the situation: start the counseling together with the counselee with prayer.

(4) Be aware of the „body-language“ of the counselee. (How is she or he dressed? How is she or he looking at me? What kind of „message“ is his body sending me?

(5) Listen carefully to what the counselee is sharing with you.

(6) Always be sure that you are feeling empathy with the counselee in a sufficient way.

(7) Follow the counselee: the counselee is „leading“ in your encountering one another. Follow ihis or her speed. Do not push the the counselee.

(8) Do not hesitate to just repeating the words the counselee is saying. However, also try to give an „answer“ on the messages which the counseling is sending on the emotional (!) level.

(9) Make sure that you are really understanding the counselee. You may (and you better should) ask the counselee if you are not sure that you did understand him or her right. (This is to avoid misunderstanding).

(10) Do not ask a whole bunch of „informative questions“. Usually this is not necessary , and quite often the counselee will answer the question you had in mind a little bit later by himself – even without being asked by the counselor.

(11) Always make sure to whom answers on questions are good: for the counselee – or for the counselor. Be aware that the counselor is not the person in need (not even in need of answers on questions he or she rised!).

(12) Always make sure that you are continously communicating with the counselee on a good and trustful emotional level.

(13) Give comfort to the counselee in the right time: not too early and not too late.

(14) Encourage the counselee at the right time – (not too early and not too late).

(15) Do not hesitate to refering to biblical texts – especially if the client is familiar with the bibel and if he is open to hear the word of God and do not hesitate to pray with the client – especially at the end of the counseling session. However, make sure that the client is open for prayer.

(16) If reasonable make another appointment with the counselee.

(17) Seek the help and guidance of the Lord when praying at home – on behalf of the counselee – and also on behalf of yourself.


7. What you should better avoid in counseling

(1) generalising the counselees problem.
When doing this I am minimising the problem of the counselee

(2) dogmatising
This is not the situation for preaching and teaching!

(3) being judgemental
You are not in the role of a judge . Rather try to be tolerant and open for the counselee

(4) moralising
Remember the word of Jesus: The one who is without sin may throw the first stone!

(5) equalising
Always be aware that the situation and the problem of the counselee is unique and cannot easily be compared
with the sitaution and problem of other persons.

(6) giving (cheap) advice
Rather listen and be compssionate than advice.
Advice is often given when the counselor is no longer able (or willing) to keep being with the counselee.
Giving advice is often a sign of being impatient and not being able to really understand the counselee and not being able to feel with him or her.
Advice is often given when the counselor himself or herself feels helpless and „weak“. Therefore he or she often prefers to show that he „strong“ when choosing the position of an „advisor“.
Be aware, that giving advice often puts the counselee down – and makes the counselor great.
Keep being a humble, careful listening and loving counselor who is willing to serve the other person.

(7) dominating
You are in the position of serving the person in need:. Therefore you should not know better than he or she knows.
It is God´s grace that you are not in trouble in this period of time. Therefore aou are not the master or teacher of the other person!
Be aware that it is a privilege to be asked for counseling. Do not missuse this privilege.

(8) pushing the counseling process
Instead take your time on behalf of the counselee.

(9) pushing for a solution
Before starting a process or ritual of reconsiliation it is necessary in the fisrt hand to understand the problem
of the counselee.
It is better to listen carefully , to feel empathetrically , to understand mercifully and to keep being confident and loving. Avoid pushing yourself to find a solution on behalf of the client (or sometimes even on behalf of yourself).

(10) losing hope
Be confident that the counselee will find one way or another rid of his or her problems – if not now, probably later on.

(11) taking sides also for another person
Stick to the counselee. Be aware that counseling is different from the traditional Gadda-reconsiliation techniques. Counseling i is a person-to-person process.

(12) Tust in God´s love, mercy and grace.

8. Traditional counseling and the humanistic approache in counseling

On different occasions of the group process we have been discussing the differences between the traditional Gadda-related consiliation-trechniques and modern (western) counseling which is related to the humanistic person-to-person approach The Gadda-related understanding is not only counseling one individual person or a couple rather than the whole „system“. The humanistic-related approach is focusing on the individual person or a couple ( f.i. marriage counseling).

Both of the two approaches are having advantages and disadvatages. In the western society quite many counselors and psychotherapists have becomein favor of counseling the (family) system rather than only the individual person. The big cities in African countries like Adiis Ababa are experiencing a fast changing towards an „urban society“ – including the promises and challenges.

Probably individual counseling will become more important In the social context of an urban society, as many individuals are separated from their families and common and supporting environment. These left-alone individuals are a target-group of the church. Furthermore many young people have become „un-believers. They are no longer familiar with biblical terms and christian belief. Also this group of young „non-believers“ is a target-group of the church. Maybe these young people would prefer an individual and „humanistic“ counseling approach rather than the traditional approach of counseling.

The church should be aware of this. And therfore start to implement the training of counselors who are appreciative to the cultural background but aware of the dynamics and challenges of an urban society.

9. The role of women in counseling

We also have been discussing the political and cultural issue of a male-dominated and patriarchal society.
There will be no fast change in regard to the deep rooted self-regard and understanding of this kind of society and cultural which often has turned out to be a disadvantage for the women and only an advantage for the males and elders. Many young people and especially many young women do not accept these injust differences any longer – especially when they are well educated and familiar with urban life in global perspective.

Most likely these young women will push the society into the direction of a fundamantal change. They need a lot of support. Also from the church. Many times the churches are still in favor of the „old thinking“. Therefore also in the churches women will be the ones who will push the transission from Old to New.

„By nature“ women are already having counseling skills: as mothers they are nurtering and feeding their children. They are comforting and ancouraging their children. They enjoy when recognizing how their children are growing up and become self-reliable, independent persons who are able to cope with the challenges of life.

This is also true in the counseling process when the counselor takes recognition of the counselee, supporting and comforting him. Also counseling is aiming at to encourage a person to be able to help himself or herself. Also the counselor will rejoice and will be grateful if the counselee finally succeeds to leave the problems and troubles behind himself or herself.

10.  A new idea has come up: Women are counseling women!

We also discussed how to manage a counseling process „women are counseling women“ in our congregations. We came up with the idea, that traditions should be kept on the one hand, but changes should be encouraged. For example: A woman who is in trouble because of marriage problems will go and ask the the pastor for help and advice. The pastor will listen to the woman for a while and together they will pray. Different from the common counseling process the pastor will recommend thewoman to get into touch with an educated, skilled and competent woman-counselor in the parish.

This woman-counselor will take over the counseling process. At the end of this process she will send the counselee to the pastor of her congregation. She will share with him what she could achieve in the counseling process. Together they will pray and the pastor might give his blessing.

It is imported, however, not to exclude the husband of that woman. The pastor may contact her husband and talk with him or recommend to get into contact with a trained and competent male-counselor at the same time. iDuring or at the end of the respective counseling processes both counselors may suggest to offer marriage counseling: a female and a male counselor will offer their skills and competence to the benefit ofthe couple. In this way they are serving the couple. The pastor will give his blessing when the counseling process hascome to an end.

11.  Reflection

This short-term seminar on „Counseling by Women for Women“ has been a wonderful success. I want to give thanks to the participants who have shown great interest, engagement and trust in a most impressive way. I also want to give thanks to my two colleagues sister Tadalech and sister Abebech from the womens desk of the Central Office. You have been helping to implement the seminar and you have shown to the participants how important it is to especially support women to do the counseling work in the church. You have given a good example!

I also want to give thanks to Rev. Afarsa and Rev. Soboka who have managed that this seminar could be accomplished. I also want to give thanks to the elders of Kotobe Congregation and to all people who have been helping to make this seminar a success and a wonderful experience.

12.  Future perspectives and proposals

Some days after the end of the seminar I have been visiting sister Tadelech and sister Abebech at the womens desk of the Central Office as well as the president of the Central Ethiopian Synod and, Kes Abraham and sister Aster from the synod womens desk. In terms of future planning we agreed in having a similar kind of seminar in a years time organised by another urban parish of Addis Ababa.

It has turned out once again that the translation from English to Oromifa and vice versa is a challenge. (Although it was an advantage in this seminar that all participants were able to understand and speak Oromifa. There was no need to also translate into Amharina). The matter of translation is crucial. In order to conduct a professional seminar a skilled professional interpreter is needed. He should be payed and his fee should be recognized in the budget of the seminar.

In terms of a mutual understanding of ecumenical partnership the respective parish and the congregations should share the expenses:of the seminar – especially in terms of transportation and food. The room should be provided without cost. The participants are not supposed to stay overnight at the place where the seminar is being conducted. Rather than they should stay overnight at home.

I very much appreciated that both sister Tadelech and sister Abebech from the Central Office engaged themselves in a wonderful way. Independend from this engagement I have experienced that it has been almost too much of a challenge for me to conduct the seminar mainly by myself. It needs more than short-terms trainings to conduct these kind of seminars It needs a long-term education in pastoral care and counseling. So far the Mekane Yesus Church cannot provide instructors who are trained in a sufficient way.

I felt rather exhausted at the end of the semninar. Mainly it was not because of what has been happening during the teaching process rather than because I did not have a person with whom I really could share my feelings and observations in terms of the group process. A person with whom I could reflect the process and discuss the next steps.

Therefore I suggest that the next seminar should be conducted by two trainers from Germany. In this case Sister Abebech would be in the role of a trainer being trained in order to conduct these kinds of seminars in the future. This would be different from the role of the other participants: The participants are supposed to do counseling in the parish.

Addis Ababa, 17 January, 2018

Kurt J. Schmidt

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