Counseling Process

Loving the Manipulative Counselee

Amy Baker
April 9, 2024
5 minute read
Loving the Manipulative Counselee

There are times when a counselor may believe that their counselee is relating to them in a manipulative way, because there is so much going on with each counseling situation that may be hard to determine. However, at times the counselor might conclude that their counselee seems to be trying to control the counseling relationship. Lou Priolo maintains in his booklet “Manipulation” that “manipulation is often an attempt to gain control of another individual or situation by inciting an emotional reaction rather than a biblical response from that individual.” Often that is accomplished through intimidation and involves selfishly attempting to coerce someone to or inhibiting someone from a course of action by making him sense some sort of threat.

Manipulation in Biblical Terms

The scripture most frequently uses one of two terms to describe manipulative situations.  “Fraud/deceit” describe the ways manipulators often conceal important information from the person they are trying to control.  Instead of just coming out and asking for what they want or need, a manipulator often moves inside of relationships in furtive ways to try to get the other person to give them what they want. Motivating others to do something without clearly stating what you need or want does not allow the other person to evaluate what they believe is wise or loving in that case with that need. Additionally, Scripture uses the term “oppressor” to indicate abuses of authority, power, or influence to trample, burden, or crush those lower in station than them.

Reasons for Manipulation in Counseling

I have found several reasons counselees may be willing to manipulate within counseling situations.  Often a counselee is willing to manipulate because they are greedy, jealous/envious, or discontent about something within the counseling relationship.  The counselee may want more of my attention or time.  The counseling progression may not be going their way or focusing on what they want to be the problem.  Other times I have found that laziness or self-love is the motivation behind manipulation.In any situation, manipulation is one of those issues that is hard to understand, because the manipulator’s motives and actions are not clear or transparent, and actions are not always overt.  The manipulated person is often left feeling confused or guilty but not entirely sure why. That is one of the reasons that I encourage an advocate or co-counselor to be involved in counseling cases that involve habitual manipulation or are especially confusing or unclear.  Having a second person making observations or helping to sort through data helps clarify.  I have also found it helpful to be able to talk through cases involving manipulation with a supervisor or counseling team.

Examples of Manipulation

Generally, manipulation involves influencing or deceiving people to serve you or give you what you think you need, expecting others to sacrifice themselves for you, or forcing others to meet your needs or desires.  Manipulative people use their mouths to plead or beg, misquote you to others, or lie.  They play on emotions by crying/sulking/withdrawing, using guilt trips, or making empty promises. They bully or threaten by calling people names and attacking others with constant criticism.

Responding Biblically to Manipulation

Remembering that sin is the enemy in manipulative situations helps you know how to respond when your counselee is relating to you that way.  Proverbs 12:15 and 10:23 help us understand that fools think their own way is right, and that doing wrong is fun.  Scripture helps us understand that manipulation is a foolish way to function within relationships.  Because of that, it’s important to refuse to answer a person who is being foolish with a foolish response.  You’ll need to respond, but don’t respond in kind, or you will be just like him (Proverbs 26:4). Instead answer the foolish arguments as they deserve, so the manipulator does not think his unbiblical means of relating are wise (Proverbs 26:5).  Because it is not wise or loving to allow a manipulative person to continue communicating manipulatively, we need to be willing to cautiously and lovingly speak into those difficult situations, not with accusations but with questions about their decisions and the motives behind them.  It helps to remember that the ultimate goal in relationships is to honor and glorify God by loving and obeying him.  With that motivation, when you are being manipulated it’s important to appeal to the conscience of the manipulative person and remind them to fulfill specific, personal, biblical, responsibilities, using the Bible as the standard of truth by which they will be judged (Manipulation, Priolo).

How to Help

As with all other counseling issues, asking good questions and listening carefully will be important as you begin to sort through motives and actions. It will also be important to truly love the counselee who is manipulating by addressing sin when it comes up even if you are the person being sinned against and continuing to love and serve biblically even when the counselee is doing unloving things to you.  When a counselee lies or misleads, you’ll need to lovingly draw attention to that.  If they misquote you to others you should correct with the truth because truth matters but not simply to protect your reputation. If a counselee begs or pleads, you can teach them to make a request and allow you the time to evaluate whether meeting the request would be wise and loving.  Learning to forsake selfishly motivated interpersonal habits will take time and effort, but the safety of the counseling relationship and setting allows counselees the opportunity to learn to address heart issues within relationships and participate in producing lasting biblical change for the glory of God.For a more in-depth conversation on this topic check out Lou Priolo’s booklet “Manipulation,” or Jocelyn’s teaching in this 2023 BCTC session or Joyful Journey Podcast Episode.

Photo by SHVETS production:

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