For the Pastoral, Lay, or Peer Counselors
Plans fail for lack of counsel,but with
many advisers they succeed. (Prov. 15:22)
We are called to come along side of one another. Counseling is one of the ways to do that. God will use us to help others succeed in their way, to walk according to His ways. Let us remember, however, that the ultimate counselor in a person's life is the Spirit of God (Jn. 14:16, 26).
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What approach, or technique, should be used in Christian counseling?
There are two poles in counseling methodology used by Christians:
Directive: The counselor basically tells or advises the person about what to do. The counselor assumes more of a dominant role using the Word of God as the source of authority. Confrontation, challenge, and admonishment tend to characterize this approach.
Non-Directive: The counselor guides the counselee in coming up with his/her own solutions to problems by reflecting on what the counselee says and feels. The counselor is more of a facilitator than an initiator. For this reason it has been called a client-centered approach. Encouragement, support, and empathy characterize this approach.
Which approach is best? -- Taken to their extremes, the directive approach can be judgmental and too assuming and the non-directive approach can be humanistic and existential. While each model has its limitations, they both can contribute greatly to the counseling setting.
Balance may be the better approach wherein the counselor does not get locked into one style. Care must be taken not to fall into a cookie-cutter approach. View each person as an individual and each situation as unique. What may be needed to help one person may be useless or even harmful for the next person.
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle (directive), encourage the timid (non-directive), help the weak (mostly non-directive), be patient with everyone. (1 Thess. 5:14)
The Apostle Paul had an interactive balance in how he related to the people with whom he ministered. He dealt with them both as would a father (1 Thess. 2:11) and a mother (1 Thess. 2:7). There were times he confronted and times he comforted. His ultimate goal was that they live worthy of God (1 Thess. 2:10-12). He met people where they were in order to take them to where they ought to be (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Jesus also used both approaches. With those who were hard-hearted and rebellious, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, He was very directive (Matt. 15:1-20). With other people he often used questions to draw them out and show them what was in their heart (Jn. 4:1-26).
Biblical commands vary:
- exhort/encourage - parakaleo: 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- warn/confront - noutheteo: Colossians 3:16
- comfort/cheer-up - parmutheomai: 1 Thessalonians 5:14
Counselors need to develop a sensitivity to where the counselee is and use the approach that best fits the need of the moment. Timing is very important. Readiness on the part of the counselee is essential for him to hear what you say. You may sometimes start non-directive and move into directive. If the person is cooperative, responsible, and desirous of moving forward, you may never need to be directive.
If people are going to be truly helped, they must get to the point of deciding on a course of action. The question for the counselor is how to move them to action and when. That may vary from person to person. The deeper the problem, the more layers there may be to peel.
First the problem must be identified. Initially the counselor may spend a lot of time listening to the person talk. Then as the problem is identified, it needs to be clarified to gain insights on how it affects their attitudes, thinking, and behavior.
When the root is exposed, the course of action usually becomes obvious. It is time to develop a plan. The more involved the counselee is in determining the steps to be taken, the greater the potential will be for him/her to actually move on it.
By the end of each session there should be something, even if it is a very small step, that the counselee can do to begin affecting change in his/her life. Perhaps it will be to increase understanding of an issue by reading a pertinent book or article or by studying a Scripture passage. Perhaps it will be to start making amends in broken relationships. Perhaps it will be to list pros and cons for a decision that must be made. Assignments should be practical and on target with the person's needs. The intent is to help the counselee move forward.
To be most effective, the counselor must follow-up, holding the counselee accountable to have taken the steps. Incorporate a time of feedback into the next session to discuss the results of the assignment.
What do you do if a counselee doesn't take the steps required to move forward?
The counselor must identify what is blocking the person from doing so. These issues must be resolved before you are able to go on. Common blockages are:
- need motivation: When a certain behavior is perceived to be meeting a need, it is difficult to let go. People usually do not hold on unless they are getting something out of it. Why do abused women keep going back into an abusive situation? What they fear they will lose surpasses what they must put up with. The counselor must work with the counselee to understand a better source for having the need met .... in Christ.
- faulty thinking: Behavior may be built on a false premise. The superstructure may make sense so it becomes hard for the person to see things differently. But, their belief system was built on the wrong foundation. People sometimes believe lies they were told as a child or that came out of a traumatic experience. Some will believe their worth is based on performance. Some will believe they are no longer useful to God because of what has happened to them.
The lies must be identified and taken captive in Christ. Erroneous thinking must be changed to biblical thinking. Help the counselee identify the lie and replace it with truth.
- spiritual issue: Perhaps the counselee is not a believer and therefore does not have the Spirit of God within to empower him to change. Perhaps the counselee is a believer but is hardened to God. The person may be angry with God for hurts he experienced. Guilt may be overtaking him for sin he has committed and he is unable to understand God's forgiveness. Perhaps the person's view of God is too small and therefore he finds it hard to trust Him explicitly. The counselor must help the counselee understand how great God is and the role of grace not just for salvation but also for daily living. Titus 2:11 says, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age."