BASIC COUNSELING STRATEGIES
The strategies of a biblical counselor are based on the Word of God. Here are some basics to guide your counseling ministry.
Start every session with prayer. This establishes that the interchange is not just to be a discussion of various options or opinions on an issue. Express your reliance upon the power of God, and expect that power to be manifested as you counsel. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, because what you see or hear on the surface may not be the real problem. Ask for divine revelation of the true issues that need to be addressed.
Ask questions. Jesus did this–not because He didn’t know the answer–but to help a person seeking help to clarify their need.
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. (Luke 18:40-43)
If the counselee tends to ramble, questions will help them refocus on the subject of concern. Ask the person to state a problem clearly: “My problem is…..” Restate the problem in a manner that you and the counselee can agree on, such as: “As I understand it, you are saying that your problem is…..”
Stop, look, and listen. Jesus modeled this when He took time to stop and listen to the cries of desperate people, and to look beyond the surface appearances to identify their true needs. Sometimes, all that someone needs is a person to listen to them, rather than to dispense advice (Job 31:35). Do not judge, criticize, or condemn. Just listen. You do not have to fill a void of silence if one occurs. Allow times of silence in order for the counselee to think and for the Holy Spirit to provide direction. Don’t interrupt, rather hear them out (Proverbs 18:13). Pay attention to how they express the facts and their feelings. Sometimes a counselee will actually talk themselves into their own biblical solution!
Deal with root causes. As you have learned in this introductory section, it is vital that root causes be identified and dealt with. For example, a man may appear to be concerned about his marriage, but his appearance may indicate that he has been drinking heavily. His root problem may not be his marriage, but rather his addiction to alcohol.
Dealing with the root problem of sin is a priority. When a bedridden man was brought to Jesus for healing, the Lord perceived that his sin was the priority rather than his physical condition:
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)
Jesus dealt with the sin problem first, then He healed the paralytic man.
When Jesus asked the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to be healed, his answer was not a resounding “Yes!” Instead he said, “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (John 5:7). This man was so busy complaining and feeling sorry for himself that he didn’t realize who was standing right there before him. He was looking for a person to help him, rather than looking to God. After Jesus healed this lame man, He told him, “… See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Not all infirmity is caused by personal sin (John 9:3), but apparently this man’s disability was a result of his sin.
Identify the problems. Through prayer, attentive listening, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit clarify the issues troubling the counselee.
Ask what the person has done to try to solve their problem. If the methods are unscriptural, point out that there is no need to try these methods again since they did not work. Direct them towards biblical solutions. If they have tried biblical solutions and given up, emphasize the importance of perseverance in securing spiritual victories (Matthew 15:22-28). Do not criticize other counselors, pastors, chaplains, ministries or agencies. Concentrate on responding positively rather than minimizing what others have tried to do or failed to do for them.
Provide counsel based on God’s Word. There are two main approaches to counseling, directive and non-directive:
Directive counseling: The counselor tells the person what to do. The counselor assumes more of a dominant role, using the Word of God as the source of authority. Confrontation, challenge, and admonition characterize this approach.
Non-directive counseling: The counselor guides the counselee in arriving at solutions based on the Word of God. The counselor is more of a facilitator than an initiator. Encouragement, support, and empathy characterize this approach.
So which approach is best? It is not an either/or question. Each method has limitations, but both can be used effectively with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul provides a good model of this. In some cases he aggressively confronted and commanded people to conform to God’s Word. In others, he guided them as a father does a child to arrive at the proper solution (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12).
Jesus was directive with those who were hard-hearted and rebellious–people like the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 15:1-20). With others, He was non-directive, using questions to draw them out and allowing them see what was in their hearts (John 4:1-26).
Use the Biblical Counseling Database. Use this database to clarify what God’s Word says about specific problems. For example, if their battle is with anger, use the “Anger” topic in the database. If they are having an affair, use the topic of “Adultery”. Through sharing specific insights from the Biblical Counseling Database, a natural flow of conversation will ensue during which you can explain how the scriptures can be effectively applied to their problems. Sharing from your own personal experience, if applicable, may be helpful. But remember: It is not your experiences that will provide solutions to problems–it is God’s Word.
You do not have to provide an immediate answer for every issue raised by the counselee. You may have to tell a person that you need to research a certain problem more thoroughly in the Word of God. It is better to say nothing, than to say the wrong thing. Constantly check what you are advising with the Biblical Counseling Database and your ultimate counseling guide, the Word of God.
Develop a plan of action. Once a problem has been discussed and scriptural counsel given, a plan of action should be developed on the basis of the Word of God. Do not make this complex. What is a simple first step which can be taken towards the solution to their problem? For example: Do they need to ask forgiveness of someone? Encourage them to do so. Do they need to make restitution? Formulate a plan.
No two problems are exactly alike, so no two plans of action will be identical. All action steps, however, should be based upon God’s Word. By the end of a counseling session there should be a plan–even if it is a very small step–that can be made to institute change. To be most effective, the counselor should follow-up on the plan, holding the counselee accountable to take the steps agreed upon in a timely manner.
Conclude the session in prayer. Pray for the counselee. Be specific in your prayer. If they need deliverance, pray a prayer of deliverance. If they need forgiveness for sin, lead them in a prayer regarding this. If they need to forgive others, pray a pray of relinquishment and forgiveness. Have the counselee pray audibly or silently, whichever they feel most comfortable doing.
Provide the counselee with feedback from the session. Use this database to provide the counselee with feedback on the topic or topics with which you dealt in counseling. This will enable them to study further on biblical principles relating to their problems. Add to the feedback the action steps which you have agreed upon and a realistic timeline in which these might be completed. Print a hardcopy of the document or email it to the counselee.
Whether you are a professional biblical counselor, chaplain, minister, or simply a believer helping others, you must keep counseling sessions confidential.
In the United States, a certified doctor, lawyer, counselor, and minister are protected by law from being forced to reveal confidential information shared by a client. This may be true in other nations as well. Check the confidentiality laws of your nation.
The following are exceptions to confidentiality–legal or moral obligations where you should break the rule of confidentiality:
-Child abuse or molestation: Report this to the proper authorities immediately.
-Suicide in progress: If you receive a telephone call of a suicide in progress, keep the caller on the line and talking with you while you have someone else dial emergency services to dispatch assistance. Use Appendix One of this database for guidelines in handling this type of counseling call.
-Violence in progress: If you receive a counseling call where violence is in progress, keep the caller on the line and have someone else call emergency services to dispatch assistance.