Objections to Biblical Counseling

Be prepared to receive them! You can be sure that they’ll come. There are so many out there that have been brainwashed into thinking that counseling must be done by a “professional” psychologist or psychiatrist that they rebel when they’re told that a preacher or laymen is doing counseling. You can understand their objections, and you should respect them for voicing them. At least they‘re concerned! You should have less respect for those who talk behind your back and are not man or woman enough to come out and challenge you. It’s the “Sauls” of Tarsus who, when converted, turn out to be “Pauls.” Learn to respond, cheerfully, cogently and challengingly. Those are the people we are especially concerned to win over to the truth.

Objections will come. You should become prepared to meet them. Most objections will take the form of “Who do you think you are to be doing counseling?” Your answer, of course, is that you are a child of God; that He has commanded to do so. The Galatians 1 passage, along with Colossians 3:16, along with Romans 15:14 are warrant enough for you to respond to a fellow believer. Learn all you can about those passages in order to be able to satisfy those who want a reason for the ministry you’re engaged in. Of course there are other passages such as 2 Timothy 3:15ff, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to which you might also wish to turn as well. But don’t confuse the discussion by citing too many passages. Know a few well, and indelibly impress them upon your listener’s thinking. Remember, in all of those passages the noun “nouthesia” or the verb “noutheteo” is used. And don’t forget that the word has the three elements: loving Confrontation, out of familial Concern, in order to bring about God-pleasing Change.

The object isn’t always to win the objector. Rarely, will you “convert” anyone to biblical counseling on the spot. But get them thinking biblically. Urge them to study the passages you’ve mentioned. Try to set up another time for further discussion. That, of course, is what you do with believers. So far as unbelievers are concerned, you will want to explain that you don’t knowingly counsel unbelievers, so he has nothing to worry about! But you might tell also him that you do pre-counsel [evangelize] people like him. Then, go ahead and do so. In all cases, you need to be able to give a thorough, reasoned response to objectors. Remember II Peter 3:15, 16.

As you do more and more counseling, you will eventually have people who can testify to the effectiveness of God’s word in their lives. Many of the people you have counseled will be willing to testify to the facts should you need them to do so. But never appeal to their testimony as the fundamental reason for doing Nouthetic Counseling. Always rest your case on Scriptural authority. Their testimony is merely illustrative; God’s Word needs no corroboration. And never ask anyone to testify unless he has agreed to do so beforehand.

My hope is that many people will object to your counseling. Not because I wish for difficulty to come your way. But because I hope you will make such an impact upon those around you that they can’t keep still about it. When people object, it’s usually because something is happening. Actually, many object because they are interested and want to understand. “There’s no better way to find out whether there’s anything to this Nouthetic stuff,” they assume, than to put some hard questions to its adherents. That’s good. And when you’re prepared to meet all of their objections, that’s very good!

Nouthetic counselors ought to be savvy about what they are doing, and why they do it. But they will not get that wisdom and knowledge apart from study. There are plenty of books to help. And that’s one reason why the Institute for Nouthetic Studies exists. If we can help you to be able to give a reasoned response to objectors by offering training in Nouthetic Counseling, please let us do so.

How to Counsel an Unbeliever

The following lecture is part of our “Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling” course. In this lecture Jay answers his single most frequently asked question. For more information on this entire course go to our website at www.nouthetic.org.

 

 

Mental Illness

Folks let’s get this straight. The mind is not a physical organ. It cannot have a disease, illness, or injury in anything other than a metaphorical sense such as a sick economy or a sick joke.

Typhoid fever — disease
Spring fever — not a disease
Scarlet fever — disease
Bieber fever — not a disease

Two Failures

There are two outstanding failures that one can detect in counseling when he has an opportunity to watch it.

  1. Many counselors use too much Scripture.  They throw verse after verse at counselees, piling them up for him, presumably to take home. A person can digest only so much material in a counseling session or during the week following. He needs to drive home one or two verses, plainly explained, if he wants to see biblical results.
  2. Not any verse will do.  Not only must a verse be explained as to its meaning, but also counselors must show how it is appropriate to the counselee, and how he may apply it to his situation. These are key factors at which one must not fail!

Tell Me What to Do

“Tell me what to do when I counsel a person.”

What, in particular, do you want to know?

“Oh, you know—just what you do when you counsel someone.”

Well, I’m afraid I don’t know how to answer that question. There is a lot to counseling—one way of approaching people will not do—one size simply doesn’t fit all.

“Yeah, but what do you do?”

The fact is I do all sorts of things—a lot more than I could begin to mention in this Q&A session.

“Let’s say the person is considering getting a divorce. How do you handle that—do you tell his wife or not?”

Well, since I’d have both of them present [if possible], I wouldn’t have to tell her. Counseling people who are both involved in a problem apart from one another is foolish; you don’t bring people together by taking them apart.

“Yeah, but what do you say? How do you go about the counseling itself?”

Listen, friend, you don’t seem to understand how much goes into counseling or I expect you’d get more specific in your questions. I say all sorts of things depending on the situation. They just have to be biblically based.

“But counseling is so much easier than preaching–you ought to be able to tell me what to do.”

I guess this has gone far enough. Let me suggest a few things at the outset:

  1. Counseling is much tougher than preaching. A preacher knows what he is going too talk about (at least, he ought to). On the other hand, the counselor never knows what will come up in a session–so he has to be ready to handle anything—indeed, everything!

“Oh—I never thought about that!”

  1. A counselor also has to gather lots of information before he is able to begin following a particular course of counsel. That’s why I can’t answer the sorts of questions that you’ve been flinging at me. I believe in serious data-gathering. Sometime, read and consider Proverbs 18: 13, 15, 17 and I think you’ll see what I mean.

“Hmm . . .I’ll have to do that.”

  1. Let me just mention one more thing (I could go on listing lots of other points): But consider this: before I can really begin (assuming the person is a Christian) I will want to know whether or not he is interested in getting relief from his problem(s) or (at bottom) he is interested in learning how to please God in his handling of the problem—whether he gets relief or not.

“I never thought of that.”

And I can tell you there probably are many other things that I can see you haven’t thought about as well.

“Yeah—probably there are.”

Let me suggest that you take our course in nouthetic counseling and systematically learn about some of them.

“How do I do that?”

Thought you’d never ask—the answer is contact Donn Arms at donnarms@nouthetic.org. He’ll lead you the right way.

“Thanks.”

Why Do You Want to Counsel?

Is it because you see the need in the church today? Is it because of some situation that you were involved in where you saw that counseling was not provided when it ought to have been? Is it because you have always had a desire to minister to others? Is it because you like to be authoritative and tell others what to do? Even from these few suggestions, obviously, you can see that there are many reasons why someone might want to counsel; some laudable, some not. What are yours?

Perhaps you don’t even know why you are becoming interested—couldn’t spell out the reasons out if you were forced to do so at gun point. There simply may be something about counseling that entices you that you are unable to articulate. Perhaps you believe that you have gifts that seem to point you toward counseling. Whatever the reason—or reasons—you ought to sort them out. Why? Because the time will come when you will have to ask yourself whether or not your reasons are sufficient to sustain your interest in counseling. Counseling can get wearisome at times. It can become demanding, discouraging and time-consuming. It is in times like those that a proper, biblical motivation will enable you to endure.

If you are a minister of the Gospel, you have a flock and, of course, your motivation ought to be to fulfill your responsibilities to the flock—many of which will involve both informal and formal counseling as a part of the office to which you were ordained. If you are called by the church of Christ to minister; you are called to counsel. It goes with the territory.

What of you—a layman who has no flock, who is not ordained to a shepherding ministry? You too are required to counsel—informally. Galatians 6 puts you in the business of doing such counseling. If after reading the first verses of that chapter you don’t understand your place in counseling, you might want to read my explanation of it in the book, Ready to Restore.

All I’m saying is if you are going to counsel it ought to be

  1. because God requires it of you
  2. because you care about your hurting brothers and sisters.

Any lesser motives ought to be expunged from your thinking and, instead, the proper ones must take their place. Otherwise, your counsel is likely to falter, fail, or be seriously flawed. Why not take time to think these things through, pray about them, read again Acts 20, Galatians 6?

Is it time for you to check out your motives? Then, to do so, without distraction. In the long run, you will be glad that you did—and so will your counselees.

The Issue and the Relationship

Most counseling cases involve more than one person. There are exceptions, of course. But they are few and far between. Even when it appears that but one individual is involved, upon further investigation, you will frequently discover that there is a mother or father, a relative or friend—or someone else—who plays an important role in the counseling problem you are considering. Because of this, it is important to understand the basic dynamic that underlies many of the interpersonal difficulties that you will encounter.

I have titled this posting “The Issue and the Relationship” because it sets forth the two essential factors that you will always have to consider when counseling more than one person. More often than not you will find that the husband and wife, parent and child, neighbor and neighbor, church member and church member, will present the principal problem in terms of the issue: “He wants to buy a boat when he knows that we simply can’t afford it!,” “He cheated me in a business deal,” This kid is incorrigible—she drinks, does drugs and plays around with any stud who comes along.”

The issue is always intriguing and tempts a counselor to focus on it at the outset. Usually, it is clearer than the relationship, so it protrudes in the initial description of things. And yet, you will learn that until you have dealt satisfactorily with the relationship, you will not be able to help counselees solve issue problems. In addition to the tempting nature of issue problems, counselees will often pressure you to handle them, sometimes protesting if you turn first to the relationship. In such circumstances, it will be necessary to explain why you are doing so (“You two are in no shape to consider the issue”). I want to suggest, therefore, that in most instances it is fatal to attempt to solve issue problems until relationship problems have been satisfactorily cleared up.

“How is that? I’m not sure that I fully get your point. If the husband and wife mentioned above would only come to a conclusion about the boat, the matter would be ended, wouldn’t it?”

Probably not. You see, one or the other—or possibly both—would go away from dealing with the issue with sore feelings toward his spouse. That is, if they could even discuss the issue civilly! Their problem has grown to the point that they have come for counseling—evidentially, they failed to solve it on their own. Here is the fundamental problem: most of the time until you have dealt with the relationship, no matter how simple the solution to the problem may be, the parties involved will not handle the issue sensibly (let alone biblically). Once I counseled a couple who, among other things, were fighting over the way each left the toothpaste tube after using it. One squeezed it in the middle (I think that was the husband) and the other left the cap off (I think that was the wife). Now, you would suspect that so simple a problem could be easily dispensed with. But, Oh no! Not on your life!

“Wait a minute, that’s an easy one to figure out. All they had to do is buy two tubes, and after the first use you’d know whose tube is whose.”

Very astute! Indeed, in the end, that’s exactly the way that we solved it. But it didn’t happen as readily as you might suppose. You see, they were in no mood to think rationally. Whenever she went into the bathroom and saw the squashed tube, she said to herself, “That man’s been at it again!” Whenever, he saw the cap removed and found toothpaste hardened at the end of the tube, he thought “Ugh! She doesn’t even care enough for me to put the cap back on. She knows I can’t stand it that way!”

Now, surely, you will notice that the problem wasn’t the tube. Both husband and wife were sharp enough to figure out the very solution that you suggested on their own. But if they did so, they probably wouldn’t have needed counseling. The problem wasn’t the toothpaste tube—as I said—it was a marriage so badly on the rocks that the tube had become a symbol of the other interpersonal problems that they had. And, until I was able to bring them into a proper biblical relationship with one another, they wouldn’t even try to seriously deal with the toothpaste tube issue. Having done so, at length, toothpaste tubes were no longer a symbol of larger problems between them, but symbols of those problems—solved.

So, don’t be misled into thinking that if you deal with the issue you will have helped your counselee. Ordinarily, you will soon discover that you can only deal with it after the relationship has been righted biblically, by repentance before God and reconciliation with one another. Always ask yourself, “What in the relationship has become a complicating factor?” What is keeping them from solving the issue? In response, you will find yourself confronting sinful attitudes that need changing, instructing counselees in ways of speaking to one another that honor God, unearthing long-standing grudges, clearing up misunderstandings that have led to bitterness, and so on. When these have been eliminated and proper biblical ways of relating have been learned (usually over a number of weeks), then all sorts of issues will dissolve as if they had never existed. That is not to say that some may not remain. But when they do, it will be two persons bent on pleasing God who will be resolving them; not two who are hostile, and who, in their self-centeredness, have been ignoring God. So, I urge you to think of each situation in terms of issues and relationships, and you will rarely go wrong.

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That First Session

What should your goals be in that first counseling session? Let me list five goals for you. But remember, no two sessions are alike. When you think you’ve seen ‘em all, along comes a “doosey” that you never dreamed of, let alone expected to encounter. So, what I am speaking about is nothing more than the “ordinary’ things to shoot for. In the more-or-less ordinary cases that are never really ordinary at all. In other words, each case is unique. You should treat it as such. So, the goals I set forth here are ideals rarely to be attained in toto.

First, remember, the first session—whether you like it or not—will set patterns. That’s why you ought to consciously aim at good patterns. If you’re going to expect homework in later sessions, for instance, don’t wait until a later session to assign it. You can always assign a data-gathering homework assignment, if nothing else.

Second, you will gather facts. Of course, preceding the session itself, you will have the counselee fill in a Personal Data Inventory form [you can find a sample in The Christian Counselor’s Manual]. But in the session itself, you will want to expand your understanding of what he has written. Further probing will gather much additional data which you will need to feed into the mix in order to determine how to go about handling this case.

Third, You will want to give hope. A counselee without hope is usually a counselee lost. Why should he return if he has no expectation of receiving help? There is every reason for a biblical counselor to offer hope. He counsels believers who are capable of pleasing God [unbelievers are not—see Romans 8:8]. God has made promises [such as those in Romans 8:28; I Corinthians 10:13], and the Word of God has everything necessary for life and godliness.

Fourth, you should strive for a commitment to counseling itself. This will be a commitment to come to sessions regularly, and to do whatever God requires. The commitment ought not to be to do what you say or think, but to do what God demonstrably requires in His Word. Obviously, the commitment may not involve much detail at this point, but to the extent that you can frame anything that God does want at this early point, call your counselee to commit himself to it. If the Scriptures insist upon it, you should ask for commitment to it; there is no reason to hesitate to do so.

Fifth, you should create the proper atmosphere. That means that by your words and actions, you should communicate to the counselee that he is dealing with God. Yes, he must deal with a counselor—but a counselor who, himself, is under the rule and authority of God, and who acknowledges this fact in all he does and says. He should be made aware that all his decisions to obey or disobey Him are made fundamentally to God, not to you. He should be helped to understand that the Bible is the basis for all that will be done.

Of course, much more could be said. These brief ideas–and many more—are dealt with in depth in the INS course, Three Vital Sessions. Since the first session is so important for establishing patterns, it is crucial to know how to handle it. These samples are but glimpses of what ought to be known. Do you know what to do in the first session? And—what about those sessions that follow? The course just mentioned takes you through from the first to the last session. If you need it, you might want to sign up for the INS program.

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Ventilation

anger1Not too long ago there was a psychological theory called “ventilation.” I’m not sure whether or not it has died out everywhere yet. But theory or no theory, it’s still seems to be a popular idea—if you’ve got something churning inside, you’d better get it out, for you own good.

“What’s wrong with that?”

Well, several things. I think I’ll just mention two.

First, the self-centeredness of it is apparent. Who cares what happens to the other guy when I take out my ire on him—I’m the one who counts!

“Well, I can see that. What’s the second thing?”

Let me read you what God says about the issue in Proverbs 29:11:

A stubborn fool fully ventilates his anger,
but the wise, holding it back, quiets it.

“Wow! Didn’t know God had spoken about the matter!”

Quite explicitly. Who wants to make a fool of himself? And it doesn’t hurt you to “hold it back” as the Freudians thought, either. In fact the more you work yourself up into a lather that finally spills out, the worse things get—not the better. No only for you—but for everyone around you.

And first thing you know, you have to go around seeking forgiveness. To vent your anger is foolish in every way you can imagine. For sure, ventilation isn’t an option for the believer. Something to think about, eh?

“Yea!”

Not Stuck After All

“I’ve about given up on that counselee!”

He’s a believer, isn’t he?

“Yeah. But he comes from a long line of loafers and no goods, and he’s inherited all their traits.”

Aw, c’mon!

“No, really. I’ve had it with him!”

Let me read you a passage from 1 Peter 1:18,19 in the CCNT/P:

. . . knowing that you weren’t set free from the useless behavior patterns that were passed down from your forefathers by . . . silver or gold, but with Christ’s valuable blood . . .

Christians are set free from their past. We’re not stuck with it. What a liberating thought—for both counselors and counselees!

“Yeah, but . . .. ”

Can’t have any buts when you’re talking about a biblical truth. Right?

“Yeah.”

Then, let’s begin by assuring you of the truth of this proposition. Until you believe it, you won’t be able to help your counselee the way you should. You need to be able instill hope in him—and that means you need the hope yourself.

“OK.”

Well, if you understand the biblical meaning of hope, it is nothing less than expectation, anticipation. It is expecting God to act faithfully about what He has said and promised. The “blessed hope” isn’t the blessed hope-so (we misuse the word hope to mean that). It’s the “happy expectation, the joyous anticipation.” What makes it a hope is that it hasn’t happened yet.

Now go home and pray about this passage, brother!