Observation

If you want to counsel effectively, it will take time to learn how to do so. I am appalled at the way some jump right into counseling after a short course or reading a few books as if they knew all there is to know about the task.

Certainly, any believer can counsel someone out of the knowledge of the Scriptures that he has—so far as that goes. And, in situations where no one is available, God may graciously enable the “counselor” to provide some significant help from the Bible. But I am not speaking of such occasional, casual, Informal, emergency counsel. I’m talking about a preacher or elder who intends to do counseling regularly at his church.

What he received in seminary, or Bible College by way of counseling—even if it was truly of a biblical sort (which is rare)—hardly supplies enough information and experience to enable one, who recognizes a calling to counsel as a part of his ordination, to do so. He will have to devote himself to the work, learning all he can of the Scriptures and how to apply them practically to counseling cases. This will, as I said, mean devotion to the task—and it will take time.

One of the ways in which he may improve is to sit in with a truly biblical counselor who is successfully helping others. There is no better way to discover how the principles and practices that he has learned should be applied. To sit down before and after a case in which he participated as a trainee, and discuss the case with the counselor whom he has observed will probably be as helpful an adjunct to his reading and formal work in school as is possible. Indeed, he may discover that it is far more helpful.

I have heard would-be counselors during a course remark that there was so much material to remember. They seem frustrated with it: “How will I ever get it all accomplished whrn actually counseling?” But I point out that when you are putting principles into practice, you don’t move from one to another in sequence, the way you learn them when studying. Rather, you use many of them in tandem–at the same time. It is amazing to see how four or five principles, learned separately in a class, come together as you actually use them during a session.

Once a student discovers this fact by seeing it in practice in another, and by beginning to see various practices coalesce in his own counseling, it all comes clear. But observation, and counseling under supervision are the two key factors that help new counselors make rapid effective progress. We can help you at INS with all of the information you will need (and you will need it all); but you will have to obtain the rest by  obsetvation. Let me warn you however, when you choose and begin to observe a counselor, be absolutely certain that his practice conforms to the teachings you have learned and to the biblical counseling practice he affirms. What a person does in counseling is what he really believes; even though it man not conform to what he says he does. Not that he lies about his practice; he may have simply fallen into practices that are of less value, less comprehensive, or different from, those that he learned and still (wrongly) believes he is still following.

However, if you find a good counselor to observe and discuss cases with and you will be glad you did.

Bridge Building

“I want to be a bridge builder.”

Didn’t know you’re in the construction business.

“I’m not. I mean between people with different views.”

For what purpose?

“To bring them over it to the truth.”

Oh! That’s interesting. I believe in trying to bring people to biblical positions. But why do you need a bridge for that?

“Well, I had in mind the counseling integrationists. Can’t see any other way of doing it.”

Really? What makes you think that’s possible?

“The fact that many of them are Christians.”

Can’t you have a proper relationship to them as brothers and sisters in Christ without building bridges? Isn’t the Gospel already the “bridge” if you want to call it that?

“Sure, but it’s a matter of building bridges with them about our counseling differences.”

Who’s going to cross over the bridge when it’s built?

“Uh . . . I’m not sure. Other Christians, I suppose.”

So you want to make it easier for Christians to find their way to integration land?

“Well, no. That’s not exactly what I have in mind.”

What, then do you have in mind?

“Well, I’m not sure. Being nicer to integrationists, I guess.”

You mean you can’t be nice to them without building a bridge to integrationist land?

“Well, no. . . uh, I mean ‘yes.’ Oh . . . I guess I just don’t know what I mean.”

Better be careful about building bridges until you get it all sorted out, then, don’t you think?

“I suppose so . . “

You see, you can only build a bridge when there is solid ground at each end of the bridge to rest it upon.

What Kind of Help?

From time to time Christian authors, in writing about counseling, submit as as their bonafides that they once had such and such a problem. While in 2 Corinthians 1 we are advised to help others with the same help that Jesus gave us in our problems, it does not say that this qualifies us as experts on any matter. When these authors describe their long struggles, particularly when these lasted over long periods of time, they are admitting that they didn’t find the biblical answers to them.

Note that the passage speaks about discussing the HELP, not about analyzing the problem. As a matter of fact, Paul expects us to find that the same divine help is there for ANY problem. It is upon that help that Paul wants us to focus. If I want to learn how to swing a bat so as to make home runs, I don’t turn for help to the person who has a long record of failure in doing so, but to the one who has a successful home run average for a long time. Having been divorced, for instance, hardly qualifies one for counseling others about marriage. Let’s talk about Christ’s faithful, wonderful, helpful grace—not all about our problems!

Here it is . . .

You wanted to know how it is that a person can change his lifestyle? The answer is simple:

Anyone can change if he is determined to do so. Some change for health reasons (they may stop smoking). Others change in order to please a certain girl—or fellow—as the case may be (they change their language habits, for instance). And, it is true, that there may be certain temporal benefits to the change. Life may be easier. But if the person isn’t a believer, then his change isn’t pleasing to God (Romans 8:8[1]). And in the long run, it isn’t for the better at all. Even a believer (by ignoring the Spirit) may change in the same way—and not please God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, where believers were acting like unbelievers). True biblical change is different.

How so?

When a Christian changes in ways that do please God it is by

  1. Doing so because he wants to obey and honor Him. He seeks to make a certain change because it is God’s will for him to do so—as he finds it in the Bible; by
  2. Doing so by replacing sinful ways with righteous ones (or as the apostle Paul put it: by putting off the former and putting on the latter; Colossians: 3:9); by
  3. Doing these things through seeking the help of the Spirit a) enabling him to understand God’s will in the Word; b) empowering him to make the changes involved (cf. Philippians 2:13).

Thus, in essence, it is change that one makes in consort with God Himself. Thus both the motive and the method are of God as well as of the believer.

[1] To be in the flesh is to be without the Spirit of God.

Borderline Personality Disorder

A request for info on borderline personality disorder, so-called, just came in.

Let’s consider two things:

  1. What is personality?

Personality is that which a human being develops as he uses his basic genetic traits to live in various more-or-less changeable ways at various times; ways which are more or less visible by how he thinks, acts and speaks.

  1. What is meant by disorder?

There is no such thing as disorder without a standard of what order is. Disorder is failure to conform to that standard.

So personality disorder is when a person lives as noted in #1 in such a way a to fail to conform to some standard of order.

Now, since the world has no knowledge of what God’s ‘’order” is, it has no way of stating who is/is not living disorderly. One person’s order is another’s disorder – and visa versa. Just because one group of people decide what order is that does not make it so; others may not agree with their conclusions—indeed, if the members of that group are not Christians—we will certainly NOT agree!

So, what is personality disorder (there is no borderline disorder—one is either orderly or disorderly in his life according to God)? Something that a person develops as his way of living that fails to satisfy a group which sets a standard to which he does not conform.

Fifty Failure Factors

Counselor, are you stuck with a difficult counseling situation that just does not seem to be moving forward? Is it possible that YOU have failed in your handling this situation? Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Is the counselee truly a Christian?
  2. Has there been genuine repentance?
  3. Is there a vital commitment to the Biblical change?
  4. Are our agendas in harmony?
  5. Do you have all the necessary data?
  6. Are you trying to achieve change in the abstract or concretely?
  7. Have you been intellectualizing?
  8. Would a medical examination be in order?
  9. Are you sure you know the problem(s)? Is more data gathering necessary?
  10. Are there other problems that must be settled first?
  11. Have you been trying to deal with the issue while ignoring the relationship?
  12. Did you give adequate scriptural help?
  13. Did you minimize?
  14. Have you accepted speculative data as true?
  15. Are you regularly assigning concrete homework in written form?
  16. Would using a D. P. P. form help?
  17. If this is a life-dominating problem, are you counseling for total restructuring?
  18. Are you empathizing with self-pity?
  19. Are you talking about problems only or also about God’s solutions?
  20. Have you carefully analyzed the counselee’s attitudes expressed in his language?
  21. Have you allowed counselees to talk negatively about others behind their backs?
  22. Has a new problem entered the picture, or has the situation changed since counseling sessions began?
  23. Have you been focusing on the wrong problem?
  24. Is the problem not so complex after all, but simply a case of open rebellion?
  25. Have you failed to move forward rapidly enough in the giving of homework assignments?
  26. Have you as a counselor fallen into some of the same problems as the counselee?
  27. Does doctrinal error lie at the base of the problem?
  28. Do drugs (tranquilizers, etc.) or sleep loss present a complicating problem?
  29. Have you stressed the put-off to the exclusion of the put-on?
  30. Have you prayed about the problem?
  31. Have you personally turned off the counselee in some way?
  32. Is he willing to settle for something less than the scriptural solution?
  33. Have you been less aggressive and demanding than the Scriptures?
  34. Have you failed to give hope by calling sin “sin”?
  35. Is the counselee convinced that personality change is impossible?
  36. Has your counseling been feeling-oriented rather than commandment-oriented?
  37. Have you failed to use the full resources of Christ (e.g., the help of the Christian community)? Are others from without bringing a negative influence on him?
  38. Is church discipline in order?
  39. Have you set poor patterns in previous sessions (e.g., accepting partially fulfilled homework assignments)?
  40. Do you really know the Biblical solution(s) to his problems? (Can you write it out in thematic form?)
  41. Do you really believe there is hope?
  42. Has the counselee been praying, reading the Scriptures, fellowshipping with God’s people, and witnessing regularly?
  43. Should you call another Christian counselor for help (with the counselee’s knowledge, of course)?
  44. Would a full rereading of your Weekly Counseling Records disclose any patterns? Trends? Unexplored areas?
  45. Have you questioned only intensively? Extensively?
  46. Have you been assuming (wrongfully) that this case is similar to a previous case?
  47. Has the counselee been concealing or twisting data?
  48. Would someone else involved in the problem (husband, wife, parent, child) be able to supply needed data?
  49. Are you simply incompetent to handle this sort of problem?
  50. Are you reasonably sure that there is no organic base to the problem?

“But . . . It Helped!”

Occasionally, I hear as the pragmatic objection to my position that counseling must be biblical, and only biblical, “but so and so went to a non-Christian counselor who certainly didn’t do biblical counseling, and yet it helped.” How does one properly respond to that protest? Well, by saying that there is help and then there is help.

What I mean by that is that not all help is of the same order, and, in the final analysis, what now may appear to be help—and may actually provide help of a sort—in the long run may turn out to have been more detrimental than good. Smoking will keep one’s weight level down—at a terrible cost: cancer. Was it a help or not? Smoking helped keep the weight in check, it is true, but in the long run it did not help—it caused greater and more serious problems. The help it gave was a trade-off. It did not help to enhance the smoker’s general welfare. The help carried with it a price that was too high and not necessary for him to pay. Similarly, every instance of ‘help’ afforded by the acceptance and performance of non-Christian principles and practices, in the long run, if not sooner, will reap side effects inimical to Christian living and welfare.

The words ‘side effects’ point immediately to the supposed help of drugs. Insulin, and drugs like it that are used to supplement bodily output when it is failing to do its job, do help. But, any drug that is used, instead of the biblical solution, to mask a problem or eliminate the pains of a person’s guilty conscience in the long run will be found to exact more than double the price he expected to pay:

  1. The user probably will become dependent on, if not addicted to, the drug.
  2. Over a period of time, the drug will more than likely cause physical injury to the body.
  3. The drug may cause troublesome symptoms.
  4. The problem will not vanish, but will grow.
  5. The person using the drug for such a purpose will not grow stronger for having confronted and solved the problem biblically, but will, in fact, turn out weaker for having avoided doing so.
  6. God’s solution to the problem will have been ignored and God’s blessing withheld.

Has the drug used helped?

All sorts of non-Christian counsel may be given (“Take your anger out on the golf ball”; not learn God’s way to control and use anger) that may provide immediate ‘help’ (or, perhaps, in such situations, the word ‘relief’ might better suit the case), but, again, because it isn’t God’s way to deal with the problem the final results in terms of one’s relationship to God, in terms of his personal growth and in terms of what the unbiblical counsel, at length, does to his human relationships, are not worth the price.

So, the answer to the question is “Yes,” a help of sorts may be given, but since non-Christian help is not God’s help but rather a substitute for it, in the long run (if not sooner) that ‘help’ always will prove to be a detriment.

In contrast, God’s help benefits, and does nothing but benefit. Every time a Christian properly avails himself of God’s help, not only does he find the help that he seeks, but along with it come side effects that he had not anticipated. This time, however, the side effects are good. Following biblical counsel about anger, for instance, in time will change one’s disposition so that he will become a more likable person and easier to live with.

Now what will you say to the next objector? Won’t you tell him, “There is a help that hurts, that destroys and ruins, and there is a help that truly helps—God’s help?” Won’t you say, “My help is from the Lord” and tell him that God is a “very present help” in “time of trouble?” You can have the former—I’ll take the latter every time; thank you very much.

 

Why Not?

“Why not?”

Because.

“Because of what?”

Because I can’t.

“Can’t? You’re a Christian, you say?”

I certainly am.

“Then what do you think Paul meant in I Corinthians 10:13?

What did he say there?

“Simply this: ‘There is no trial that has overtaken you but such as is common to man. And God is faithful who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able to bear.'”

But you don’t understand . . .

“Do you think God does?”

Sure, but . . .

“Why the but?”

My case is different, you see.

“Thought it was ‘common’ and that you would have to bear nothing beyond the ability you have to bear it.”

Well . . .

“Moreover, in that verse he says that God will make a way out of it so that you will be able to bear it. It won’t go on forever.”

Oh! I guess you”re right. Tell me how.

“Thought you’d never ask . . .”

Relationships . . .

Jay AdamsSome teach that a counselor must first develop a good relationship with his counselee in order to successfully minister to them.  Fine, if it happens, but is it necessary to work at it? To counsel effectively? No.

Those who propagate the idea rarely, if ever, give Scriptural evidence for the view. And, just as seldom do they fail to explain what they mean by the term. After all, don’t we all know?   NO!

Let’s consider Jesus’ relationships for a moment. He often had a compassionate relationship to them—healing, feeding and teaching them, as poor sheep who had no shepherd. Then, there were the Pharisees and the Sadducees—to whom He spoke words of woe!

Toward the twelve He sustained a special relationship—spending quite a bit of time with them. Of the twelve, there were the three whom He allowed to accompany Him to the Mount of Transfiguration. And, of course, there was John—the one He especially loved! What different relationships all of these, and many others, were! Surely, with his counselees, a counselor’s relationship would vary greatly.

But that’s not bad—because it is impossible to treat everyone as his John the apostle!

Nor does he need to.  With most, Jesus had a brief encounter—nothing prolonged.  Yet, He was able to help them. Counselor, so can you.

Let’s Be Careful Out There

imagesA popular cop show in the eighties began each episode with the officers assembled in the briefing room where the Sargent would give out assignments for the day. At the end of each briefing the officer in charge would exhort his officers with the admonition, “Let’s be careful out there!”

Biblical counselors would do well to embrace that exhortation as well. Today’s biblical counselor is blessed with training opportunities and resources we could not have imagined 30 years ago. The first NANC conference I attended was held in a church Sunday School room. At the first February conference I attended in Lafayette I was one of 35 students. The books available to me that dealt with biblical counseling fit on less than two feet of bookshelf.

Today, thousands attend these conferences every year, the books I own on biblical counseling fill an entire wall, most people can find training in biblical counseling within one or two hours of driving time, dozens of theological seminaries now have courses in biblical counseling, and our Institute has hundreds of students studying under Dr. Adams on every continent around the world. We have much for which to be thankful as God’s people have come to embrace the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures.

With all these successes and opportunities for learning, however, we will quickly find ourselves disqualified and our ministries impotent if we do not embrace the words of Sargent Esterhaus to “be careful out there.” The august responsibility of the ministry of the Word to hurting people should fill us with a sober desire to minister the Word carefully, accurately, and skillfully. God’s Word is not magic. We do not simply tell counselees to “read God’s Word and He will bless you.” Before the counselor can minister the Word to his counselee he must first be a student and exegete of the Scriptures and become skilled at using them as God intended them to be used.

I was reminded of this again as I read a blog recently at a biblical counseling website. The author’s purpose was worthy—he was seeking to show how counselees can be encouraged in their suffering by understanding that our Lord Himself endured suffering. Sadly, his use of the Scriptures to make his point served only to confuse and, even worse, taught some very bad theology which, if understood rightly, would discourage a counselee about the ability of Christ to meet the need of the hour.

The author began by asserting, in spite of the clear teaching of Philippians 4:6, that anxiety is “not necessarily” sinful. He made his case by quoting a bizarre translation of Mark 14:33 (the Amplified Bible) and concluded that Jesus had a “panic attack” in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The author then moved to Hebrews 2:10 which he claimed teaches that Jesus’ sufferings were “part of His maturing and perfecting for our sake.” He later added that “as Jesus was perfected through various sufferings, including anxiety, so are we.”

The biblical counselor should be careful to understand that the word translated “perfect” here is used in the sense of “complete” as it is in Hebrew 10:14. Christ’s sufferings completed His task as the “Author of their salvation.” They did not serve to mature Him in a sanctifying process as they do for us. The idea of a Christ who is just like us and in need of “maturing” is, well, sub-orthodox.

The task of exegesis is of primary importance. Do not neglect it. Handle God’s Word with care and sobriety. From behind my podium in our briefing room here in our little corner of the internet I plead with my fellow counselors—let’s be careful out there!