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.