by James Rudy Gray
Counseling is a process of helping someone explore his or her thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns for the purpose of identifying problems and self-defeating ways. A Christian counselor should help his clients explore their life condition—including but not be limited to, identifying the people around them, their extended family, and their current family system.
But counseling is more than simply doing a history of someone’s life or obtaining background information. That is important, but counseling is also about the process of changing a person’s way of thinking. A change in thinking leads to changes in feelings and behavior. Some professionals judge counseling effectiveness by the change in the client.
People change their thinking themselves. However, a Christian counselor is not simply an agent or tool of change, he or she is a tool in God’s hand and guided by God’s truth. How we think and what we think determines our feelings and behaviors. In a secular work entitled, Counseling Techniques That Work, Wayne W. Dyer and John Vriend state, “Clients are not hurt by others; they hurt themselves as a result of what they think about whatever stimuli others have provided.”
The thought life, attitude, or perspective of a person is critical. What happens to us is not as important as how we interpret what happens to us. People can change but they often need the help of trained and prepared care-givers. A Christian counselor can help a person see difficulties, provide alternatives, offer support, give encouragement, and teach truth.
If the effectiveness of counseling is to be judged by change in the person being counseled, when will that observation be seen by the counselor? The best evaluation of counseling is not what happens in a counseling session but what positive changes are growing in a person’s life. Just recently, a couple I had counseled with for a few months said to a member of my staff, “Does he realize how much he helped our marriage? The things we learned and changes we made have really helped our relationship.” I was aware the couple had stayed together and seemed to be doing well, but that kind of feedback was important in the evaluation of my counseling.
Identifying problems and replacing poor thinking and bad behavior with healthier alternatives takes time. For the people we counsel, it will feel something like learning to ride a bicycle. Christian helpers must therefore, be committed to providing encouragement. A good word at the right time can be used significantly in a person’s internal motivation to change. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.”
Christians struggle in this world. This world is still under the curse of sin. While the devil and His forces are real and active, our greatest battlefield is the mind—what we think and how we think. Romans 12:2 reminds us “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….”
When we listen to the problems of people we must be deliberate about providing information or answers. A common mistake of ministers who do counseling but may not have in-depth training in counseling is to give an answer to a perceived problem too quickly. Proverbs 18:13 is a strong caution against that: “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” What we think we hear may not be the real problem but only the clue that opens the way to recognizing what the problem is.
Many counselors provide home work for their counselees. This can be very helpful as long as the counselees leave each counseling session with a firm commitment to do the home work assignment and work on building positive changes into their lives.
Being in the helping profession in God’s kingdom is a challenge that requires God’s wisdom and His power. We are not adequate in ourselves for this task. In every counseling session and in preparation for each session, we need to be dependent on the Spirit and anchored in the Word.
In the end, effective counseling is about godly change in a person’s life. As counselors we cannot create change, but we can be faithful to God and His Word as we rely on Him to use us as tools of change.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.