by James Rudy Gray
I suppose nearly all Christians would agree that discipleship is a major part of our work as ministers and church workers.
Discipleship takes time. Sanctification is also a process that takes time to grow in holiness. However, many ministers, like therapists, will have to deal with people who come for only one counseling session. What are we to do? How can we make that first and often "only" session profitable?
Dr. Moshe Talmon came to the United States from Israel and began to study the data of counselees from some thirty psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. He says, "I was astonished by what I found. The most frequent length of therapy for every one of the therapists was a single session and 30 percent of all patients chose to come for only one session in a period of one year." His studies further revealed that the therapeutic orientation of therapists had no impact on people who came for only one appointment.
He developed an approach to counseling called Single-Session Therapy. In his book, he talks about some of the pros and cons of having only one session with someone. Basically, he recommends listening to the person and gaining as much knowledge as possible, then taking a time-out for about 10 minutes before talking with the patient. When the time-out is over, the counselor then shares some professional insights.
He promotes his strategy to other counselors by saying things like "Life, more than therapy, is a great teacher"; or "Time, nature, and life are great healers"; and "You don't have to know everything in order to be helpful." His approach appears to be composed of a great deal of common sense and practical thought. What is missing is any emphasis on biblical truth.
The phenomena of single session counseling is not the prevailing model in Christian or secular counseling, but it is most often the reality we will experience, even in the church. Carl Rogers, a humanist psychologist, used to emphasize that everyone has a story to tell. That is true. The story may be sad, full of sin and bad judgment, abuse, injustice, etc. However, it is that person's story. Most often, just telling of the personal story is helpful and brings some degree of clarity. When a Christian counselor can listen to a person's story and then relate how the individual is currently living and relate this to what Scripture teaches, real progress can be made in a single counseling session.
Personally, I try to practice brief, solution-focused, biblically-based counseling. This means we focus on the problem (which may be underneath the presenting problem), work toward some type of resolution (this may involve acceptance or adaptation) and then anchor all that with the truth of God's Word. This may take a few sessions, but should not take a year or longer.
The reality, though, is that many of the people I see do not come back for the next visit. If Dr. Talmon's observations are anywhere near accurate, we who counsel must work to plant something that can make a difference in the life of every counselee in the first session. It may be a biblical principle they can apply immediately to their lives. It may be helping them to think differently about their difficulty. It might include encouraging them to let go of some of the things weighing them down.
During that initial and often only counseling session, we must genuinely show concern and demonstrate care. As we conclude the time, it is usually good to pray. We may not see this person again. We may never see him/her again in a counseling situation. If we can drive home some basic biblical truths that can comfort and lovingly correct, we can be God's tool for making a positive and enduring difference in a troubled person's life.
I do not believe single session counseling is the ideal, but too often it is the only option we have. We owe it to our counselees to leave a truthful and encouraging impression on their minds.
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.