Perhaps this is an obvious statement, but biblical counseling should be purposeful. Again, maybe that’s obvious, but in my experience of helping other counselors and even as I’ve sought to grow in my own counseling skills, purposeful counseling has been one the most challenging and important skills to grow in.
In order to help you understand more fully what I mean by biblical counseling is purposeful, let me begin with a few things that biblical counseling is not.
Biblical Counseling Is Not a One-on-One Bible Study
When I say that biblical counseling is not a Bible study, I am certainly not implying that the Bible or even studying the Bible is an unimportant part of biblical counseling. However, typically a Bible study has far too broad of a purpose.
Take for instance, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). When men or women participate in Bible Study Fellowship, the goal of studying the Bible together is to grow in their understanding of Scripture and then, through that understanding to grow and become more like Christ. But Bible Study Fellowship doesn’t tailor their Bible studies to specific issues and problems based on who is attending the study. Rather, the Bible Study and topic is already prepared, and regardless of what kind of week you’ve had or what kind of participants are going to be at the study that week, the topics and discussions have already been determined.
That kind of Bible Study isn’t biblical counseling in the narrow definition of biblical counseling, where a counselor is meeting with a counselee for 1–2 hours every week and helping a counselee walk through a specifically difficult season of life by helping them specifically understand and apply God’s Word to their situation.
Biblical Counseling Is Not Preaching with an Audience of One
Preaching is wonderful and extremely important. But biblical counseling isn’t a sermon to a congregation of one. I think we’ve all probably done this before if we’ve counseled for any length of time. Some sessions, when we look back on them, were exactly this—I had some things to say, and so I said them and then assigned homework.
Biblical counseling is not a one-way street of the counselor communicating truth while the counselee just listens.
A small caveat, this doesn’t mean that there are not ever extended periods of teaching in biblical counseling, but if this is your M.O. (modus operando) week after week, then I want to lovingly tell you that you’re not doing biblical counseling.
Biblical Counseling Is Not Just Providing a Listening, Compassionate Ear
If you are counseling people, then listening is of enormous importance. That cannot be overstated enough. However, there are counselees that will fill the entire counseling hour with speaking if you let them. But in order to provide counseling and especially biblical counsel, there must be purposeful counsel from Scripture given. That can be given by directing the conversation through good questions, leading them to the truth of the Scripture, or it can also come through directly pointing to the truth of Scripture and how that applies to their situation.
Biblical Counseling Is Not Just a Way to Fill an Hour of Your Week
Have you ever had a counselee where you’ve met week after week and then had the thought, “Why are you coming?” Not necessarily because they don’t listen or don’t do their homework, but because it seems like they show up every week and look at you to drive the conversation, topics, and what’s most important every week.
For example, I had a guy who had been counseled for 8 months at Restoration Men’s Residential Addiction Ministry, and sadly not really any growth had been accomplished. But he asked if I or someone else could continue to counsel with him. My question to him was, “Why do you want counsel? We’ve been counseling for the past 8 months, and it hasn’t seemed to help at all.” He responded saying, “Well, I’ve been counseling with someone since I was 16 years old.” He was 27 years old when he said that. Counseling, just to counsel, isn’t a good reason. Doing biblical counseling because you’ve been in biblical counseling over the past 11 years isn’t a good reason. Counselees shouldn’t be coming just to fill up an hour of their week and check a box, and counselors shouldn’t be doing that either. An open counseling slot isn’t always poor stewardship of time. Sometimes spending another week in a purposeless counseling session is a poor stewardship.
If those 4 things do not merit the definition of biblical counseling, then what does? In this post, the main point I’m driving at is that biblical counseling is specifically focused and purposeful as opposed to generally purposeful or worse, purposeless.
3 Questions That You Need to Have Answered to Be Purposeful in Your Counseling:
1. Where is my counselee currently?
2. Where does my counselee need to be?
3. What is most important for helping my counselee take the next step forward?
These questions always need to be in your head. At the start of counseling, you’ll be doing a lot of data gathering and trying to understand their story so that you can have a robust answer to question #1. If you don’t data gather, you will be doing one or a combination of the 4 things biblical counseling isn’t above.
Once you have a good picture of where they are currently, then you can answer question number #2. If you don’t answer question number 2, then again, you’ll be doing one or a combination of the 4 things that biblical counseling isn’t above. There are very important general answers to question 2 like, “become more like Christ.” That’s an important answer, but when we are doing biblical counseling with a specific person, that’s when we need to be specific in how they need to be more like Christ.
After you have answers to questions #1 and #2, then you need to make a decision on what to prioritize. Question #3 is an issue of wisdom and discernment. What issue is most important to be dealt with so that they can take a step forward?
Full disclaimer, sometimes question 3 is really, really hard to answer. This is where as a biblical counselor, you get really happy about the role of the Holy Spirit and a Sovereign God. The Holy Spirit and God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean we get to be lazy. But it does mean that we get to rejoice that if—or better yet, when—we prioritize incorrectly, God is still able to use our failure to his glory and even to our counselee’s good. Praise the Lord that God never ever messes up (cf. Romans 11:33–25).
Sometimes, because question 3 is hard to answer, I see biblical counselors give up on trying to answer it, and they just go onto a topic that isn’t the most important but is a comfortable/familiar one for them. They may go to their go-to passages in Scripture because they are easy to teach and counsel through, or they may assign books and pamphlets because that’s the material you know really well. I’ve been there before. I think we all have.
Sometimes, it takes a few weeks to really figure out what the answer to question #3 is. Don’t worry about not having an answer to question #3. Sometimes we need to get comfortable with waiting just the way our counselees do. To wait on the Lord isn’t laziness or inactivity. But as counselors, we need to make sure that we are listening, and asking questions, and praying seeking to discern what the answer to question #3 really is. And to answer that question well, we need to have a specific answer for each counselee.
Counselors, can I encourage you to pray that God would help you be purposeful in every single counseling session? Don’t just fill an hour of time. Don’t just lead a general bible study. Don’t just listen and not provide clear direction. Don’t just be a teacher or preacher. Our God is the Good Shepherd who knows us by name and calls us specifically by our name (cf. John 10:3). I hope we, as counselors, specifically address our counselees rather than just generally approaching them like they are all the same.
This blog was originally posted at Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry, view the original post here.