That First Counseling Session

It’s about 4:15 in the afternoon on Monday, and I arrive at the Faith Biblical Counseling Center for my three evening counseling sessions.  I pick up materials from last week and for this week (typically: schedule for this week, trainee reports from last week, and… a new folder).  I received a note from Edris (Olsen – our Director of Counseling) earlier this week that I had a new case and she included our on-line registration material (Personal Data Inventory-PDI and Five Questions-key issues).  So, I had a chance to determine the general drift of the first session – but not details.

Before becoming Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, ACBC, certified, I worked in the scientific and engineering fields.  So, I tend to operate in a highly-structured manner.  What this means for counseling is that I have put together a ‘boiler plate’ standard agenda for the first session.  That’s what I want to present to you in this post.  I understand in God’s grand plan He creates each of us unique – so this may not be your way of doing things.  In God’s great plan, we have a multitude of methods for Biblical Counseling – with a common goal of restoring a person caught up in sin back to their proper role of being shepherded in their local church.

The First Session’s Agenda

Here’s my agenda for the first session:

  • Introduction
  • Biblical Counseling
  • Prov. 18:10
  • Prov. 18:13
  • History
  • Salvation
  • Hope – 1 Cor. 10:13
  • Goal – 2 Cor. 5:9
  • Commitment –
    • Time/Attendance
    • Homework
    • Change

I will now discuss each point in the agenda and explain how this fits in one (not the only one) approach to the first session, when the trainees and I get to meet our counselee(s) for the first time.

  1. Introduction – I greet the individual/couple, introduce myself to them, and present my credentials as an ACBC certified Biblical Counselor with 13 years of experience. I explain that ACBC training involves passing two exams and 50 hours of supervised counseling training.
  2. Biblical Counseling – We agree that we are going to use God’s Holy Word as our guide in discussing life issues. I also explain that we are a Biblical Counseling Training Center and so we will have one or two counseling trainees sitting in with us to observe how I do counseling.  I point out that trainees have the benefit of seeing several different counselors who use different methods for counseling – hopefully taking the best from each as they work on their approach.
  3. Proverbs 18:101 – I begin by asking them to open their Bible and turn to Prov. 18:10. After they read the verse, I explain that I think we can see, from that verse, that coming to the church house for help with life issues is a good thing – and ask if they agree.
  4. Proverbs 18.132 – We then look down the page to Prov. 18:13. I ask them to read this verse. I explain how this verse speaks to the counselor – that I would be a fool if I tried to help them without understanding what the issues were. I do point out I have the information they submitted and have looked over it.  I use this warning as a transition into the next item on the agenda.
  5. History – I ask each person to give me a “Reader’s Digest” version of their life from birth, through school, about their family, about their siblings, how they met (if a couple) and other significant events in their life. This is the extensive (broad) data gathering process. Occasionally, some significant information may be presented, and I will dig deeper into intensive (specific) data gathering.  But mostly, I’m looking for the big picture at this point.  This is a key point – taking the data gathered along with the PDI helps focus on the issues they bring to the counseling room.
  6. Salvation – Typically, individuals do not talk about their spiritual life when discussing their life history. So, I ask more specific questions about their church attendance, church background, involvement in church, etc.  Before we finish this section, I find out where they are in their relationship with the Lord.  Do they know for sure they are saved and is there evidence of a changed life? Do they have doubts about assurance?  Do they know and understand salvation?  This is critical – because we only counsel believers – those who have the Holy Spirit in their lives who can bring about change.  This could, and may, become the most important counseling issue to start with.

I try to leave about 10 minutes at the end of the first session to discuss the following three items.  The intent is to have them leave with hope and that their situation will get better.

  1. Hope (a confident hope that things will get better as we look to Christ) – 1 Cor. 10:133 – Individuals coming to counseling have life issues facing them. They may not see much hope in their situation.  It is important that we establish hope for them, that the problems they face can be solved through God’s Word.  The best way to show this is to use God’s Word to establish hope.  We turn to 1 Cor. 10:13 where we can see true hope three different ways:
    1. First – whatever issue they face in life, they are not alone.
      • Many others have faced the same issue and come to a solution.
      • God knows all – and is involved in all issues for His glory and our good.
    2. Second – God is faithful – all believers know this, but sometimes in the middle of the issue the counselee may forget. It’s good to remind others of this fact.
    3. Third – God is not going to give the counselee more than he/she can handle, and He will provide a way through the difficulty – if they apply His Word.
  • Goal – 2 Cor. 5:94 I like to ask the counselee what their goal in life is. This is very revealing – it shows where their hope and aspirations lie.  I then ask them to turn to 2 Cor. 5:9 and read it aloud.  I then ask again – what is your goal in life according to this verse?  It’s right there, “to be pleasing to Him”.  This point is extremely important.  This must be forefront in their (and our) thinking.  I warn them that at the start of every session I will have two questions to ask:
    1. “What is your goal in life?”
    2. “Give me two examples of how you demonstrated that this week.”
      The first question reinforces knowing God’s Word and applying it to our purpose for life.
      The second question helps understand that we are to apply what we know (James 1:225)
  • Commitment – In order to emphasize the importance of ongoing counseling sessions, I ask for three commitments as we go forward:
    1. Time/Attendance – that they will make being here on Monday, at their appointed time, a priority in their life.
    2. Homework – That they will be willing to work on homework throughout the week between our one hour sessions. This allows us to make progress in a shorter time as work continues between our sessions.  I assure them that we will discuss the homework.
    3. Change – Last, and most importantly, as the counselee comes upon areas where Biblical change is needed, that they will make an honest effort to make the changes. We understand, and I explain, that making change is hard and takes time – but that, together, steps can be worked out to move the counselee forward to be more like Christ.

The First Session’s Homework

This brings us to the end of the first session.  Next, we need to plan for the second session by providing meaningful homework to move the counseling forward.  I plan my homework around the ”Six Elements of Homework”, recommended my Randy Patten.  These are:

  1. Read Scriptures
  2. Scripture Memory
  3. Theological Reading
  4. Church Attendance
  5. Doing
  6. Praying

My Homework contains some or all of the following elements depending on the spiritual maturity of the counselee (everyone gets the homework tagged “everyone”):

  1. Attend church, take notes, bring notes to counseling. Note one application of the message to your situation. I believe it is important for a person to be in a good church that preaches the Word of God and helps people see how to change and grow. I use this assignment to assess the individual’s church – compare it to God’s Word.  I am an assistant to their pastor to help his member.  But if the person is not in a good church, then I will recommend they seek a good church.  My measure is based on the principles in “What is a Healthy Church?” by Mark Dever. Should the counselee need to move, I suggest they use this book as a guide to seek a new church. I have a one page summary I provide counselees if there is a need to change.  Of course, the final decision is theirs. A second aspect of this assignment is to meditate on the message and understand how this message applies to their current circumstances. We know that when God’s Word goes out, it does not return void – Isa. 55:11. (everyone)
  2. Memorize 2 Cor 5:94 (or 1 Cor. 10:31 or Rom 8:28,29 – depending on the knowledge of Scripture I detect in the first session). 1 Cor. 10:31 is straightforward and easy to memorize. 2 Cor. 5:9 is straightforward and a little harder to memorize. Rom. 8:28,29 is a bit harder to understand for a new believer or one less mature – in my opinion. I also do not like to give a verse out of context, so I usually assign a small reading section around the memory verse.
  3. Read Knowing Jesus Christ (NavPress) and answer questions. Note: Bible verses are in the back of the book. If there is some doubt about their personal testimony or doubt about assurance of their salvation, I will assign this booklet for them to work in.  It’s a great workbook (teaching, then Q&A) that covers the gospel.  The last question provides great input to the counselor.  Question 17 is “Do you know that you have eternal life?  Why or why not?”
  4. Read Ephesians Chapter 1-3. Make a list of the things Christ did for us. For the more mature believer I explain how many of the New Testament books are structured so that we see “what God did for us (theology proper)” followed by “what we should do as a result (our responsibility).” I point out how the transition is usually identified by the word “therefore” as we see in Eph. 4.1 (and Rom. 12:1 as another example). [Hint: Week 2 homework involves reading Ephesians Chapter 4-6 and making a list of what we should do because of Chapter 1-3]
  5. Read Christ and Your Problems (Adams). Mark 10 key sentences that stand out to you – new or reminders. The booklet “Christ and Your Problems” does a wonderful job of explaining 1Cor. 10:13. I ask them to read it through twice. The first time to get a general idea of the contents; the second time to mark sentences that either are new principles to them, or are principles they knew but this reminded them of past principles.  What they mark can be helpful input to data gathering. (everyone).
  6. Memorize the names of the first four books of the New Testament. If the counselee is having difficulty navigating around in the Scripture, I will give this assignment the first week. Each subsequent week we add four more books until they know the order of the books in the entire New Testament. This will help them in church, in their personal Bible study, and in counseling as we consider the Scriptures.
  7. Pray – I give specific assignments to help them be thinking right as they pray. To ask someone to pray without specific guidance might lead to some unusual prayers – so I think it’s helpful to provide specific guidance. (everyone) Pray for –
    • Yourself – to grow and change into Christ likeness
    • Each/Other – to glorify God
    • Family/Children – to grow up in the Lord, desiring Him
    • Counselor/Trainee – that we be careful handling the Word of God in counseling, and be an encouragement.

To close the first session, I ask if they have any questions.

Last, we pray to thank God for His Word, His care for us, His desire that we become more like His Son Jesus Christ.  We pray that the Holy Spirit will work to bring about changes to accomplish our goal.

Scripture References Cited

Proverbs 18:10 (NASB) “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.”

2 Proverbs 18:13 (NASB) “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.”

3 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB) “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

4 2 Corinthians 5:9 (NASB) “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

5 James 1:22 (NASB) But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

Michael HinesMichael Hines
Mike Hines is retired from Purdue University. He is an ACBC Certified counselor in the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. Mike co-teaches in the Berean Adult Bible Fellowship, is the Treasurer for Faith Community Development Corporation, leads a Point Man Bible Study group, and serves as the initial point of contact for new guests in our Food Pantry/Clothing Closet. Mike has served as Deacon at Faith. Mike has served in the community on the Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union Board of Directors and the United Way Allocations Committee. Mike and his wife, Marilyn, have been members of the Lafayette community since 1969 and a member of Faith since 1978. Mike and Marilyn have two children and four grandchildren.
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