Have you ever acted like a personal trainer in your counseling?
You know what that looks like; it is “3 truths for this,” “2 principles for that,” and “5 ways for accomplishing this…” In other words, the Bible becomes simply a set of principles to follow. When this happens, you slip into thinking that if only your counselees could do two more “sets” then they will finally get over the hump and the change with be lasting? There are two fundamental problems with this approach.
First, the Bible is not simply a set of principles. Does the Scripture include principles? Of course, but those principles are set in the context of relationship. The blessings of living as a follower of Christ include knowing the whole story and having the indwelling Holy Spirit. One of the testimonies of the Scriptures is that principles (or law, if you will) are never enough. The commands found in Scripture must be carried out in the midst of relationship or else nothing of Spiritual value and significance will be accomplished.
Second, it can appear to counselees that obedience to a set of principles is the primary task of the believer in Christ. This again is not exactly right. The real issue, testified by the story line of Scripture, is that we are God’s image bearers being made into the perfect image bearer – Jesus. In practice, Jesus summarized our task in Matt 22:37-40 saying that we are to love the Lord our God with everything we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Thus, the point of counseling is to help our counselees love the Lord more than ever before. Part of our task is helping them be more impressed with Jesus, who in great love gave himself for the counselee, than to simply obey a set of principles. Must they obey? Yes, but that obedience comes in response to understanding who God is and all that God has done in Christ.
So, if counselors are supposed to emphasize union with Christ as the real power for change, then how do we get that done? Here are three ideas, certainly not the only ideas, to help you make Union with Christ more important in your counseling.
Idea #1: During the Session, Emphasize Christ
The counseling session is a give-and-take; it is a dialogue, humanly speaking, between you and another person. While we would confess the presence and dependence of God in the session, it is helpful if we make it obvious. Lead in prayer in a way that expresses dependency on the risen Savior for anything of value to be accomplished during your meeting. Ask questions and give responses in such a way that Christ is the motivation for what we do and He is the one who should get preeminence in all that happens in our lives. Set Scripture passages you want to discuss within the story line of the Bible. At some level, the text you are talking about has some relationship to Christ…so tell your counselee what that connection might be. In other words, we are advocating a conversation between two people that is surrounded by an emphasis on Christ. In that way, it is even possible to speak of a trilogue. There is you, your counselee, and Christ through the pages of the Scripture.
Idea #2: Assign homework that encourages them to focus on Christ
We want homework to be practical. We want our counselees to know exactly what to do when they leave. However, it is possible to write homework that never directs the counselee to think about or focus on Christ. Homework can appear to simply tell them to do this or to do that without encouraging them to be this or be that. Thus, it can appear to a counselee that the time away from counseling is somehow fundamentally different than the time in counseling. Instead, homework should again bring Christ front and center. This will put your counselees in the best possible position to be thinking of Jesus while they live out their week. Not only is this more pleasing to God (as if that weren’t enough!), but it also prepares them for life without you.
Idea #3: Remind them that abiding in the Vine is the pathway to growth in Christ long after counseling concludes
In John 15 the disciples were plainly told “without me you can do nothing.” The whole concept of fruit bearing in John 15 has to do with abiding in the vine. Without the source of nourishment from the vine, no branch can produce fruit. In counseling, sometimes the counselees act as if you, the counselor, are the vine. You tell them what to do, you hold them accountable, you fuss at them when they fail, and you praise them when they succeed. How can we honestly call that success? Our counselees need to be reminded over and over again that fruit bearing in their lives comes from their relationship to Jesus, not us. While we want to be an instrument in Jesus’ hand, our counselees should never confuse the “instrument” with the “Jesus.” When your counselee is more concerned about what Jesus thinks than what you or anyone else thinks, that person is in the process of making change permanent.
Genuine change that glorifies God is rooted theologically in the fact that every believer is in union with Christ (see Romans 6-8). Let us, as counselors, seek to emphasize that truth and ensure that if our counselees hear nothing else – they will at least hear that Jesus is king and in him is the power for change.