One of the things any counselor must do when meeting a new counselee is to gather information about the person before them. As a biblical counselor I don’t follow secular methodology that requires me to dig up a person’s past going back to their childhood, or beyond. Often, a counselee will come to the first meeting expecting to have to dredge up old history that has no bearing on their present problem.
However, it is important that I dig around enough to learn what the issues behind the issues are because regardless of what the presenting problem may be, there is a greater problem underneath it all. If I only address the surface issue (marital discord, rage, theft, etc) I might teach my counselee how to change her behavior, but such change is nearly always temporary.
While initially the counselee feels better having learned some coping skills or some means to adjust behavior, temporary change is just that- temporary! Ultimately, behaviorist counseling ends up being rather disheartening for the counselee for they find their willpower to put forth the effort to act differently wanes over time. This is because “self” gets in the way and the desire that a person has to serve themselves often overrules their desire for behavior change.
Here is an example: Trina is overweight and her health is in grave danger due to the excess number of pounds she carries on her tiny frame. On her doctors advise, she has completed behavior therapy and learned a set of new behaviors that are intended to help her eat less. She began strong and lost a significant amount of weight over several months. When the holidays came around Trina began to see all the treats that she was missing and slowly began to incorporate sweets back into her diet. Within 1 month, she had regained most of the weight.
Trina’s presenting problem is that she is dangerously overweight, but it is really what is going on in her heart that is the issue. Her weight is just a symptom that reveals who Trina really serves deep down inside, in what the Bible calls the heart.
In order to really help a counselee like Trina, she must see that what she thinks about, what she believes to be true, what she desires in her heart, and ultimately who she worships is what really feeds her problem.
John Calvin once wrote about the heart being an idol factory. What he meant by that is that we are always coming up with new things and people to worship. These other things are in reality idols that displace our love and devotion to the Lord. It is our worship of people and things other than God that causes us to produce the visible manifestations we and other people see in our lives. We could call those manifestations fruit. Just picking the rotten fruit off a tree does not guarantee the tree will produce better fruit next harvest. In fact, if the tree goes unattended the fruit only gets worse and worse. It is the same for the human heart. As a person attempts to fix themselves by changing their outward behavior and leaves the heart untouched the result is a better Pharisee. Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who wanted to look good on the outside, but took no care for what was within them.
...you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:27-28 (NASB)
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Matthew 15:8 (NASB)
The counselor has to uncover the root issues with the counselee in order to help her change from the inside out. The counselee must learn the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of the heart that are driving the behaviors and becoming regular sinful patterns of living. Through the process of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17) the counselee will learn to deny her hearts desires in favor of those that honor and glorify God.
Honoring God and living life for Him instead of self becomes the higher goal and the proper motivation for change.