Interview with Karen Gaul
This is the seventh interview by Ellen Castillo in a series of posts featuring women who are biblical counselors. Each post will feature one or more counselors who have agreed to an interview to tell us about their ministries, their experience and expertise, and the history of their involvement in biblical counseling.
We trust that you will find this series informative and insightful. Many women have asked what opportunities might be open to them upon obtaining either a degree or certification in biblical counseling. As the biblical counseling movement expands, so do the opportunities for women to serve in a variety of ways as biblical counselors. Over the course of this series, you will hear from women who serve vocationally, as volunteers, in their churches, in a parachurch organization, in colleges, and a variety of other areas where they are serving around the globe.
Q: Please tell us about yourself.
A: I have been married since 1983. I live with my husband Jamie in Stratford, Ontario Canada. God has blessed us abundantly and one of those ways was to keep our family with just the two of us. Not birthing children has been a place for me to share with struggling women, those who are infertile. or have miscarried. We enjoy golfing during the summer months together, and I enjoy reading and studying, walking, and listening to music.
Q: What are your credentials?
A: I have been certified with the ACBC since 1996. I am also working on my counseling degree with Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana, expecting to be finished inside of two years.
Q: Are you in vocational ministry (paid), or volunteer?
A: I have been counseling as a vocation since 1995. Those were interesting pioneering days in the beginning with only three certified Biblical Counselors in all of Canada. I am thankful we all lived within an hour of each other. Although counseling is my vocation, I also do volunteer my time over coffee or phone calls with people, as well as spend time as a resource person with those interested in biblical counseling.
Q: Where do you currently serve and in what kind of ministry?
A: I serve the local churches in my area that prefer to have a biblical counselor disciple their congregations. I work alongside some key pastors who support and encourage biblical counseling. I have called my ministry Grace Biblical Counselling, and you can find me at www.gracebiblicalcounselling.net . Besides counseling, I speak at women’s conferences and ladies’ events, as well as to youth groups and to ministry leaders. I also have several longer teaching events that I have offered over the years (both of them 10 weeks). All of them help to promote the cause of Biblical counseling versus secular or Christian counseling. One local pastor has me to all of his premarital counseling which I love to do for him. We then discuss where the couple is at and proceed from there.
Q: Please tell us about your ministry role.
A: I am a counselor and teacher. This is my own business, so I have to be a promoter (which I did more frequently in the early days as God directed… meeting with elder groups and ministerial groups to promote the vision of biblical counseling), bookkeeper, as well as counselor, speaker, teacher and resource person.
Currently, I spend time primarily counseling, but also as a resource person or encourager to those who are pursuing certification or thinking about it. I continue to study and read for my personal growth and also to prepare for speaking/teaching engagements throughout the year (to a maximum of 4 times speaking). I enjoy listening to podcasts and reading blogs because they give me food for my ministry. Blogging has become a good way to speak out to more people and I enjoy the feedback I receive from them. I will use those as homework assignments for counselees.
Q: How did you get interested in becoming a biblical counselor, what drew you into the ministry?
A: In the early 90’s I was a youth worker and as the youth came they brought with them things I could not or did not know how to walk them through. I could pray with them, encourage them, connect with them, but didn’t understand the heart, didn’t understand suffering, and didn’t know how to bring the Word to bear on their lives adequately. In 1994 I was introduced to a counseling course in my area. The course was originally put together by Paul Tripp and then with permission adapted and taught here by Ron Harris (nothing was copyrighted in those days). I was blown away by the teaching and knew somehow this would change my life. I went on to co-teach it with Ron and then adapt it for myself (with permission) and have taught it nearly a dozen more times. Each time, it affects me. At the time I thought God would use the course to sharpen me for greater effective youth ministry, but the first person to call me was more than 20 years older than I was, and it just went from there. I left youth ministry, went to the June Institute with CCEF (the last one they offered), pursued certification with Doc Smith as my ACBC Fellow, started a degree in biblical counseling with Trinity and have been counseling as my primary vocation ever since. God has brought people for counseling as He deems best from literally all over the world. I have let God grow the ministry and do with it as he sees fit. When I get asked to speak or teach, if I can I jump at the chance to do that, I love to teach. It brings joy to my heart to see people awakened to the truth of God’s Word. I love to share truth with groups, whether women’s, teens, or mixed.
Q: Please give us a history of your experience as a biblical counselor.
A: I have served many area churches and continue to work with some amazing men of God all within an hour or so from where I live. Some of those areas I travel to weekly so that I can reach a wider area of hurting people. All of the outer area churches were pastors who found me (a total God thing). We met, connected and made arrangements for counseling and teaching to begin and it has continued for nearly two decades.
In 2014 I was asked to travel to British Columbia for a ladies conference and will be going there again this year. That was the first time outside of Ontario. I am excited to now be a national speaker! Speaking takes me from within the church (mixed groups on topics, women’s groups, youth groups) to Home School groups and Home School conferences, to a graduating class in a seminary, to MOPs groups. I have spoken about biblical counseling to elders boards, church ministry leaders, and pretty much anyone who is interested and will listen to me.
In several churches I have worked closely with the pastor doing some visitations for him, counseling for him, meeting with him to discuss those he would counsel, giving resources when necessary and generally supporting his position. I have never been located out of just one church. God never allowed that to happen, and I trusted His best for me was to be bigger and broader. I have been instrumental in the lives of many people in southern Ontario not just for counseling but sharing with them about authors, conferences, and other opportunities for biblical truth to be shared with the hurting and broken and addicted. I love getting calls from people who are wondering about starting into counseling and want some input. Those are always a joy to my heart. It has been a great journey so far and isn’t over yet. I have been most blessed.
Q: Do you have particular areas of expertise?
A: I counsel most areas that there is a struggle in. I had to be flexible at the beginning because there were only three of us for many years. I am particularly at ease counseling a stressed marriage. I am married and I know what it is to struggle in marriage, so I welcome a struggling couple. Depression comes in close behind (sometimes in the lead) and to give hope to those who are lost and fearful and filled with anxiety—to see hope on a face that has been hopeless is a joy to me. Abuse is always a big one (but a difficult one), and so for many of my early years, it seemed that most of the women who came had been abused as a child. To see God bring healing and freedom to those who have been enslaved as victims brings tears to my eyes.
I do counsel men as well dealing with pornography and other areas of enslavement. From time to time I also counsel children and teens but work closely with parents in those cases.
Again I counsel most areas and I have concluded that if God brings them to me then he will help me and give me the wisdom to counsel them in a biblical way.
I love to speak (teach) and share biblical truth whether that is a passage or a topic/theme, and I love to blog. I love to write and do research. Maybe one day I will write a book, only God knows. I always desired to be a teacher and God has used that desire in letting me bring riches from God’s Word to the people I am privileged to speak to.
Q: Is there anything particularly unique or unusual about how you serve in ministry?
A: I serve the local church although I have not been planted in just one church. That has given me great flexibility and freedom to serve the greater church. It has freed me from any political and church drama so I could focus primarily on ministering to the hurting in the pew. I think most counselors are located in an office; I travel to where I am needed. I have 3 locations, one at home, one an hour in one direction and one half an hour in the other direction. I have had to learn to adapt to different pastors and church styles and convictions which has been great because I get to see a unity and a passion for the truth of the Word as it is administered to the hurting and wayward. We have a common thread amidst our doctrinal differences and that is that we love Jesus and we love his church and we believe that God’s Word can bring life and care to his children.
Q: Do you partner with male counselors or pastors in your ministry? In what ways and what advantages does male partnership bring to your ministry?
A: For many years there was no one to partner with. I pioneered with two other men in our country for many years. Doc Smith helped me to counsel men effectively and wisely. I always partnered where I could with the local pastor. I have had a team of three pastors who I could email or call when I needed a pastor to give input. I have a medical doctor I can call for insight or counsel. He also believes in the sufficiency of the Word. Presently, I will refer to a male counselor if the person requests that (there are a few of them around now). I am currently speaking with another church about partnering with them, and one of their pastors is a biblical counselor (they are looking to bring a woman on board). That is a new adventure for me.
The pastor brings an authority to the ministry so when people come they are more committed to the change process, as well as the accountability piece. I love it when counsel that I give and things that are happening in the local church overlap. If I am connected with the pastor I can know those things ahead and use them as part of the change process.
Q: Do you partner with other female counselors, and in what ways? In what ways and what advantages does female partnership bring to your ministry?
A: I have not partnered with any female counselors except to refer if they are outside of my area, although I do have a friend who is a biblical counselor. She and I chat often about counseling issues, share resources, have gone to conferences together, pray for one another and meet occasionally (we live 2 hours apart). She has been a great friend to push me when I needed to be pushed, encourage me when I needed encouragement, speak boldly to me when I needed that. She understands the demands of ministry and I would not have been as effective as I am without her input in my life. When I am exhausted or frustrated or overjoyed she is the one I share those things with because I know she will respond with biblical truth, not sympathy or pity. She also “gets” my joy. I have female counselors who are newer in the ministry and so occasionally have had the opportunity to walk along side of them to encourage. Currently, I do enjoy staying involved with a group of women in the US who are part of the biblical counseling for women group. They are encouraging to me.
Q: What unique strengths and advantages do you believe that women bring to a counseling ministry?
A: I think we can be sympathetic and compassionate. We understand the whole world of emotions quite well. Sometimes life isn’t so cut and dried and we are good with that. There are definite times when it is wise and prudent for a woman to counsel a woman. It prevents a false and unhealthy and ungodly attachment that has and can happen when a woman is counseled by a man. I have found that some men are also more open with a woman because of the style and manner in which counseling happens.
Q: Describe any hardship or challenges that you have faced as a woman in ministry.
A: Some churches would see me as a woman and therefore not give me much of a voice. Sharing biblical truth with leadership, wanting them to understand the importance of having a biblical counseling ministry attached to their church has also been hard again because I am a woman. The respect for what I was doing was not there. That was evident when a new pastor came to a particular church and I was dismissed because I was a woman. Needless to say for that and other reasons we left that church.
In the early days the whole idea of Biblical counseling was new to pastors and so to get them thinking of the need or benefit to their own ministry was difficult. I would get comments like, “Oh, you belong to the Jay Adams group,” whatever that all meant. I have been told to “stop talking to people then you won’t have to counsel those in our church.” But how do I stop seeing the hurting in the pew ? Isn’t that what we are to be doing as believers? In the last years since the movement has grown in Canada and in the US, more and more pastors are aware and desiring to have biblical counselors around. Overall, I have been very blessed by most of the pastors (all men) that I have had the privilege of serving alongside.
One big hardship has nothing to do with whether I am a woman or a man is that not many churches are big enough to support another staff person, and that was the reason it worked out for me to work with many pastors in many churches (and turned into a blessing). Because of that, I have been on my own as far as a business and have then had to fund all my own teaching, training and conferences and materials. That has not always been easy and still makes traveling long distances to conferences difficult. Initially, I tried to get to an event every two years as well as my own reading, but am so grateful now for technology which makes it easier to get to many events from the comfort of my office chair.
Another hardship has been that I am not recognized as an effective counselor in the world systems, so insurance companies won’t cover costs. I am good with that piece (not belonging to their system) but it makes it difficult for people to come when their benefits cover secular or Christian counseling but not biblical counseling.
Q: What women have most heavily influenced you as a biblical counselor?
A: Elyse Fitzpatrick, Martha Peace in the early days, both at conferences and in books. Elyse continues to bless me with her writing. I also read Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Leslie Vernick.
Q: What men have most heavily influenced you as a biblical counselor?
A: Doc Smith helped me greatly as I was going through my observation hours (which we continued on for another 50 because I enjoyed the interaction with him and it made me feel less isolated). Again in the early days, it would have been Bill Goode, Jay Adams, Paul Tripp, David Powlison and Rick Thomas from Mt. Carmel Ministries. Since the early days along with Paul Tripp and others who are still at CCEF, I continue to get the journal, and it—and they—continue to bless me. Another is Rick Thomas from Counseling Solutions Group. He has been instrumental in getting me to blog, to look further, to influence more. I continue to love his website, his blogging, books and webinars. I also read John Piper (books and blogs) and Timothy Keller, James MacDonald and Alistair Begg.
Q: What counseling or ministry resources specific to women do you find most helpful?
A: How to Act Right when your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick. It gives women the courage to look at themselves and stay the course.
Blogs connected to Biblical Counseling for Women and those who are linked to it. They blog about issues relevant to women and can be useful for counseling purposes and encouragement for me.
Women counseling Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick: A number of issues that are relevant to counseling women.
Blogs by Paul Tripp and James McDonald regularly come into my inbox and are rich with biblical truth. I use them for encouragement for myself, friends and also from time to time send them to counselees for a midweek touching base.
CCEF, ACBC, and Counseling Solutions Group are great resources for whatever issue I need to look at. They keep current with info and insights that are useful both for myself and for others.
Q: How do you stay current as a counselor, and is this important to your ministry?
A: I daily read blog postings from a variety of sources (see the previous question), all counseling related as well as read and stay on top of new books written by counseling people. I take webinars when available, as well as take in conferences when I am able to attend. I do value and appreciate our techie age where we can take in conferences via live feed, which has made it more affordable for me to get the current input from counseling ministries. Being there in person always creates more energy and enthusiasm. However, with rising costs for travel and accommodation and time away I most appreciate that I can still be part of the greater counseling world and not leave home. I have set up a webinar by Rick Thomas from counseling solutions group in my church for further training for me as well as for others. I am also continuing my education with Trinity theological seminary in Indiana. Listening to podcasts is also a part of my week. I get the updates from publishers so when a new book comes out I am sure to find it, read it and have it in my library to lend.
Q: When you first became a biblical counselor, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?
A: I’m not sure I wish anything different, other than maybe to have my church embrace it fully and wholeheartedly, but not having that made me practice Psalm 37… trust in Him, commit my ministry and my way and my life to him, delight in him and rest in him as he leads and directs my life. That became a day to day and day by day practice, one I have not mastered by any means, but am getting.
Q: What would you like to say to any women considering becoming a Biblical Counselor?
A: It is a hard road, but a worthwhile and most beneficial road. It will bless not only your heart, but your families and your friends and anyone else God brings into your life. It is not the place to be if you want to get rich quick and be popular or not deal with your own heart issues. I would ask that you let God grow your business as you are faithful to what is before you. He will accomplish all that he wants in and through you in His time. Be prepared for hardships to come your way. I had a wise counselor say to me to expect difficulty as God will use it in counseling (2 Corinthians 1).
Q: We all must count the cost of ministry. What has ministry cost you?
A: It has cost me friendships, it has cost me church family (we have had to move from church families to others), it has cost much time (calls in the middle of the night) and resources. When you have been taught the riches of God’s Word as the source for life and godliness then being in places that preach less than that and live out less than that makes it impossible to stay.
Q: What blessings has your ministry brought you?
A: I have been blessed with great and deep friendships, and a church family now that embraces Truth and preaches and lives out Truth. BC has brought a walk with God I would not likely have had any other way because I have met either in person or via media or books some amazing men and women of God I would not have met any other way. I have been privileged to struggle through some difficult things so I could not only grow in my own walk but bless others.
Q: How has being a counselor benefitted your own walk with The Lord?
A: I need to be a student of the Word in order to be a counselor who walks with the hurting and can lead them to the Word. I have been influenced by many godly people who have blessed and enriched and stretched my own walk with God. It has pushed me to never settle.
Q: Do you have a ‘ministry verse’ for your ministry that you find most meaningful? If so, why is it special to you?
A: 2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us.” It reminds me again and again that the Word has the answers to do all of life, and that I can live the way he has called me to live because he gives his resurrected power to accomplish it.
Q: Are there things you would like to do as a biblical counselor but have not done yet?
A: I’m not a big visionary, so am enjoying the journey and all the places that God has chosen to take me on this ride. I have often thought how nice it would be to actually counsel from within my own church, no more being the “traveling counselor,” no more having to get to know and work with and build new relationships with new pastors when they come to churches I have been working with for many years.
Q: In what ways have you grown as a counselor since the beginning of your ministry?
A: I am often times humbled by the influence that I have had in Southern Ontario, but also excited to know that I was very instrumental in BC being where it is today in Ontario. I have grown biblically as both a child of God and as a counselor since the beginning of my journey. I trust His leading more quickly, I embrace the changes He brings more easily, I can rest more certainly, I see my sin more intensely and I appreciate Grace every moment.
Q: What does a typical work/ministry week look like for you?
A: Monday morning… preparations to leave for Kitchener. Home when the day finishes, sometimes early sometimes evening.
Tuesday and Friday are counseling days for me at home, so again each week and each day is different. I always have time for phone calls, emails and texts along the way, or to get some necessary book work done, as well as time to work on upcoming talks or course materials.
Wednesday is my day to travel to Aylmer so en route I get to listen to either music, podcasts, or pray or just simply to enjoy the drive and quiet before the day begins. Again it lasts as long as it does and begins when it needs to begin. Each day each week is different. Sometimes I have time to meet up with a pastor I work with, or chat with those in the church building where I work from.
Thursday through the winter and spring months is another counseling day at home so again I have time to have coffee with friends, or work on talks and study material, or it might be a day to just spend with the Lord reading, going for a walk.
Early on in my ministry, I would counsel whenever I needed to, I was as adaptable and flexible as I could be day or evening. Now I try to counsel through the day hours and possibly one or two evenings a week.
Q: How do you manage your own spiritual growth and spiritual health?
A: I cap my evenings and the amount of speaking I do in a year. I have my own time with the Lord, to be in the Word for myself not for others. I worship regularly, get the rest I need and practice the disciplines.
Q: Ministry can be draining and exhausting. How do you recharge?
A: Time away, get the proper rest, spend time with Jamie and friends. Making time for recreation in my week is a great way to de-stress and clear the head. I also work at a little retail shop in my city from June to December and that is “my therapy” place. I enjoy the interaction and it is stress-free and not draining in any way.
Up until last year, I took every 7th week away from counseling to rest and do whatever was important to me that week. I have used that week as vacation, study time, getting caught up with friends or domestic things, reading and quiet.
Q: How can the readers be praying for you and your ministry?
A: That I would continue to be faithful to the call, and that God would continue to lead it as I move into my 60’s.s
Q: What kinds of opportunities do you see available for women in biblical counseling?
A: As the age of sexual immorality continues to grow it is more and more important for women to be counseling women, and for women to be equipped to be first godly, biblical women and then to equip others. Because of the technological age we also live in there is great excitement for women to be connected all over the globe. We can encourage and befriend and challenge and equip each other from wherever we are.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add here, words of experience, wisdom, advice, anything at all?
A: It is a journey very well worth the taking, but not for the faint of heart or the one who wants to hide her heart or have fear of man issues. You will get dirty and muddied by what comes out of others. You can only take people to where you have been, if you can’t and don’t understand your own heart tendencies you will not be successful in helping others. This is not a career to get rich, it can be a good supplemental income unless you have a regular income that doesn’t come directly from counsellees. Because it has been that for me I have been able to leave that piece with the Lord to manage. He knows what we need and has been faithful.
Keep your walk with God fresh, active and vibrant. Delight in the Lord, know him deeper every day and he will bring hurting women to you.
Thank you, Karen, for sharing your heart for the ministry of biblical counseling with our readers today. May God richly bless you as you continue to serve Him!
This series of interviews is conducted by Ellen Castillo, a Biblical Counselor and the Director of Word of Hope Ministries, Inc., on behalf of Biblical Counseling for Women. You can connect with Ellen at www.wordofhopeministries.com and www.biblicalmentor.com.
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