Interview with Suzanne Holland
This is the tenth 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.
Today we interview Suzanne Holland. Suzanne holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, and is certified as a Biblical Counselor with the IABC and ACBC.
Q: Suzanne, please tell us about yourself.
A: I am married and the mother of two grown boys. My hometown is Kansas City, MO. The Lord has ordained some physically painful circumstances for me over the last ten years or so, and He and I together face the challenges of chronic pain and mobility limitations on a daily basis. I write a blog about that at http://neartothehealer.blogspot.com/
Q: Are you in vocational ministry (paid), or volunteer?
A: I am a volunteer biblical counselor and Online Training Program coordinator, with some administrative duties at the counseling center as well.
Q: Where do you currently serve?
A: Reigning Grace Counseling Center, Kansas City, MO
Q: Please describe your current ministry roles.
A: I counsel women and couples (in a team with a male counselor for the latter). I usually have anywhere from 5-10 active cases. I also oversee our online training program. I enroll new students, take calls and emails from them, and send out quarterly encouragement letters, as well as individual messages when I see someone is slowing down in their progress and may need some encouragement.
Q: How long have you been a biblical counselor?
A: I have been certified 2 years, but have been counseling and mentoring women for 20 plus years.
Q: How did you get interested in becoming a biblical counselor, what drew you into the ministry?
A: I earned a BA in Psychology before I was a Christian. My mom struggled with mental illness her whole life, and as I watched her suffer, I became determined to do something to help people like her. After I was saved, I began to see the futility of psychology, and learned to apply Scripture to what I used to think of as a chemical imbalance/medical problem. I love the Word of God. It has transformed my heart and life, and I love helping others experience that same transformation.
Q: Please give us a history of your experience as a biblical counselor.
A: I wasn’t certified until a couple of years ago, but I have led Bible studies and mentored women for about twenty years. I was director of women’s ministry at a former church for several years as well.
Q: Do you have particular areas of expertise?
A: Chronic pain and the struggles that go with it are very close to home for me, so I have a special desire to help those who suffer in that way. Self-pity, fear of man, and depression are also areas in which I am eager to help.
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: Yes, we counsel marriage with a male partner. I really enjoy this, because it brings a different perspective, and offers the husband the opportunity to relate to a male in counseling.
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 co-counseled with a female, but I think it would be interesting to team up, especially with counselees where my own experience is limited, and the other counselor’s is more broad.
Q: What unique strengths and advantages do you believe that women bring to a counseling ministry?
A: Women think differently from men, and have a sensitivity that most men do not. I think, because of the way women are wired, they are more patient, and willing to allow the counselee the time they need to develop trust, and to come around to right thinking.
Q: What women have most heavily influenced you as a biblical counselor?
A: Julie Ganschow has mentored and taught me all along the way. She has been a great source of support, encouragement, and help. Her expression of confidence in my ability as a counselor has been very helpful to me. This kind of encouragement and support has made a huge difference in my confidence and in my skill level.
Q: What men have most heavily influenced you as a biblical counselor?
A: Bob Kelleman’s book, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses brought about a turning point in my own growth and change, and I use the principles from that book in many counseling sessions. Nathan Curry was my ACBC supervisor, and his feedback and observations about my counseling were invaluable.
Q: What counseling or ministry resources specific to women do you find most helpful?
A: I can’t really think of anything specific to women. My “go-to” books are When People are big and God is Small, and Trusting God. Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Helper by Design is my favorite “wifing” book. I also like Surrender, by DeMoss.
Q: How do you stay current as a counselor, and is this important to your ministry?
A: I read blogs and I listen to a lot of sermons. I have found that consistently studying the Word of God is more helpful than reading “counseling books.” An occasional BC conference is always encouraging and stimulating. When I do read counseling books, I try to read the ones that teach principles that can generalize to a lot of different situations, like Gospel Conversations, Counseling the Hard Cases, Curing the Heart, and How People Change.
Q: What unique ways do you serve other than providing 1:1 counseling?
A: I have spoken at one conference, and edited some materials and books.
Q: When you first became a biblical counselor, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?
A: I haven’t really been counseling formally all that long, but I have been surprised at how broadly scriptural principles apply across all kinds of problems. I thought I would have to come up with a plan and do a lot of preparation for each case, and there is some of that. But for the most part, the problems that people bring to me fit into a biblical paradigm so that it is relatively simple to trace back their thinking to a heart problem, and then work on that.
Q: What would you like to say to any women considering becoming a Biblical Counselor?
A: It is the most rewarding thing you will ever do. You will be amazed at how incredibly gracious God is, both to you and to your counselees, and you will be humbled that He actually allows you to do this. Also, you will not be able to help everyone who comes, because it is not you who brings about heart change. The person’s willingness to submit to God’s will (which is a work of the Holy Spirit) is the deciding factor in whether change will take place, not your counseling skills. You are simply a conduit for God’s word, and a fellow struggler.
Q: We all must count the cost of ministry. What has ministry cost you?
A: I definitely have less time for social activities, but I am intentional about making time for friendships that are important to me. Dealing with the sorrow and grief of sin in people’s lives can take a toll on the morale at times, too. Weariness can result when you strive to help someone change and the change doesn’t happen. There is sometimes just a general sense of heaviness that is hard to shake, but as I grow and learn, I am quicker to lay it at the feet of Jesus.
Q: What blessings has your ministry brought you?
A: So many, I don’t even know where to start. I have grown closer to the Lord through my study and meditation on the Word as I prepare for counseling. I have seen abundant fruit of the suffering I’ve experienced. My physical challenges, and what the Lord has taught me through them, give me a platform to speak into almost any situation I encounter. I absolutely love counseling, because I love seeing the transformation of a renewed mind and how lives are changed when the understanding is enlightened.
Q: How has being a counselor benefited your own walk with The Lord?
A: It keeps me in the Word much more than I would be otherwise, which encourages my heart. I also see the struggles of others, and watching them grow and change simply by applying Truth strengthens my faith.
Q: Do you have a ‘ministry verse’ for your ministry that you find most meaningful? If so, why is it special to you?
A: Psalm 119: 73-80, or Yodh, is my counseling reminder passage.
Your hands have made me and fashioned me;
Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.
Reminds me that He made/owns me, and petitions for understanding.
74 Those who fear You will be glad when they see me,
Because I have hoped in Your word.
I want people who come to me to leave “glad” and hopeful because of the hope that I’ve found and shared with them.
75 I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
God did right in afflicting me. It is a sign of His faithfulness. I want to show my counselees that the same is true in their lives.
76 Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort,
According to Your word to Your servant.
77 Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live;
For Your law is my delight.
His law is my delight, so I will recognize his mercies when they come, and I will be comforted.
78 Let the proud be ashamed,
For they treated me wrongfully with falsehood;
But I will meditate on Your precepts.
79 Let those who fear You turn to me,
Those who know Your testimonies.
I want to be known as one who is faithful to the Word of God, so that I will be recommended to others who trust in God’s Word to help them.
80 Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes,
That I may not be ashamed.
My goal is that any believer who comes to my counseling office will be encouraged because I have applied the Word of God to the absolute best of my ability. I never want to be ashamed because I didn’t do my due diligence to help that person apply God’s Word. I know that I will never do this perfectly, but by the strength that God supplies, I will do my best.
Q: Are there things you would like to do as a biblical counselor but have not done yet?
A: I am blessed just to counsel. Anything extra will come by the grace of God.
Q: In what ways have you grown as a counselor since the beginning of your ministry?
A: Again, I haven’t been counseling that long formally, but one thing that comes to mind is that I’m not as nervous and fearful of not being able to “handle” people who come to me as I was at first. The Lord has shown me that it is He who supplies wisdom. I just need to be prepared by knowing the Word and how to apply it. I am also growing more and more aware of and thankful for the role of the Holy Spirit in counseling. This is something that was really brought home to me at the 2016 ACBC conference.
Q: What does a typical work/ministry week look like for you?
A: I use Mondays for admin catch-up, both on the online program and with correspondence. I counsel Tuesday and Wednesday, we have staff meeting on Thursdays, and Friday is my day off. In and among all these things, I answer the phone, (scheduling, messages, etc.) which is forwarded to the Online Program phone when no one is at the office. I enroll new students in the Online Program as their applications are approved. I also monitor the online students’ progress and send individual and/or group messages to the students accordingly. I talk on the phone or through email with students who call for help or guidance occasionally, and I send out a quarterly encouragement letter to them. I write weekly blog posts for both BC for Women and Near to the Healer.
Q: How do you manage your own spiritual growth and spiritual health?
A: I have a firmly entrenched habit of reading for about an hour each morning, as soon as I get up. I try to read from both OT and NT every day, as well as Psalms and Proverbs. I have a couple of discipling partners with whom I enjoy mutual sharpening. I am a part of a book discussion group at church, and really enjoy wrestling out the application of Scripture with them. Indelible Grace on Pandora keeps me thinking on Christ as I exercise or drive, and Sermon Audio is a great resource when I want to better understand a particular passage or principle of Scripture.
Q: Ministry can be draining and exhausting. How do you recharge?
A: Probably the best recharge for me is spending time with my husband at the lake, or hanging out with close friends, not talking about counseling! Writing really helps fuel my determination to walk in obedience to Christ in my own heart, and reading good books encourages me too.
Q: How can the readers be praying for you and your ministry?
A: Just that I would be focused on Christ, not relying on my own strength or knowledge, but always pointing counselees to Christ.
Q: Are you optimistic about the future of women in the biblical counseling ministry movement in general?
A: Yes! Women are a great asset to the biblical counseling movement–invaluable, really. Both men and women are equally valuable, both in God’s sight and in our collective efforts as people helpers.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add here, words of experience, wisdom, advice, anything at all?
A: Counseling is challenging. The hardest thing for me is keeping my own thoughts and ideas out of the way, as I steer them to Truth and to Christ. My instinct has always been to try to make people feel better, and I guess that’s what I imagined I would be doing when I first got into this. Now I know that sometimes people need to feel worse before they will get better. Most need conviction of sin, and help plowing their way out of it. I have definitely learned a more true definition of encouragement. It includes exhortation, rebuke, teaching, training, and hope. All these come together to bring the counselee out of whatever state she came in with.
Thank you, Suzanne, 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.