Reflections of a Rookie Counselor
Have you considered becoming a biblical counselor, but aren’t sure you can handle it? Maybe you’re afraid you won’t know what to say to someone who is struggling, or that you’ll say the wrong thing. Perhaps you think someone will bring an issue that is too hard for you, and you won’t be able to help. Those were some of the fears I had as I prepared for my certification. It is a little intimidating to think that someone may be sitting in front of you one day, expecting you to help them through a difficult situation. What will you say? How will you guide them through the Word of God to the answers they’re looking for? Will you be able to give them what they need?
Because of the training I received through Reigning Grace Counseling Center, I was thoroughly equipped to minister the Word to those first few counselees I worked with. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t still a little scared! So, in my next couple of posts, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned in my first few years of formal counseling. In this first post, I’ll share three lessons I learned about my own heart as I began to counsel. Next time, I’ll talk specifics about finding my own approach and style of counseling within the BC model. My hope is that it will encourage those of you who are just starting out, and perhaps dismiss some of those fears for you who are still having doubts about becoming a biblical counselor.
I’m Not Adequate
The first thing God showed me as I asked Him for more confidence in my ability to counsel was that I am sorely inadequate for the task! The more I studied, made notes, and scoured the homework files for the perfect counseling plan, the more my grand designs fell flat! I would spend hours planning out a session in 15-minute increments, only to have the counselee come in with a whole new set of circumstances and problems! I found myself fumbling for answers as I realized that, though I had over-prepared for the session, I was underprepared to roll with the Spirit’s moving in the life of the counselee.
It didn’t take long for me to understand that I was not the one in charge of the session, nor the one responsible for this person’s spiritual growth. In those first few weeks of counseling, the Lord began to reveal to me that nothing I said or did would bring about change in anyone. No matter how grand and perfect my counseling plan, His was the only plan that mattered, and He wasn’t asking for my input! I realized that I had focused on the plan instead of the person; the homework instead of the heart. So I regrouped, and began to spend more time in prayer than any other kind of preparation. Prayer for the counselee, of course, but also for my own heart: That my misplaced confidence in my own skills and ability would step aside, and confidence in the Spirit’s work through the Word of God would grow.
Fear of Man
I have always struggled to some degree with fear of man. Whatever the reason, others’ opinions of me have always mattered. This is an ongoing battle, and it accompanied me into the counseling room. I found myself holding back things I knew the counselee needed to hear, for fear that she wouldn’t come back. And if she didn’t come back, she wouldn’t get better, right? (See point number one.) Again, this fear was rooted in self-reliance and the belief that her growth or lack thereof was dependent on me. I needed to trust in the Word of God to speak truth to each dear soul I met.
So I asked the Lord before each session (this is something I still do regularly) to bring Scripture to my mind that would speak exactly the Truth my counselee needed to hear. More and more, I learned that letting the Word of God speak Truth to her is much more effective than any wordsmithing I could do to soften the blow of the exhortation so that she would still like me, and would come back. As I did this more often, I was relieved and excited to see the powerful, living, sharp sword of the Word do the painful work for me. If she was offended, that was God’s problem, not mine, and I figured He could handle it. Leave it to Jesus was my new motto. As I have wielded the Word in the lives of my counselees, I have seen abundant fruit, both in their lives and my own.
Quick to Judge
Though I was warned about this multiple times during my training, when I finally began counseling on my own, I was often too quick to come to a conclusion about the counselee’s main issues. This was partly because I wanted to get my plan lined out (again, see point 1), and partly because I am a linear thinker, with well-honed critical thinking skills. I saw each new counselee as a puzzle to be worked, a problem to be solved, and I approached them accordingly. For example, if a new counselee checked the “depression” and “anxiety” boxes on her PDI, I would brush up on the Scriptures and resources for those issues, and sketch out a plan. I was prepared to gain involvement by sharing my own struggles in these areas, and I prayed that the Lord would help me develop a rapport with this individual based on our common experience.
The Lord was very gracious to consistently toss my plans, and to show me that His were better. My depressed counselee confessed a pornography addiction at her first session, and the one who had checked the anxiety box confessed an extramarital relationship at her third session! Suddenly, my puzzles had no edge or corner pieces, and the problems before me seemed insurmountable! There is nothing like being caught completely off guard in the middle of a counseling session, to humble a counselor and show her how desperately she needs the wisdom of God!
These early experiences taught me to move more slowly through the beginning stage of counseling. Though I study the intake paperwork, and do my best to have a general idea of the presenting problem, I know that the whole focus could shift at any time. Counselees often leave out important issues or details in their paperwork, and some simply don’t want to confess everything they’re struggling with on paper! The Lord has shown me that He works powerfully, and I can take the best advantage of that by asking Him to reveal the counseling issues in His perfect timing.
These first few years of being a certified biblical counselor have been very eye opening for me, and the mistakes He sovereignly ordained for me have taught me a great deal about how the Lord works in the lives of His people. Though I had been counseling women for many years before I was certified, the title “Biblical Counselor” brings a whole new set of expectations, both from the counselee and the counselor. The challenge of meeting those expectations brings growth and maturity to a discipler like no other process!
My training taught me that gaining involvement in the counselee’s life is vital to the process of biblical change. Next time, I’ll share with you some of the ways I have found to relate to my counselees, and to find common ground from which to help them. If this post has encouraged you to seek training to become a biblical counselor, take a look at our website and browse through our Online Training Program for Biblical Counseling. If you have questions, give me a call at ((816) 673-6360. I will be happy to chat with you about our program and how to get started!