What Do You Do?
I was a stay at home mom for more than two decades. I remember accompanying my husband to office events at which he would introduce me to his coworkers, who would inevitably ask the dreaded question, “What do you do?” This always filled me with fear, because I knew it would go something like this: After I said, “I’m a stay at home mom and I homeschool our children,” they would usually get a puzzled look on their face, make what they thought was a polite comment, and then go find someone else to talk to. I didn’t go to many of those office events.
My husband has a different job now, and there is an office picnic coming up on our calendar, so I know that I will have an opportunity, once again, to share “what I do.” I can’t wait to see the reaction to my answer this time. Not many people are familiar with biblical counseling, and perhaps even you have wondered what exactly it is. Is it just discipleship? Accountability? Psychology? How is it different from pastoral counseling, or just having coffee with a friend?
As I thought about the answer to this question, it occurred to me that the best way to tell you what biblical counseling is might be to tell you what it is not. Three things came to my mind immediately as I wrote that last line: Biblical counseling is not psychology, it is not forever, and it is not easy.
Biblical counseling is not psychology.
Most psychologists want to help their clients change. Even as I write that, I see a difference immediately between psychology and biblical counseling, simply in what we call the people who come to us for help. If you see a psychologist, you are a client or a patient. This implies that the therapist is a “professional,” who is on a somewhat higher plain than the person sitting before him: The patient is sick, and the psychologist is the healer. He wants to help you change your feelings, your behaviors, and your relationships. This, he believes, will solve your problem and improve your life. If these changes don’t work, he might send you to a psychiatrist so you can get medication to fix your problem.
When you see a biblical counselor, you become a counselee, not a patient or client. That is because we are equal in Christ. The counselor has problems and sin struggles, just as you do. The only difference is that the counselor has had specialized training in helping people change by the power of the Gospel—not by her degree, or by any special knowledge that is unavailable to you. The counselor may also have a deep sense of calling to counseling as a ministry. For many of us, myself included, that calling is irresistible. The counselee and counselor are sisters in Christ, journeying toward heaven on the same road. The counselor may be a bit further down the road, able to reach back and help the counselee over the potholes.
Biblical counseling is not forever.
Have you ever been hopelessly lost as you tried to get somewhere you’d never been before? You drive down different roads, hoping to get where you’re going, but you keep ending up in the wrong place. Finally, you pull over to the side of the road and get out the map or ask for directions. Once you’re back on track, you don’t need to keep checking the map or asking where to turn. If you come to this place again, you will be able to find your way more easily.
This is the perfect analogy for biblical counseling. Biblical counseling is intensive discipleship, only for a season, to help a counselee who has lost her way to get back on the right road. Many counselees need to come only for six or eight sessions, some even less, to see where they went wrong in their response to whatever is troubling them. We counsel directly from the Word of God, so our counsel is consistently applicable to any situation the counselee may be facing. Biblical principles are so readily generalized to all of life that we often find, as the mind is renewed about one area or problem, the counselee begins to see the application of that renewal across all of her life. It is an amazing thing to see a heart transformed in this way!
Once those biblical principles have been learned, applied, and practiced, the counselee is encouraged to seek out ongoing discipleship from another woman at her home church. This perpetuates the transformation and ensures that the counselee will continue to practice what she has learned, continue to grow in her walk, and perhaps even reach out to disciple another believer.
Biblical Counseling is not easy.
Finally, this process of biblical change does not come without effort. Honestly, it is hard work. Most biblical counselors assign homework for their counselees to do between appointments. Weekly meetings are necessary, but that is not primarily where the heart change happens. It is in the course of doing the carefully crafted homework that the biblical counselor assigns between sessions, that the real heart transformation happens. As counselees study the Bible and other books and do the work assigned to them, they begin to see the errors in their thinking, and the counselor teaches them to trace those errors back to their hearts. This is the process of heart change, and this is what brings about successful biblical counseling.
Now that you know what biblical counseling isn’t, I’ll tell you what it is. It is intensive discipleship for a season, intended to bring about heart change in the counselee, leading to life change. So, when I go to that picnic with my hubby, I will share my vocation with the people that I meet. Perhaps it will give me a chance to encourage some of them with the Gospel. I still expect the puzzled look, though, as I did when my answer included wife and homeschool mom. Here’s what I’d like to tell them about “what I do:”
My kids are grown now, and though I am still a wife and homemaker, the Lord has graciously given me a second career, as a biblical counselor. I absolutely love what I do. Apart from motherhood, nothing has given me more joy than watching broken, hopeless people be transformed by the renewing of their minds into joyful Christ followers who know how to think biblically about what brought them to counseling. I am constantly amazed and humbled—really blown away—by the grace that God has shown me in allowing me to have a part in this glorious transformation and healing to which I am a witness every day. What a great God I serve!