Counseling is an important decision. There are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most out of the experience. These things may seem simple but they go a long way toward effective counseling sessions.
Not everyone’s experience with biblical counseling is positive. I am not talking about situations where a person is running from God or holding tightly to sin. Biblical counseling will not land well on a hard heart. Instead, I am talking about experiences where people have humbly sought out biblical care and have sadly come away more wounded by the experience.
As counselors, we must be willing to admit that sometimes people encounter poor applications of biblical counseling. Sometimes counselors fall very short in incarnating Christ when engaging the fallen, broken, or downcast brother or sister. Sadly as biblical counselors, we do not always express thoughtful love or engaging compassion as faithfully as we confess.
I assume I am not alone in hearing stories of people hurt by their engagement with a biblical counselor. You, like me, may have been cautiously questioned about your counseling approach by a believer still carrying wounds and shame received from a hurtful counseling experience in their church. What we do when we encounter brothers and sisters whose engagement with biblical counseling was hurtful is extremely important. Our response can solidify their concerns, wound them further, or give them hope. I pray that this article will lead us all to the later. The following tips on what to do and what not to do should be reviewed as regularly as we encounter those hurt by biblical counseling.
What to do.
As counselors this should be our default, but it is worth emphasizing here. Take care that you are intent on hearing their story. Give plenty of time and space to let them unfold it. Allow them to share their experience and actively engage in hearing them. Let your words be primarily questions that encourage them to share more. Listening will elicit the trust that was likely broken in their past experiences. The first step in loving someone hurt by counseling is to let them know their story is important to you and you want to hear all of it. James 1:19 is an unfailing guide for this.
As you listen, seek to identify and understand the emotional weight of their experience. Enter their world by seeking to grasp the reality of their pain. Carry their burden with them in the spirit of Galatians 6:2. Empathy will help you respond appropriately. It will assist you to offer encouragement, comfort, and support in a way that validates that sorrow, grief, and pain are normal responses to being hurt.
Not everything you hear in their hurtful experience will be solely due to the counsel or counselor. They bring their own stuff to the table as well. Lord willing, there will be a time and place to work through that further with them. This is not that time. It is crucial that biblical counselors examine themselves when they hear stories of counseling hurt. How is hearing this story impacting you? What feelings and emotions are coming up in you as you listen? Humbly reflect on the way you bring care. What in this person’s story could be true of your care? Where is needed change in your own approach to caring for people being revealed?
What not to do.
It is incredibly easy to slip into gossip when someone shares the hurt they have encountered from biblical counseling. In an effort to sympathize, the desire may arise to confirm what you also may have heard or experienced from a counselor or ministry. Maybe you have even had previous engagement with that specific biblical counselor, church, or ministry and you can add a tasty morsel to confirm their evaluation. This is not helpful. It does not bring healing and only solidifies distrust for those in biblical counseling. Do not do it.
As you hear a story of hurt, you may feel like defending yourself as a biblical counselor. Avoid the temptation to personalize what you are hearing. Even if the things are about the ministry or organization where you serve or received your training, a defensive response is not a humble response. Biblical counselors are not perfect people. We are in process just like our counselees. Taking up a defensive posture may be an indication of the work needed in our own hearts. Hearing someone’s pain should rouse understanding in us, not defense. To do otherwise is the way of the fool (Proverbs 18:2).
You may not agree with everything the person is sharing. You might see holes in how they have assessed their situation. There could be glaring over-reactions. Avoid being dismissive. Dismissing their pain will only affirm their experience. A wise counselor ascertains the appropriate time to address these things. Wisdom includes being able to hear emotional and sometimes irrational thinking for a time, in order to carefully build the trust needed to engage the person’s heart later. Don’t dismiss or make light of their pain to jump to what you assess as more important matters.
We need to lovingly engage people who have been hurt by biblical counseling. Not doing so will only distance sufferers from communities of care that God has provided. We have a responsibility to compassionately care for those who are hurt, all the more when they have been hurt by us. Let us model the way of the wonderful Counselor who draws near to the crushed and brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).
I am delighted to share with you a conversation I had with the Jeremey Lelek and Shauna VanDyke, president and executive director of the Association of Biblical Counselors. In this podcast I answer questions about EMDR therapy.
Preparing the church for the psychological impact of COVID-19 regulations.
By Eliza Huie, MAC, LCPC, Originally published by Outreach Magazine
“Is it almost over?” These were the words I heard every week from my little boy who refused to go into children’s ministry. Why he wanted to stay with mom and dad rather than eat snacks, hear stories, and color robed Bible characters, was beyond me. But each week he joined us in “big church” and about halfway through the service the inevitable question was whispered, “Is it almost over?”
Many can relate to this burning question right now. Though the COVID-19 isolation has brought some unique enjoyments; a freer schedule, working from your couch, or worshipping in your PJ’s. For most it has brought challenge, and we all are beginning to ask if it almost over.
It is actually a question we must take seriously. When the lifting of stay-at-home regulations will happen is not yet know and it will likely vary from state to state. However, there are many things that the church must to consider. Logistics on how to reopen are going to be almost as tricky as it was to move everything online. There will need to be a plan, maybe multiple plans. And while plans for transitioning back to church will require new strategies for gathering, part of your church’s plan needs to a mindful awareness of the psychological impact this season has had on your people.
Learning from history SARS and other illness related quarantines, it is clear areas of mental, emotional, and relational health will suffer under the period of social distancing. Many churches have begun addressing emotional health already. Conversations about faith and the realities of anxiety, fears, stress are happening online. Even less commonly addressed topics like depression, loneliness, and suicide are getting some airtime in churches. But there are some issues people are struggling with that will likely not be considered but are deeply impacting congregants.
Below are three areas of struggle that may be unexpected but are sure to show up in your congregation as you re-engage. I share them to prepare churches, and to offer suggestions on how the church can take an understanding approach to those who may be struggling with these and other phycological issues as when we join back together.
The purpose of this article is to be informative and practical. The hope is that it will help the church to take sensitive measures in light of the potential aftershocks of COVID-19 isolation. Some of the terms will be clinical but I hope to provide street-level understanding of these issues coupled with biblical direction for care.
Agoraphobia and OCD tendencies.
What does the church need to know?
Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your house and OCD is a hyper-focus anxiety or fear about something that drives a needed action (i.e., repetitive checking or ritualistic cleaning). Both of these are psychiatric diagnoses, but you don’t have to have a diagnosis for symptomatic inclinations to interrupt your life.
While we may complain about being stuck at home, surveys are revealing that people in the US don’t feel ready to return to normal activities even if regulations lift. People will be fearful of leaving their home. One poll suggests that just over 70% of Americans would prefer to “wait and see” once regulations begin to lift.  Churches need to factor this apprehension into what they can expect from their congregants. Not everyone will be excited to leave their house. In fact, it seems many are going to be very cautious about restarting activities they once regularly participated in.
People are getting comfortable with new habits that ensure personal safety. What was once viewed as an exaggerated response, wearing masks and rubber gloves when out, are now part of the normal routine. Not only are people comfortable with them they are starting to feel like they need them to be safe. Masks give them a little more peace of mind when they wear them and when other people wear them. 
Social distancing is also a practice people have embraced and will likely not be in any hurry to let go. It only takes a stroll along the walking path by my house to see people are concerned when out and about. I notice this almost every time I take a walk. When I approach a masked walker, I receive a gracious nod as they move to the furthest edge of the path so we can pass one another at the furthest distance the path will allow. Perhaps you have seen it in the supermarket when someone pauses or takes a step back to allow you a much larger gap as you pass them in the isle.
We cannot expect these new practices to go away just because regulations have been lifted. The concerns that drive them will still be there when the church reopens its doors.
What can the church do?
- Keep online services, activities, and connection going even after you can meet in person. You will likely need to operate both live and online platforms in order to connect with congregants who may be fearful to leave their homes.
- Communicate your cleaning strategies. Let your congregation know how you have sanitized and how you plan to continue to sanitize your building. Encourage and model safety measures. Let your congregation know what they can expect. Will you be encouraging masks? Gloves? What will you implement for space between people in the sanctuary or classrooms? What will greeting look like? Prepare your staff to lead the way in these measures.
- Encourage gradual ways people can re-engage. Offer smaller gatherings or encourage people to begin to meet with others for prayer, bible study, or to watch the service together at one another’s homes. When weather permits some gatherings can happen outside the church building with comfortable spacing.
- Speak into the fear of getting sick or being vulnerable. Acknowledging the fears people have will give them a level of confidence that you are taking things seriously.
Burnout and Trauma.
What does the church need to know?
Expect to see burnout and trauma from the many healthcare workers in your congregation who have served tirelessly during this crisis. They will bring their personal trauma as they begin to process all they endured. They watched firsthand as the young mother of three died only days after entering into the hospital with severe symptoms. They were there when parents were told their child had died. They held the phones of frightened patients as they sobbed and sought comfort from their loved ones on the screen. They were the only one in the room when the elderly passed away as the family was prohibited to enter the hospital rooms due to the virus. They carried the daily weight of concern for their own health and those they love because of their regular exposure. There will be trauma. 
Those in ministry are also at risk for burnout. Including your pastor. Gunner Gunderson, pastor at Bridgeway Bible Church shared a pertinent caution about times of crisis. He warns “It (crisis) will eat you up and wear you out, while your adrenaline and your noble desire to serve keep you blind to the burnout that is chasing you down.” 
Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, care teams, tech teams, etc. are working overtime to keep ministry going and the congregation connected. The effort to create and initiate ways to continue ministry in the midst of isolation has increased the workload for most in ministry. Endless hours online in video calls or in front of a screen recording sermons, lessons, workshops, and conferences will take a toll. Add to that all the care and counsel that continued via zoom or phone calls. Coronavirus didn’t stop personal and relational crises from happening. Care and counseling had to be juggled right alongside preparation for Sunday. Be prepared for your leaders to experience compassion fatigue. 
What can the church do?
- Pray for healthcare workers, your pastors, and your ministry leaders.
- Encourage or start online support groups or prayer groups for those in healthcare to join right now. Having a place where they can be encouraged and prayed for is a fantastic way to help carry their burdens.
- Identify those in your congregation who work in healthcare and personally reach out to them with a card, email, or phone call. Let them know you are praying for them. Remind them the church is there for them.
- Encourage or require your pastors, ministry leaders, etc. to take a sabbath. Talk about rest in your staff meetings or from your pulpit. Beyond the one day a week sabbath rest, encourage all staff to set aside one weekend a month and one week a year as a sabbath rest.
- Promote a mindset of selfcare. If you are the pastor or ministry lead, you’ll need to model it. Ask staff to share ways they are practicing selfcare on a regular basis, share it with your team.
- Check in on leaders and determine what help and support they need to fulfill their ministry tasks. Prioritize the hiring of assistance and administrative help whenever possible. Operating an online platform along with the already existing ministry has likely doubled work in some areas, now is a good time to add assistants to your team.
What does the church need to know?
Addiction flourishes in secret. The self-justifying lies deteriorate resolve and old habits gain great ground. There is no better environment for the revitalization of addictive habits or the beginning of new ones than in a time of isolation paired with increased stress. Those in your congregation who had fought long and hard for the ground of sobriety have faced incredible setbacks.
People who have faced addiction know how valuable support systems are. They are keenly aware of their need to have someone look them in the eye and hold them accountable. COVID-19 made that nearly impossible. Support groups went online or stopped all together. This reality along with the isolation created a perfect storm of relapse.
Porn addiction has significantly increased during COVID-19. It would be safe to call it a “porndemic” as some pornography distributers offered free streaming during quarantine. As I write this my heart breaks for the many who have gotten caught up in this evil during this time. Believers will deal with significant shame and ongoing battles due to the secret patterns of sin that sparked a destructive fire of porn use during isolation.
What can the church do?
Start groups now for those struggling with sexual sin and continue them when the church reopens. Below are some resources for both men and women that can be used as curriculum for these groups.
- Sexual Sanity for Men or Women– These books work great for groups. Each chapter has opportunity to engage the content at a personal level.
- Samson Society– How to start a group. They also provide daily devotionals on the subject of sexual purity.
- If your church had recovery programs in place, prioritize them as you reopen or begin one. For more severe addictions intensive recovery may be needed. Below are some considerations for faith-based resources.
This article is far from exhaustive. There are certainly other areas that need to be on the church’s radar. Relationship struggles for example. China saw a spike in divorce filings as they emerged from isolation. Domestic abuse is also an area that has increased due to isolation and churches will need to be equipped to recognize it. Grief is sure to be something everyone will be bringing in various degrees of experience. There is not one of us who has not known or felt loss in some capacity during this season. And don’t forget the marginalized. Those who suffer with chronic pain and illness and those who were previously shut in, can easily drift out of our sight as we focus on in-person gatherings. During this crisis, we entered into their world for a brief time. We learned what it was like to be unable to leave home. We experienced the loneliness that comes from isolation. Let’s not forget about them as we begin to phase back into meeting onsite.
To mention all of the issues and give words of direction on each would strain the length of this already lengthy article. My hope is that looking at just a few key issues stirs the church to think about how to prepare even now for how to walk with people as we look forward to days of reunion. Churches across the country have stepped up to the call to love their neighbor during this crisis. As we being to explore what it will look like on the other side of isolation; we carry the same call.
While many are asking “is it almost over,” in many ways, things have yet to begin. So, as you prepare for your first post-isolation gathering and you strategize parking, seating, classrooms, restrooms, etc., keep in mind the weight of emotional and mental strain this time has had on your congregants. May the words of Philippians 2:4 and Romans 15:1-3a guide the church as we continue to consider the needs and struggles of others and bring hope in relevant ways in the days ahead.
“Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:4 (CSB)
“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weakness of those without strength and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” Romans 15:1-3a (CSB)
Eliza Huie is the Director of Counseling at McLean Bible Church in the DC Metro area. She is a licensed mental health professional and biblical counselor. Visit www.elizahuie.com for more articles by Eliza.
“Out of the abundance of caution,” is the familiar phrase that preceded numerous statements of change enacted due to the ominous predictions of COVID-19. One after the other the announcements rolled out. School closures, businesses required to shut their doors, and recreational activities halted. Then came the announcement of the executive orders to stay at home. It is still a little hard to believe that the nation and even the entire world is shut in by a microscopic attacker.
Many people are finding the COVID-19 stay-at-home regulations to be challenging for various reasons. While it is necessary to stay at home in order to stay healthy and safe, for others staying home brings inescapable threat. Stay-At-Home regulations, while helpful to prevent the spreading of a virus, can increase the emotional and physical danger for those living in abusive relationships.
We are now finding that some areas such as China and France saw elevated incidents of domestic violence and abuse during the period stay-at-home regulations were enacted. We have good reason to be concerned that this will be the reality in the United States as well. National and local domestic abuse hotlines can provide support and resources, but what can the church do?
Caring for those who are in abusive relationships is tricky enough, add in strict regulations on social engagement and it gets even trickier. One of the best things the church can do is become aware of signs of domestic abuse and when we see it, do something. Abuse can be hard to spot. Knowing what to look for is the first step in caring well for those who are facing challenging times in isolation. The following signs are evidence of abusive relationships.
8 Signs of the abuser:
- Humiliates or puts their partner down both privately and publicly.
- Continually blames.
- Controls what their partner wears, what they eat, how they spend money.
- Isolates their partner from friends and family.
- Threatens their partner. Threatens what their partner values (sentimental items, pets, children).
- Yells at their partner.
- Throws things or hits things in anger.
- Postures themselves to have power over their partner. Blocks or restrains them from leaving a room or a conversation.
8 Signs of the abused:
- Low self-esteem.
- Thinks they are the crazy one.
- Feels like they can’t do anything right and that this situation is their fault.
- Feels afraid of their partner most of the time.
- Avoids things that may upset their partner. Manages their environment to keep them happy.
- Engages in self harm.
- Has PTSD responses.
- Feels emotionally helpless or numb.
If you have seen these signs in someone’s relationship it can be hard to know what you should do. The following tips will help you as you seek to care for the person.
8 Things you can do to help the abused:
- Confirm they are not crazy.
- Help them lean into the Lord. Pray for them. Pray with them. Send them regular spiritual encouragements. Affirm to them that the Lord is for the oppressed and sees their plight and is moved with compassion for them.
- Be supportive. Listen to them and let them make their own decisions.
- Check in on them frequently. Be committed to being with them in the future.
- Empower them with a plan. Even a packed bag can give a sense of having options. However, this must be kept secret and safe. Making plans to leave often makes the abuser feel threatened and elevates potential threat.
- Help them focus on healthy behaviors and self-care. Even the smallest thing like taking a walk around the neighborhood provides a little reprieve.
- Don’t over promise but give the help you can. Avoid blaming language if they don’t accept help right away.
- Affirm to them that wanting to get out of the situation is appropriate and normal and the Lord agrees with their desire for relief.
If you are aware of a situation where stay-at-home measures may be putting someone at greater risk, stay connected to that person. Know the number to your local domestic violence hotline and share it with them.
Prayerfully consider other ways you may be able to provide help. Having emergency housing options like a prepaid hotel room can be a way to provide safety and protection in cases where being at home is too risky. I have known churches to cover the cost of a hotel and provide emergency overnight bags filled with personal needs for those who need to spend a few days away to ensure safety. Establishing code words or code messages that can be sent to alert caregivers that help is needed are valuable avenues of care. Sometimes just knowing they have someone willing to help brings great encouragement to an otherwise hopeless situation.
During these difficult days, the church must be on the frontlines in unique ways. While awareness goes a long way in helping, ultimately, we must align ourselves with the heart of God. The Lord advocates for the cause of the oppressed and so should we. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9 NIV).”
God’s word says we ought to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17). This does not have to be in grandiose actions. The simple confirmation of a friend that “you are not crazy” can do good. The recognition that it is a normal and healthy response to want to get out of an abusive situation can be the start of great relief. The reality that you are not alone can bring incredible hope.
Domestic violence is often a missed issue in times like these. And one reason is because it can be hard to spot, especially when we are no longer able to engage in one another’s lives as closely as before. While it is encouraging and necessary to focus on keeping everyone safe from this virus, COVID-19 has brought a sobering reality to light. Sometimes the most dangerous threats are unseen.
Other resources for helping those in abusive relationships are below.
(This article was focused on domestic abuse and violence. Abuse against children is likely to also see a significant increase during this time of stay-at-home regulations. If you suspect child abuse of any kind, consider yourself a mandated reporter. Many states name specific professionals as mandated reporters, but you do not have to be a professional to make a report. If you have reasonable suspicion of the abuse of a child contact your local department of social services for help in reporting child abuse.)
I had a chance to sit down with Michael Crawford, the state director of missions for the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware. He asked me what pastors should know about the women they shepherd. Here is a snippet of what I shared.
I really want to encourage pastors to know that women actually want to learn. We want to know theology well. We want to study it. We want to be invested in our own path of growing in our own faith and making that not just a matter of doing a woman’s Bible study, there are great women’s Bible studies out there, but include us in just the general teaching and training that you would for men because there really is no gender difference when it comes to learning solid, deep theology.
Click HERE to listen to the full the podcast.
There have been times in my life where I have felt overwhelmed by what I was facing. The circumstance or situation felt too big or too difficult and I really had no idea what to do. My guess is that I am not the only one who has felt that way.
We face things in this life that lead us to that hopeless place where we cannot see a way through. Life can be that hard.
Let me tell you what has transformed my heart and given me hope in the midst of those “I don’t know what to do!” times of life. Take a listen to this ten minute podcast as I share what has helped me. I hope and pray it will encourage you when you find yourself in that place.
Recently I had the privilege to be invited to speak with Pastor Jay Holland of Covenant Fellowship Church about parenting teens. Jay seeks to provide parents with resources and direction on topics relevant to raising kids in today’s culture.
In our time on the podcast we were able to discuss the contents of my book Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World. We explored the reality that at this stage of parenting, our kids need us more than ever. Our roles do change but we are needed in their lives.
Raising teens can be a wearisome season for parents. That is why we wanted to take some time to bring encouragement and help on the very challenging subject that all teens face. How to best parent in a world bombarded with sex is no easy task but it is not impossible. Trusting the Lord to help you be as prepared as possible will give you the courage to face some of the most challenging conversations.
It was our hope that this podcast be useful as you continue to faithfully parent your children. Take a listen!
Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to expose. People who have been victimized have said they wished their abuser would have actually hit them because then they would have evidence of the painful injuries they’ve endured. Emotional abuse is hard to see, and one who emotionally abuses is equally shadowy.
It is hard for friends, family, counselors, or pastors to spot emotional abuse. Often, the one being abused does not fully see it either. Often, it is not until distance from the abuser has been made that clarity begins to come. However, even then, others may not see the abuse and the victim can end up taking the blame for the relational challenges faced. This reality is a terrible tragedy and doubles the pain of the abused. It can keep them trapped in the cycle of abuse and sadly they too can become convinced they are to blame.
To be better helpers, we must be aware of the deceitful yet all-to-common characteristics of a person who is abusing someone emotionally. So what are some of the characteristic one should be aware of regarding emotional abusers.
You will like the abuser. They are winsome and engaging. They can carry a conversation well and are often willing to serve and listen to other people. They seem to share their life with others and want to be a part of the faith community and church life.
You have engaged an abuser and walked away from the conversation thinking what a great person they are. You have been fooled. This is not to say that every likable person is an abuser but very often, a person who emotionally abuses others will be likable to those they are not abusing.
When an abuser is exposed they are remorseful. They cannot always keep their likable persona on full display. When something happens that reveals a surprisingly attacking response, an outburst of viscous anger, or a hurtful interaction, the abuser will be initially remorseful. Exposure is a major threat to the abusers control and remorse is a means to gain back that control.
Christians are especially vulnerable to this response and will often give greater support to the abuser than the abused when this is seen. Accepting the abusers sorrow can actually ensure abuse will happen again. Instead we must hold the remorse with caution and allow time (a lot of time) to sow the true fruit of repentance.
This is where things get really tricky. An emotionally abusive person is believable. They have mastered the art of deception. The deception starts with themselves, and they have been deceiving themselves and others for a long time. They are convinced they are not the problem and they do an excellent job convincing others of this as well. Their deception has already done its work on the abused causing confused judgement of what are right and wrong behaviors. The abused quickly lose their voice and so rarely defend their stance against the abuser.
If you work with couples there is a chance you too have believed an abuser. It is not because you lack discernment, but because they are incredibly believable. However, this characteristic keeps abusers with full power over those they abuse and those who could help the abused. It is a dangerous trait.
What can you do?
Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to detect. It changes a person in ways that keep the cycle of abuse spinning smoothly. One of the most important things you can do is get educated. Learn about the signs and effects of emotional abuse. Resources such as Peaceworks University and the upcoming Church Cares curriculum are helpful. Read books about emotional abuse. Diane Langberg and Leslie Vernick have done extensive work on this topic. However, one way we can bring better understanding is to simply talk to those who have come out of emotional abusive relationships.
One of the most important things you can do is to listen. When you see the couple together listen for how they interact. If one dominates the conversations continually, take note. If one usually gets the blame for things that have gone wrong, be aware. If one has greater ability to articulate both their feelings and the feelings of their spouse, clue in.
The other thing you want to do is listen to the weaker partner. If the above characteristics are happening, separate the two in your counseling. Give plenty of space to the less articulate partner. Create a safe place to allow them to share how they have felt in situations that have come up. Explore the potential of emotional abuse, even if you are not completely sure. The abused will rarely know they are being abused until someone from the outside helps them to see it. Once someone points it out they begin to see and may say something. If they say something, believe them. Consider doing an assessment to explore emotional abuse. You can find one here.
Without understanding these things you can unknowingly help the abuser. You can be deceived yourself and cause life-long harm. The church needs to be a place that those who have been emotionally abused are believed. Sadly, because of the aforementioned characteristics, the church can end up being a tool the abuser uses to keep control of the relationship and fortify the idea of the abused as being the main source of the problems in the relationship. This has sadly kept many abused people in toxic situations causing damage to the deepest places of their lives, including their faith.
Let us be committed to being advocates for the vulnerable and give a voice to those who have been painfully shaped by emotional abuse.
What is biblical counseling? That question has been asked, defined, debated, and reconsidered many times. The mere fact that the question continues to be asked speaks to the reality that words are not easily contained within the constructs we give them. They are often more fluid that we prefer, with adjectives being the most frequent to shape-shift. Biblical counseling has not been something that easily fits into one definition as evidenced in the alphabet soup of acronyms that identify the various equipping ministries and models.
In seeking to answering the question, “What is biblical counseling?”, looking at modality or method of care is not sufficient. Why? Because the application of the model or method allows for a significant amount of subjectivity. For example, if we say biblical counseling must be rooted in Scripture, promoting sanctification, or grounded in love, fleshing out what that looks like will be unique to the circumstance and people in the room. I do believe these descriptions are useful and helpful. However, there is a far better way to answer “What is biblical counseling?”
Seeking to sketch out what biblical counseling is must start with the counselors themselves rather than the modality. Biblical counseling will not happen unless there is a biblical counselor. Am I saying that if the person doing the counseling is a Christian they are automatically a biblical counselor? No. If that were the case, then I would have to call my lawyer friend a biblical lawyer because she is a Christian who practices law. We don’t call the nurse who is a Christian a biblical nurse, a professor who is a Christian a biblical professor, or a waiter who is a Christian a biblical waiter.
Defining biblical counseling should be directly tied to the counselor. Biblical counseling will mean the counselor is a Christian, but it will mean more than that. The letters after their name or the acronym of modality they follow do tell us something. They give hints of the emphasis that will flavor the counseling process. They point to who has influenced or mentored the counselor. They give credibility to equipping that has taken place. However the litmus test to defining biblical counseling ought to go beyond these things. Defining biblical counseling must describe the counselor.
Is the counselor anchored to the Word? Are they attune to the Holy Spirit and yielded to the Father? Do they live with biblical perspective? Has their own life been one of humble alignment to the Scripture? Is their commitment in counseling an avenue to love God and others? Have they been open to correction or receptive to their views being challenged? Can they discerningly engage resources, tools, methods of care in a way that aligns with Scripture?
These questions are key if we are seeking to answer what is biblical counseling. Biblical counseling is something done by a biblical counsleor.
So in essence the question we should be asking is “What is a biblical counselor?” When we start there we are in a better place to confirm whether something is biblical counseling or not. The methods may vary but confirmations must be found in the the life of the one bringing care. Asking the question, “What is a biblical counselor?” leads us to explore what essential qualities a counselor must possess in order to determine whether or not what is happening is “biblical counseling”.
This focus emphasizes the counselor rather than the method or approach. With specific qualities affirmed in their life, the biblical counselor will be able to look at every practice, method, resource, training, skill, tool, description, and prescription discerningly, and determine how to engage, adapt, or, if needed, refute it. They will love and care for people as they have been loved and cared for by Jesus. They will walk with others, beggar to beggar, yet with confidence in where to find bread. What is a biblical counselor? This is the questions to be asked. Answering happens by looking at the person’s life.
I rub shoulders with many amazing biblical counselors and there are times when I walk away from a conversation with them and say to myself, “That is someone who I would go see when I need counseling.” What makes me say that is not their degree, certificate, or license, but their life. They model, often without even knowing it, a life captivated by Jesus, a heart compassionate toward others, and a wisdom drawn from a dependence on the Scripture. “What is a biblical counselor?”, may we strive for living a life that answers this question well.
Since writing Raising Kids in a Screen-saturated World, I have had many conversations with parents about issues with children and smartphones. The conversations often include a level of regret from parents. They wish they would have been more proactive in what having a phone would look like for their child. In these conversations, three topics surface with regularity.
These imperative topics I call the 3Cs. They are Confidentiality, Conditions, and Costs.
Parents can avoid regret and conflict by addressing these topics early. The best plan is to have these talks before you give your child their own smartphone. However, if you have already given your child a smartphone, don’t worry! You will find help here, it is never too late to have these conversation. In fact they may be more necessary now than ever before.
Confidentiality is a big issue. For our purposes, confidentiality is about privacy and hiding, both of which can lead to unhelpful and even dangerous realities for your child. So parents must talk about it.
Establish first that privacy is a thing of the past. Children must understand that their activity on a device, including a password protected smartphone, is not private. Your child’s activity on their phone is discoverable and recoverable.
The conversation about confidentiality should include a discussion about privacy and hiding. The scope of your parenting includes your child’s personal activity with their smartphones. Access to your child’s phones is a parental responsibility. Establish ways you will engage with them and their phones that is reasonable and respectful.
Teach them what wise interaction looks like with social media, texting, browsing, and app use. Help them understand the weight of sending something that can never be unsent. Instill in their thinking that even though they may feel a certain level of privacy it is a a penetrable illusion. Walk with them in understanding that hiding is a dangerous path.
This conversation is about limits and boundaries. The conversation about conditions answers questions regarding with whom your child gives their number. What social media apps will they use? Where will the phone be kept when not in use? Are there times or places that will be “no phone zones”? Should they have data limits? What will those limits be?
Parents and kids have expectations regarding conditions so it is best to have the conversation right away. This will set the course and help to avoid conflict that regularly arises on this issue. Remember you are the parent and this is a topic where your children need your guidance, even if they push back against it.
Parents must set the stage for what the conditions will look like. If your child really wants a social media app, and you feel it is reasonable, explore it with them. Engage it with them. Your involvement should be a regular condition to them having a phone. Your involvement should be positive as well. If your engagement only comes in the form of punishment or consequences, you are paving a path of resistance.
What are the expenses and how will your child be a part of them? Most kids will be added to their parent’s phone plan. It will be the most affordable option for everyone. However, just because they are being added to your plan doesn’t mean your child has no responsibility.
Getting a phone is a long-term decision. I have rarely heard of a kids who, after getting a smartphone, willingly reverts back to a cheaper non-data flip phone or no phone at all. So have a conversation about costs right from the start. This conversation helps you child avoid a sense of entitlement and allows them to view a phone as a privilege.
I encourage parents to give their children some skin in the game. Discussions about costs should be age and resource appropriate. If you have given your child a phone as a gift, discuss how and when they will begin contributing to the monthly cost. If you plan on paying for their full phone bill, talk about when that will change. Parents who have not had that conversation will often find that they are still paying for their son or daughter’s phone bill even after they have launched on their own.
Continuing the Conversations
Giving your child a smartphone opens up uncharted territory for most parents. If you have read this article you may have more questions on how to better engage your child regarding wise cellphone use. Maybe you haven’t given your child a phone and are wondering what is the appropriate right-of-passage age. Maybe you have concerns about guarding them from concerning issues like sexting or bullying. Or perhaps you want to learn more about how to wisely walk with them in this world where everyone carries a mini computer in their pocket.
These and other questions are answered in Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. It provides age appropriate questions to engage conversations with your child. You will also find plenty of other resources in the “for further reading” portion at the conclusion of the book. Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World is available from 10ofThose.com.