A year ago almost every biblical counselor had a decision to make–namely, how and when to continue to provide counseling under imposed government regulations. As biblical counselors we may have wondered if a day would come when the government would stop the work that we were doing. None of us, however, could have predicted what actually happened. Instead of an attack on our practices and principles, this disruption came unexpectedly from a virus. Federal regulations related to the global pandemic of 2020 shut down our offices and churches, sent us all home and counseling, for the most part, came to a halt.
Uncertain about just how long the orders to stay home would last, many counselees and counselors chose to “wait it out.” But when days turned to weeks and weeks to months, we began to consider alternatives to in-person counseling. Going virtual became the predominant option. In a matter of weeks we all became very familiar with Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, Got To Meeting, etc. Well over a year later, most counselors are still using technology to meet with their counselees. What does this mean for the future of biblical counseling? As we begin to see the lifting and removal of regulations, we ought to consider how technology should fit into the future of our continued care. In light of that, I offer words of optimism and caution regarding technology and biblical counseling.
- Furthering the reach of biblical counseling – Counselors practicing under a state license are restricted to the jurisdiction of their license. During the pandemic some exceptions were made for continuity of care, but in general the restrictions remained. Biblical counselors, however, are under no such restrictions. The conditions of the pandemic put a spotlight on the value of being a biblical, non-licensed counselor. Biblical counselors continued to offer care regardless of where they or their counselees resided. They provided care across state lines and beyond. Whereas licensed counselors encountered limitations, biblical counselors, with the help of technology, expanded their reach. Technology will continue to provide this opportunity even after in-person counseling resumes.
- Flexibility for the counselee and the counselor – Technology and the circumstances of stay-at-home regulations also afforded greater flexibility for counseling sessions to take place at different times and places. No longer spending time in long commutes or participating in extracurricular activities, counselors were freed up to devote more time to care for others. In addition, many counselors who were normally dependent on available church-office space were able to hold sessions online from the comfort of their own homes. Childcare was also no longer a barrier for the counselor or counselee. Marriage counseling was taking place after the kids were in bed. Counselors and counselees juggling a family schedule could capitalize on a toddler’s naptime or plan their appointments when another parent was available to help with children. Many sessions happened while young children played or watched a movie in the next room. The blessing of being home allowed counselor and counselee to re-engage with family or other responsibilities as soon as sessions were over. Going virtual removed some of the logistical stress that can surround counseling appointments. The flexibility of virtual sessions increases the likelihood that people will seek out screen-based counseling in the future.
- Favorable environment for many – As mentioned above, counseling from the comfort of home often created a more desirable environment. Counselees found their favorite and most comfortable place to have their session which often included a comfy pillow or throw, the company of a beloved pet, or relaxing in casual clothes. In addition, counselors and counselees with physical limitations found virtual sessions more favorable and accessible on many levels. While the convenience was a welcomed aspect for most situations, exceptions are worth noting. Counselees living in negative home environments or who have difficulty finding privacy in a busy home may have found virtual sessions more challenging. Even with that said, people will still likely expect the choice of online counseling to continue even after the pandemic is far behind us therefore virtual counseling sessions should remain an option.
- Regard the safety and wellbeing of all – It is important that you know where your counselee is during your sessions. Are they at home, work, at a friend’s or family member’s home? Find out if they are alone or if others are in the house with them before the session starts. You can do this casually without much attention drawn to your questions. Since you are not in the room with them, you need to be sure you know how to get them help should the situation prove necessary. Meeting virtually necessitates that you have their emergency contact information up to date. Another way to protect your counselee is to be sure you are meeting in a private location where they do not have to worry that what they are saying might be overheard. Wearing headphones regards their privacy and displays a more secure environment for them. You should also regard your wellbeing. Avoid overscheduling or giving your counselee more access to you than is healthy. Technology opens avenues of connection, but it must be guarded for your wellbeing also.
- Respect healthy boundaries – It is important for the counselor to build in transition times between sessions. Going from one Zoom call to the next can be easy, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Allow space to process the session and regroup your thoughts and emotions. Create space to prayerfully prepare for the next session. As mentioned above, avoid being always available to your counselee. The more technology connects us the more we must cautiously and carefully engage it. Consider creating office hours that are set aside for your work as a counselor. Generally speaking, calls, texts, or emails should wait to be read until your set office hours. Consider having a separate phone number for counselees to reach you and turn off notifications for that number outside of office hours. On the same point, respect your counselee’s time. Avoid contacting them for follow-up, logistics, or scheduling during their family time when they may be tempted to reply immediately.
- Resist distractions – You and your counselee are limited to what can be seen on the screen; consequently, the temptation to multi-task will arise. A notification or a text on a phone that would have normally been out of sight during a session is not only visible but can be read surreptitiously. A quick glimpse at an email can go undetected. Small inconspicuous activities such as manicuring your nails or making a to-do lists can lure you away from listening intently to your counselee. Distractions on your desk or curiosity regarding what is in your counselee’s room can interfere with your concentration and conversation. Take measures to create a space that will allow the least mental diversion. This includes what is visible in your screen. Create a visual place that allows your counselee to focus without disruption.
As counseling moves back to in-person sessions, consider how technology has afforded opportunities for biblical counseling to fill an even larger space than before. What an amazing opportunity to reach more believers, and even unbelievers, with hope not only for their current circumstances but also for their eternal wellbeing. Let’s continue to utilize technology wisely and regularly, offering biblical care beyond the borders of our hometown.
1. How do you see technology improving the future of biblical counseling?
2. What concerns do you have when you think about counseling and technology?
3. What boundaries might you need to implement when providing virtual counseling?
Originally posted on The Biblical Counseling Coalition.