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Technology and the Future of Virtual Biblical Counseling 

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.  

Optimistic Outcomes

  • 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. 

Cautious Considerations

  • 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. 

For reflection:

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.

Changing Negative Thinking

Thoughts are interesting things. They have no material value. They have no physical weight, no measurable space, and no visible presence. They come from inside us with little to no effort from us. And although they are innumerable[1] they are invisible. Or are they?

In 1952 author Norman Vincent Peale brought the importance of this subject to center stage when he wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Shining a spotlight on our thoughts, the book went on to be a New York Times best seller. Apparently, our thoughts, tucked away in the privacy of our minds and imperceptible to the external world have a significant impact on us. Thoughts are formative to our very lives. But we don’t need a self-help book form the 50’s to tell us that. The Bible states clearly that “as a man thinks in his heart so he is” (Prov. 23:7). Our thoughts determine what we do, develop how we live, and define our identity.

Our thoughts determine what we do, develop how we live, and define our identity.

Eliza Huie– Changing Negative Thinking

Think about the truth.

We need to fill our minds with what is accurate and factual regarding ourselves. Since our thoughts shape who we are, we must be concerned with thinking about the truth. In light of this, it underscores the importance that our thoughts be true.

Not so good truth.

What if the truth is not good? What if the truth is that we really messed up or we failed in this or that area? What should we do with true thoughts that remind us we say or do things that are unkind, wrong, and sinful? What if the truth is that our lives our filled with bad news and very real troubles? When this is the case, we can find ourselves stuck in patterns of destructive thinking. Similarly to the self-help book title, we also know the power in negative thinking is very significant.

What else is true?

We cannot deny that some true things are not good. In fact, some truth is just awful. Mistakes cannot be undone, and harsh words can’t be unsaid. Painful realities we have endured cannot be wished away and our minds can be flooded with not-so-good thoughts. When this is the case, we have a choice to make. When the negative thoughts come, acknowledge their truth but then ask yourself; What else is true? What other truth do you need to be thinking about right then and there? Let me make this practical with an exercise.

And What Else

I can’t remember where I first learned this exercise, but I find it very helpful. When negative truths dominate your thinking, when you can only call to mind the bad you have done, or when reminders of the wrong done to you feel as though they are on continual recall, use the three letters A-W-E to help guide you toward a change in your thinking. These three simple letters can change the barrage of negative thinking. They simply stand for And What Else. Yes—you have said and done some regretful things but what else is true of you? Yes—You had a terrible experience but what else is true? Yes—it was truly awful what happened but what else is also true? The awful things that happened really did happen and they were terribly bad, but what else is true? And what else: A.W.E. Allow yourself space to think about what else is true. As a Christian there is so much more that is true of you. Here are some examples. Read them slowly, thinking about each one.

  • You are a child of God. (Jn. 1:12)
  • You are a friend of Jesus. (Jn. 15:15)
  • You are loved and not condemned (Jn. 3:16-17)
  • You are forgiven. (Col. 1:13-14)
  • You are justified. (Rom. 5:1)
  • You are a saint. (Eph. 1:1)
  • You are free of condemnation now and forever. (Rom. 8:1-2)
  • You can find grace and mercy when you need it. (Heb. 4:16)
  • You have full access to God. (Eph. 3:12)
  • You are protected from the evil one. (1 Jn. 5:18)

When negative thoughts fill your mind pause and intentionally think or, as the Scripture says, meditate on what else is true. When you do this, the simplicity of the acrostic comes to life as it moves you to stand in awe (A.W.E) of the amazing truth of who you are in Christ and how much God loves you.

Practice makes _________.

This exercise is exactly what Paul was instructing us to do in Philippians chapter four verse eight when he wrote:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

Most Christians know that verse well. Maybe you have even memorized it. But did you know what comes right after that? Verse nine says this:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Did you catch that? Paul says these things take practice! Negative thinking comes easy. Right thinking takes practice. This takes intentional focus, but it is life changing. We have all heard it said that practice makes _______ (fill in the blank). “Perfect!” I actually think it is more accurate to say that “practice makes permanent.” When our thoughts accurately reflect the truth of Scripture and we practice meditating on what it says regarding who we are, it changes us permanently.

I hope this motivates you to practice the A.W.E exercise the next time you feel yourself spiraling downward in negative thinking. The more you practice, the more permanent the truth of God’s word will become the dominant source of your thoughts.

Since our thoughts shape who we are, we must be concerned with thinking about the truth.

Eliza Huie– Changing Negative Thinking


[1] A recent research project concluded that the average person has approximately 6200 thoughts a day. It is likely this will change the more research is conducted. https://www.newsweek.com/humans-6000-thoughts-every-day-1517963

Responding to Someone Hurt by Biblical Counseling

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.

Listen

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.

Empathize

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.

Self-reflect

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.

Gossip

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.

Defend

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).

Dismiss

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.

Conclusion

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).

What is a Biblical Counselor?

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.

God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison- Video Review

This excellent resource brings compassionate wisdom to those facing trials and suffering. Author, David Powlison offers hope on every single page of this very readable book. Check out my review here and then go order it from Crossway today!