Category Archives: education

What is your response to graduation?

Tomorrow marks the end of the road for students of the 8th cohort of our MA counseling program here at Biblical. After two years of hard labor, er studying and practice, they are now set free to do other things like read for pleasure or hang with family on Monday nights. Of course, some will transition to a few final online licensure courses and others will continue to accrue supervised hours to meet licensure requirements, but the intensity of learning and the cohort life will not be the same.

In thinking about my own graduation from a cohort some 15 years ago, I remember the strange feeling of having arrived at the finish line with an empty feeling. I think that feeling came from the fact that I still had a ways to go to get licensed and to land a job.

Or maybe we put too much expectation on the acquisition of a goal, on our accomplishments. Degrees, jobs, houses, marriages, children–all good things–do not provide lasting changes in our outlook on life, our level of happiness, our perception of self. Sure, these things do provide opportunities for re-evaluation of self, the world, values, etc. But they do not exert changes. You can find people with many degrees, titles, things, who are still searching for an elusive sigh of relief, of arrival at some new constant state.

Is there a better response to graduation?

Instead of only looking for arrival or to the future, what if we use this time to see what God has done in our lives over the last two years? Like climbing a mountain, you get time at the top to stop and look out and back to see how far you travelled. During the climb your head is down trying to avoid tripping over rocks or roots. On the journey, you had to keep a steady pace for fear of quitting. But at the top you can stop and ponder. The time doesn’t last long since you will need to climb down soon. But before you go, take a look at the things God has enabled you to do. You weathered losses, had many ah-ha moments, developed courage to try rather scary things, had to admit weakness, received unexpected support, were sustained and able finish tasks that you thought unnecessary.

If you have just reached a goal like a graduation, take a minute to write down what diificulties you survived and what unexpected blessings you experienced. Look back and then write it down. Otherwise, you may forget as you climb back down the mountain.

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, counseling, education, seminary

If Sixth Graders Ruled the World…

…the world would be run by girls.

Such was the observation of my wife after attending our son’s graduation from elementary school and the 6th grade. I concur. 80% of the awards and recognition for leadership went to girls. Actually, to about 30% of the girls. Mind you, I am not the least bothered by this. It was great to see these young women so active in the life of their school and community.

However, I do have a question: Will their leadership last?

There seems to be a pattern of girls falling back from their high performance in athletics and academia (my general impression and surely not always accurate). Why would there be such a change? Social pressure to focus on looks and boys? Boys catching up development-wise and creating more competition? Or, are we seeing a change in culture that will continue? I’m hoping for this last question to be true. When my wife was in school, there were few opportunities for girls to excel in sports. That has changed. A goodly number of the girls mentioned aspirations of being a professional athlete. When my mother was in school, I doubt many of her classmates aspired to be doctors and lawyers. These days, girls recognize that most professions are wide open to them. So, I hope we are seeing a continued culture change. I’m all for girls wanting to be married and to become mothers (all in DUE time) but I am also worried about how much pressure we place on them regarding looks and body image.

Can you and I do anything about the world of sixth grade girls? Well, let us all endeavor to encourage young women to focus on their intellectual pursuits and god-given callings. And let us cease giving support to those cultural entities (ads, TV, movies, print media, etc.) encouraging young women to equate value with looks.

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, cultural apologetics, education, Family, parenting, Uncategorized

Learning to get good grades or just learning? Or both?

I’m a professor and I know it is all about learning. Who cares about the grades? Right? What matters is whether or not students comprehend the material and can use it in real life. In my world, I want counseling students to understand the nature of trauma, how to recognize it and respond well to it when evident in their clients. I don’t care if they get an A or a C as long as they are competent. And, I know that some students test poorly and yet are exceptional counselors.

Yeah right, grades DO matter

But ask students and parents of school-age children, and guess what–grades do matter. Good grades get better scholarships; get parents off your back. Good grades get better internships. Good grades make teachers think you are smarter. Good grades help you feel better about yourself. Wait…those last two…are they true? Yes, even if it shouldn’t be that way and probably worth another post at some other time.

Is there a relationship between good grades and learning?

But how close are getting good grades and learning? Can you get good grades and not really learn? How many readers aced a history or statistics test years ago but now couldn’t tell you the first thing about the subject? You can memorize, recite, and forget…and get good grades. So, we know that you can teach and study to the test (notice I didn’t say learn) without learning.

And yet, let me suggest one positive relationship between getting good grades and learning. The student who learns to get good grades (but hopefully isn’t obsessed or controlled by them) has learned to

  • Decipher what the teacher is looking for and to complete assignments as required
    • Learning: decoding, organization, self-assessment, predicting time/effort needed to complete tasks
  • Get the information needed to complete an assignment
    • Learning: speed reading, efficient categorization of material
  • Deliver the information needed in an appropriate format
    • Learning: concise communication, learning to differentiate between essential and non-essential material

The real reason I’m writing this post

Okay, the real reason I am writing this post is that I just helped my teenage son take a difficult, on-line quiz that covered an inordinate amount of material. He was allowed to complete the quiz while having the material still open. However, the amount of material he had to read and understand comprised overwhelmed his ability to remember what he learned and where he learned it. So, I taught him how to read the quiz question and then go back to the multiple e-documents and use the “find” button on his web browser to find the pertinent information he needed to answer the question.

Did I help my son learn or just to get a better grade on his assignment? If he chooses to not read the material in the future but just use the search functions, is that a failure to learn well or did he learn to become efficient in work?


Filed under education, Family, parenting

Deadly Sins of Professors?

Okay, since I made note of the sins of students, it is only fair to admit the sins of the teacher. But with so many, where to start?

1. Pride. Pontification is an easy sin. We want to be seen as wise and so we use our bully pulpit to “educate” even if we don’t have a clue what we are saying

2. Laziness. Using the same material each year and expecting it to be fresh and valuable as the day it was thought up

3. Defensiveness. Every critical statement made by students isn’t the result of their psychopathology. We screw up and ought to be able to admit it

4. Jealousy. We tear down our more prolific/famous colleagues because it makes us feel less of a failure.

Others teacher sins you can think of? Be gentle 🙂

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Filed under education

3 Deadly Sins of Students

It’s office cleaning time as the Fall semester is around the corner. I’m throwing out stuff I copied but haven’t really looked at for a while. In one stack of photocopies, I ran across an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education written by an anonymous prof entitled, “The 7 Deadly Sins of Students.”The subtitle makes his point, “Undergraduates increasingly seem to choose self-indulgence and self-esteem over self-denial and self-questioning.”

The copy isn’t great and so I can’t tell whether it was written in 2006 or 8 but it doesn’t matter, the points are still good. But here are just 3 that may relate to graduate student dangers:

1. Sloth. Putting of readings and thus getting less out of class time.

2. Greed. Pursuing degrees for what they can do for the student rather than for learning (the author is a liberal arts prof! Of course the author is for learning for learning sake!). The concern is that this motivation makes it all the more easy to excuse cheating and plagiarism.

3. Anger. The prof points out that more students challenge assignments and grades because they are consumer minded (I paid a lot for this so deserve a better grade).

I am reminded of a recent email that was sent out by a colleague. He linked to a news report of recent law school grads attacking their alma maters for not being able to get a job after graduation. Seems the students are having a difficult job securing employment after graduation and consider this a failure of their school to inform them of the difficulty they might experience. If this is true for law school, I suspect it is also true for seminaries too.

Are you considering graduate education? You may wish to think through your motives and especially ask about job opportunities. What does the market look like for graduates? What kinds of things do graduates do? Further, be sure to understand how long it takes to be able to practice your profession. In the counseling world, a grad needs thousands (3600 for LPCs in PA) of post-graduate supervised practice and pass an exam. Find out what life is like for those who are ahead of you. What secrets do they have to successfully completing their requirements?

So, watch your deadly sins this fall if you are starting school soon. Funny, I see this author published another essay entitled, “7 Deadly Sins of Professors.” For some reason I didn’t copy that one. Wonder why…

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Filed under education, teaching counseling

Integrating Faith and Psychology: Listening to God

Having read chapters by L. Rebecca Propst, Everett Worthington, and Siang-Yang Tan (in Integrating Faith and Psychology, IVP 2010), I am seeing an initial pattern–how important experience of God is in the development and outlook of the person–especially through the trials and tribulations of life. Worthington points to it in his work on the  topic of forgiveness (his mother was violently murdered). Propst speaks of integration as the product of her daily struggles and walk with God. Tan points to a burnout experience plus subsequent healing that led to his move toward psychology.

As one who reads and sometimes writes about the relationship between faith and psychology (and the fact that we cannot separate these two concepts–faith and psychology are always linked for everyone), I find these stories useful. They remind me that much of our practical integration is seamless and emanates from the gut. It doesn’t mean that we ought not have critical thoughts about our gut or that we ought to supply theory to our practice. But, try as we might to focus on the logic of our work, our integrative work is in the moment affective work I think.

Tan and Propst are right. You want to do good integration? Don’t make it your primary focus. “Instead, seek the Lord and his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33), and always see the bigger picture of God’s will and God’s kingdom with loving obedience to him, even as we are graced and blessed by him.” (Tan, p. 88) “Follow hard after God. Cultivate a daily habit of prayer and Bible study. As much as possible, understand and try to grasp a truly supernatural view of the universe.” (Propst, p. 64)

Let us be reminded that there is something more important than getting the right view of Christian counseling–that of knowing and being sensitive to the Spirit of God. It is possible, to be right in one’s view of psychology and theology and fail to be sensitive to the Spirit of God.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, church and culture, education, Psychology

Sexual Assualts on College Campuses

As heard on NPR’s Morning Edition: 1:5 college women report being the victim of a sexual assault. 1:5! Despite the efforts to curb these assaults over the last decade, it appears we are not making much progress.

Why? Simple answers include: victim shame, the haze of alcohol (it tends to reduce clarity about whether sex was consensual or not), the desire of the male to deny and cover up, and (very sadly) the fear in some leaders who worry too much about false accusations. Yes, people do lie. However, the ones who bear that cost are usually victims. We’d prefer that if we are to make a mistake, that the victim should be the one to pay for that mistake.

I didn’t have the privilege of having a sister or a daughter. But I do have female colleagues who I greatly respect and love. How is it that we, as a culture, have such low regard for women that we accept this problem.

Think you don’t accept this problem? What are you doing about the massive proliferation of women as objects for gratification? I drive by a bus stop ad that has women in various states of undress. What am I going to do about it?

I’m not sure, but I have to do something!


Filed under Abuse, education, news

Biblical Seminary Summer Offerings

Every summer we have a summer counseling institute where we offer electives for current students, alum, and other interested parties (graduate counseling credit counts for required CEUs!). This summer we have three fabulous offerings!

1. **ON-LINE** Models of Counseling(2 credits) by Dr. Bryan Maier. From 7/6 to 8/31. This class has NO on-site time. If you have ever wanted to study the historic models of counseling from a Christian perspective this class is for you. Bryan really understands the basics of these models, offers great insights and careful thinking. Plus, Bryan’s material includes narrated PowerPoints and short videos made to stimulate your thinking. 

2.  Theology of Suffering & Disability(2 credits) by Jerry Borton and Kevin Kain. Class meets two weekends (7/10-11, 7/24-25). Jerry works for Joni & Friends and both Jerry and Kevin have intimate understanding of Cerebral Palsy. This is not, per se, a counseling course but open to all who want to think biblically about suffering and disability and apply that to their counseling or ministry practices.

3. Counseling Victims in the Criminal Justice System(1 credit) by Jenn Zuck. Class meets one weekend (August 7-8). Jenn has tremendous experiences working with victims of abuse and crimes in the justice system. Sadly, the church has not supported these individuals as it could have (I have heard several Christian prosecutors tell me that they have yet to see a pastor come in support of the victim, but many times observed the pastor supporting the alleged perpetrator). If you don’t live in the area, consider a visit. Class meets Friday night and Saturday. Philadelphia is a great town to visit!

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling and the law, counseling skills, education, seminary, suffering, teaching counseling

What is a competent counselor?

Today, I begin an introduction to pastoral counseling class for MDiv students with my colleague Jenn. In six short weeks we will expose them to biblical foundations of understanding people and their problems, the basic helping skills, and provide them opportunities to practice on each other.

So, what makes for a competent counselor? There is a famous book on this topic. Jay Adams focuses in his landmark, bulldozing book on the problems of secular psychology and the need for a new understanding of how people change that fits with Scripture and a confidence that all people, especially pastors, are capable of leading others to change.

Important work, but misses some of the nuances that we have now about Christian models of change. For some of my thoughts on a more robust model of counseling that I seek to impart here at Biblical, see this post from several years ago.

But I want to focus here on the talents or capabilities of the counselor. And here I list 7 factors needed to be a competent counselor

1. Spiritual maturity. Not only must the counselor know the bible, its story line, etc., they must also have understood and experienced the Gospel, show a maturing trajectory towards holiness and awareness of the diversity within the Christianity. In the words of one of my theology colleagues, they must know the difference between dogma and doctrine and opinion.

2. Self-awareness/insight. One can be spiritual mature, but not particularly insightful about the self. The competent counselor has a grasp of their own narrative (and how the Gospel story is changing it) and how it impacts past and present relationships. The competent counselor understands strengths and weaknesses and is not defensive.

3. Capable of building trusting relationships. Nothing much good comes from counsel provided by standoffish and stand-above kinds of counselors. The competent counselor is able to build trusting relationships by being interested in individuals (more so than in outcomes), able to walk in another’s shoes, cross cultural lines, and able to empower others more than tell others what to do

4. Flexibility in response styles. The competent counselor understands the need to use a variety of conversational responses depending on the needs of the client. This means sometimes questions are appropriate, other times silence. Other responses include reflections, summarizing, focusing, confronting, joining, problem-solving, self-disclosing. Counselors who only use one or two of these styles will not be able to work well with clients who find those particular styles problematic. The competent counselor is intentional in her or his choices of responses.

5. Assessment and Hypothesis skills. The competent counselor is able to move from their counselees problems and descriptions to a wider view of the person and their situation and back again. This counselor is able to pull multiple pieces of data into a cohesive understanding of the situation. In doing so she forms and tests possible hypotheses that clarify motivation for behavior as well as point to interventions. For example, is the child’s behavior merely rebellious or is it ADD or anxiety based?

6. Observation skills.The competent counselor not only understands people, their needs, solutions, and has the capacity to use multiple response styles, but also is observant regarding their own impact on the counselee. They observe subtle reactions form clients and seek to moderate their counseling style and/or gently explore the meaning of the reaction. Without these skills, the counselor blithely works toward a goal without knowing if the counselee is really following.

7. Ability to care for self. Finally, the competent counselor recognizes personal limits, boundaries and actively seeks to sustain a life of personal care. Far too many counselors confuse sacrificial giving with bypassing appropriate care for one’s own spiritual well-being. Just because one is spiritually mature one day does not mean such maturity is permanent. Neglecting personal care will likely diminish all other counselor competencies over time.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling skills, education, teaching counseling

Practicum Monday: The secret to a good experience

A new semester begins today and I pick up teaching again after a sabbatical. It feels good to get back in the saddle again. Practicum and Professional Orientation starts today and so my students begin their first fieldwork assignments around the region. If they are at all like I was when I first began counseling work, they will be nervous and worried about doing well and doing the right thing. But I have a secret for them. This nervousness will actually help them do well and, for the most part, mistakes in counseling often turn out to be good for both counselee and client. Counseling is more like art and less like surgery. And since counseling is relational art, the opportunity to “do over” actually provides wonderful realism to the healing.

However, there is another secret to good practicum experiences: good supervision. Good supervision makes or breaks an experience. And good supervision requires the active participation of both supervisor and supervisee.

The Supervisor: Supervisors come with a variety of skills, personality, and style. Some are quite directive and keep a tight rein on your practice attempts. Others are very hands-off, wanting you to try stuff yourself and so they respond to your questions and concerns rather than seek you out. Others are very process oriented and focus on your experience more than what you actually do.

The Supervisee: Some students come with hundreds of questions (some out of curiosity but most out of anxiety). Others want very specific directions and then try to act them out as was given. Others still want to talk about their own experiences and have a harder time recalling client responses.

Practicum students do well to prepare for supervision:

1. Before you begin, have some discussion about how the supervisor likes supervision to go? Do they have an idea about how they want you to function in it? Do they want it to happen just after your counseling experiences for the week so you can debrief? Just before so you can best remember what was decided?

2. When you bring your cases to supervision, come prepared to concisely summarize history, presenting problems, attempts to solve prior to counseling, family systems, current crises if present, work thus far in your counseling. Also, come prepared with a specific objective question you would  like to have answered. The more specific your question, the more likely you will come away with an answer.

3. Be sure to ask the supervisor to help you refine your hypotheses. This is a good opportunity to consider alternative ideas.

4. Schedule time when the supervisor can either watch you live or listen to a taping. There is NO better supervision possible. Scary? Yes. But essential if you do intend to become a good counselor

5. Be willing to ask (nicely) the why question when your supervisor gives you directives that don’t make sense. More than doing the right thing, you want to understand the critical thinking behind the right response.

6. Use your relationship with the supervisor to grow as a professional. This is one of your future colleagues. If there are conflicts between you, practice the good art of resolution. Don’t avoid and don’t attack.

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling science, counseling skills, education, Psychology, teaching counseling