Back in November, Diane Langberg presented 10 things that counseling students might not normally hear about during their academic training. Click here for the video.
Category Archives: teaching counseling
Why do we have to study theology? I don’t need that to be a good counselor?
These are words I have heard from students studying counseling and/or psychology in both university settings and seminaries. What would you say?
Biblical and theological training in professional programs?
Most Christian institutions offering counseling or psychology graduate programs require some level of theological engagement. Otherwise, why exist? Some do so via specific course work while others embed the theological or biblical material into classic counseling courses. At Biblical, we do both. We require traditional counseling courses such as Marriage & Family, Helping Relationships, Psychopathology, Social & Cultural Foundations, etc. In these courses we explore counseling theory and practice from an evangelical Christian psychology perspective. We also require students to complete courses like, “Counseling & the Biblical Text” and “Counseling & Theology: Cultural Issues” where they engage biblical texts and theological study as they consider how it forms counseling theory/practice and shapes the character of the counselor.
Is all counseling theological?
Yes. And David Powlison in the most recent CCEF NOW magazine (2-4) talks about this very fact. Here are some choice tidbits,
…counselors deal with your story. In fact, they become players in that story. By word and deed, even by their line of questioning, they inevitably offer some form of editing or rescripting, some reinterpretation of your story.
Counseling is inescapably a moral and theological matter. To pretend otherwise is to be naive, deceived, or duplicitous.
…all counseling uncovers and edits personal stories…. All counseling must and does deal with questions of true and false, good and evil, right and wrong, value and stigma, glory and shame, justification and guilt.
All counseling explicitly or implicitly deals with questions of redemption, faith, identity, and meaning.
Thus, if value-free counseling is not possible (the very questions we ask lead clients in one direction or another), then it stands to reason that every counselor ought to explore the theologies (doctrines, interpretations, beliefs, etc.) he or she brings into the counseling room. Who is God? How does God operate? What is the purpose of the Bible? Does it have anything to say about my life, my attitudes, my relationships? What is sin? What is my purpose in life? What does God think about my suffering? And on we could go.
But counseling is NOT theologizing
But lest you think that Christian counselors spend a great deal of time plying clients with the right answers, on sin hunts, or catechising clients, let us remember that exhortation rarely makes for good counseling. In fact, most clients are well aware of their sins–even those who do not call themselves “believers.” And those who have correct theology are not less likely to have trouble in their relationships or less likely to struggle with racing thoughts or depression or less likely to get caught in addictive behavior.
Instead, good christian counseling consists mainly of,
- loads of stimulating questions designed not to get the “right” answer but to awaken the client to how they think, act, believe, relate, etc.
- Short observations to stimulate more critical understanding of the personal narratives being written, and
- Collegial exploration and practice of new narratives, perceptions, and behaviors.
Wait, just what is Christian about these three points? Couldn’t unbelieving counselors agree with this list? Sure they could. What makes these three activities Christian is the submission of both counselor and client to core convictions and practices of Christ followers.
I am attending a “community of practice” hosted by the American Bible Society–a community of global trauma recovery specialists who also are experts in Scripture engagement. It is a very interesting group and most are focused on Africa though some minister in India and South America. While a few of these experts have mental health training, most have other training–missiology, sociology, bible translators, pastoral care, and bible distribution and engagement. All recognize how trauma is a barrier to Scripture engagement and faith development. The big question we are struggling with today is the issue of developing healing/recovery models to be used in another culture. How do we minimize the communication that we in the West have the problems all figured out? How do we help support local leadership (rather than finding leadership that does what we already want to do)? What will be most sustainable?
It is good to hear how God is using diverse ideas and peoples to minister to traumatized communities. And, it is good to remember that God has gifted people across all disciplines to do exceptional trauma healing work.
Those of you interested in trauma recovery work can feel free to pray through our upcoming trip and itinerary (as well as for our families!). Our team (Diane Langberg, Carol King, Josh Straub, Baraka Unwingeneye, Josephine Munyeli, and me) will be providing a 3 day trauma recovery training for Rwandan nationals October 19-21 funded by generous donors from the AACC and WorldVision. Diane and I are leaving early for some assessment work with the American Bible Society and national bible societies in the region.
- Oct 10-11: DL and PM to Entebbe, Uganda to meet up with African and American Bible Society leaders
- Oct 12: DL and PM (via MAF plane) to Bunia, DRC to meet with Bible Society workers and those receiving care
- Oct 13: DL and PM (via MAF plane) to Beni, DRC to meet with seminary/university professionals; then on to Goma, DRC
- Oct 14-16: DL and PM meeting with Bible Society staff, trauma victims, and trauma recovery workers in Goma, DRC
- Oct 14: JS and CK to leave for Kigali, RW
- Oct 17: DL and PM to drive from Goma, DRC to Kigali, RW
- Oct 18: Meetings, prep for conference
- Oct 19-21: Conference lead by BU, JM, DL, JS, CK, and PM for WorldVision workers, clergy, educators, and others
- Oct 21: Leave Kigali
- Oct 22: Arrive Philadelphia
Pray for health, safety, ability to listen well, to teach well and to be flexible. Pray for our families in just the same way.
Am trying to write an academic journal article on clinical applications of Christian Psychology. Heady…I know. Too heady for me I think. However, in my study I ran across these quotes from
Leitner, L.M. (2007). Theory, Technique, and Person: Technical Integration in Experiential Constructivist Psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 17, 33-49.
From his abstract:
From an experiential constructivist position, the distinction between the therapist as a person, the therapist’s theory of psychotherapy, and techniques used within the therapy room is, in some ways, forced and arbitrary.
He starts out this article, after the abstract with,
“Becoming a psychotherapist is not about assembling a bag of tricks and learning the formula for matching tricks (i.e., techniques) with problems. What you do as a therapist emerges from who you are in the therapy room. And, when an intervention comes from who you are, it is no longer a technique.”
SO, it stands to reason that we ought to view therapists in their sessions in order to see what kind of people they are. We therapists often think in terms of theory to practice. But practice probably reveals a truer picture of our theory.
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…
My friends and colleagues here at Biblical Seminary–Jenn Zuck and Bonnie Steich–are teaching a class this weekend about the role of counseling in helping those with chronic conditions. Need CEUs anyone? Info here.
This is such an important issue given our increase in capacity to manage or maintain life with chronic conditions. Some cancers now are more like chronic conditions. HIV can be a chronic condition. And of course there are the more well-known problems such as MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, diabetes, liver dysfunction, etc.
How do you respond to those who seem to be struggling with a long-term condition? Especially when the condition is vague and not visible to the eye? Do you get worn out comforting that person?
I just read a study where they assessed whether major life events or daily hassles were more negatively impacting chronic pain conditions. It turns out that daily hassles increase chronic conditions symptoms far more than do major life stressors. It makes sense but also challenges us to consider how we might overlook the “normal” life of counselees and secretly want them to stop their whining and complaining about how hard it is to …
Want to learn more about counseling this summer? Are you in ministry and want to sharpen your skills? Already a licensed mental health provider and need CEUs*? Want to explore…
- How to counsel people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder?
- How to help those diagnosed with a chronic condition?
- How to use the Old Testament better in counseling?
- How to better understand and evaluate the major models of counseling?
Just a reminder that this summer Biblical is offering 4 electives for students, alum and any auditors who might find the topics of interest. The first three of the four courses are only one credit and delivered in a weekend formats(Friday night and Saturday) with some pre-class reading/assignments. The fourth is a two credit course delivered in a completely on-line format.
For information about each of these course, the professors, the costs, and how to apply, click this link. It will take you to the Biblical website and a PDF of our flyer.
* Note: For those seeking CEUs, there are two ways you may be able to count them as fulfillment of your licensure requirements. Biblical Seminary is an accredited graduate institution and these courses are offered as graduate education in counseling and psychology. Most mental health licensure bodies accept graduate courses (shown on a transcript) as meeting the requirements for approved CE providers. You will need to check with your board to see if that applies to you. Second, we have applied for CE provider status for my class (Borderline Personality Disorder) from the State Board of Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, & Professional Counseling. If approved, we will be able to provide licensed attendees with 9 clock hours at the cost of ONLY $175.
Today marks the third week of my Practicum and Professional Orientation class. This is the first opportunity for many of my students to begin live counseling experiences in their Practicum settings. Most seem to be settling in nicely.
If you have been a green counselor in your first session then you know the terror of: “What will they say???? What will I say????” It doesn’t matter if you have a 10 year file on the client or a 1 sentence “presenting problem”, the green counselor cannot predict the outcome of the session–hence the fear.
To alleviate some of the fear, let’s review what makes for a good first session.
1. Introductions. Make sure they know who you are and who is supervising you. Give them a chance to tell you why they are coming for counseling. Sometimes what they say differs from what they wrote on the forms.
2. Help the client tell their story without too much interruption. Don’t be too quick to jump in and direct with too many questions.
3. Gathering the following data (again, without too much interruption):
- content and scope of problem (frequency, duration, intensity)
- solutions attempted, things that help/harm, prior counseling attempts
- current family/community make-up
- other mental illness
- relevant medical history, current meds, sleep quality
- substance abuse
- spiritual dynamics
- supports, strengths
- typical mood, suicidality
- Other important factors (employment, finances, relational conflicts, etc)
- dreams, hopes, goals
4. Summarize (briefly) and discuss possible initial directions or goals as well as alternatives they may wish to consider
5. Counseling model and nuts and bolts of professional care (confidentiality limits, scheduling, contacting you, payment options, etc.)
That will be more than enough for an hour. Most likely, you get great data in some areas and just a tad in others that will require you to follow-up in the next week. The more talkative the client is, the less data you can gather. The less talkative, the more likely you will get the data but the less likely you’ll form a good connection (Q & A leads to very passive clients more often than not).
It is good to have these very general categories in mind as you start that first session. Be wary of either forgetting the categories or obsessively forcing the client to answer all the history questions. You may end up with a wonderful piece of history for a client who never returns.
Over the 40 plus years of our profession’s existence, Christian counselors have tried in numerous ways to model the relationship between Christianity/theology/bible and the study of psychology. Unfortunately, many model building efforts created more barriers than dialogue among brothers and sisters. Counselors staked out territory with titles such as biblical counseling, integration, levels of explanation.
However, in recent years, more authors have tried hard to articulate a distinctly Christian view of persons and a humble articulation of the change process that builds on the good insights of others (e.g., McMinn & Campbell’s Integrative psychotherapy, Johnson’s Foundations of Soul Care, Malony & Augsburger’s Christian Counseling, etc.). These authors have taken the time to examine their control beliefs, theological assumptions, and more in order to make their psychology truly Christian and not merely a rehash of secular ideas.
If you like thinking about epistemology and yet still interested in application to real life, you ought to check out John Coe and Todd Hall’s Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology (IVP, 2010). I’m just getting into it and so do not have much to say just yet. However, this is a great time to be a Christian psychologist. After a decade or more of avoiding these kinds of treatises for being practical (to a fault) and superficially Christian in our psychology, we have something substantive to sink our teeth into. This is no superficial treatment of Christian theology and human efforts (and their failings) to understand the nature of persons-in-relationship. For example,
1. They start out with the Fall. They acknowledge its full impact on human knowing and observing, that psychology from human eyes will always contain some distortion.
2. They acknowledge that redemption and not merely creation is what shapes our identity. “By creation, human love, and natural goods, we discover a “self.” By redemption and transformation, we are enabled to slowly die to our autonomous self and open to our new identity as self-in-God.” (p. 35)
3. “Ultimately, we are not merely arguing for a new model or a way to relate psychology to Christianity; rather, we are arguing for a new transformational model for doing psychology and science, which inherently and intrinsically is already Christian and open to the Spirit.” (ibid)
4. They are interested in a spiritually formative and relational psychology that cares about the person, the process, and the product (p. 37)
I’m looking forward to the ride. Not sure I’m going to be happy. I’ve read a bit further and am not sure why they spend more time knocking down models that most of us would consider their first cousins (e.g., Christian psychology). That seems to be something from our profession’s past that isn’t as helpful. However, I really appreciate that an early chapter tells both of their stories; their maturation through a period where their faith wasn’t as central to their work as Christian professors of psychology. Often, these kinds of books do NOT include admissions of growth and change. Too often, authors act is if they have always thought this or that way.
I’ll keep you posted with book notes as I go.