Tag Archives: counselor training

Summer Counseling Institute @ BTS

The BTS Graduate School of Counseling has 2 course offerings this summer: a course on addictions and a course on counseling interventions that move beyond talk therapy. Both are equal to 1 credit or 9 CE credits for professional counselors. The addictions course (Jessica Hansford, LPC, CAADC) will be entirely online and delivered over the course of the month of July. The beyond talk therapy course (Heather Drew, LPC) will be delivered live July 21-22 at our Hatfield campus (with pre and post course work due for those who want graduate credit).

If you want to refresh your counselor knowledge and skills, both courses will give you some new ways to engage counselees.

Link above provides course descriptions. To apply, click here.

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Filed under addiction, Biblical Seminary, continuing education, counseling skills, Counselors, teaching counseling, Training

When helping harms

Just before vacation I caught a PBS television show on how economic development (funded by international aid) often ends up hurting while trying to help. Here’s a link to the documentary website. The show covers two areas of Kenya and the pros/cons of trying to raise the living standards of those who live there.

This is not a new problem and reminds me again that there is a book I need to read (When helping hurts).

As a counselor who has traveled to Africa to try to help, I am very interested in finding appropriate methods to provide emotional support and care to traumatized peoples. What are some of the ways we counselors might unintentionally hurt those we want to help?

1. Pressuring clients to do something we think is important (e.g., stand up for yourself, say no to a violent spouse, speak the truth about your abuse, etc.) without considering the consequences. I once read about some African women who sought counseling for rape. Problem was that by going to the rape counseling center, they communicated to their village that they had been raped–and were later killed for being defiled.

2. Assuming that counseling can only be done by licensed professionals. We could train counselors in another country but if these folks couldn’t get paid to counsel because their clients are all subsistence farmers, we have only created additional frustrated individuals.

3. Similar to the last point, if the trainers are all westerners, then they will likely fail to understand culture specific resources/challenges and may reinforce the assumption that only westerners are competent to provide the care.

What are some other ways you have seen western counselors unintentionally harm the helpee?


Filed under counseling, counseling skills, Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, suffering

Practicum Monday: counseling mistakes?

I’d like to compile a list of mistakes mostly likely to be made by novicecounselors. In the past I’ve written on some of the mistakes or foolish behavior of counselors and some of you have helped contribute stories like the counselor who fell asleep during the session, the counselor who ate a meal, who tried to set the counselee up with a son or daughter, the counselor who took phone calls, etc. Most of these mistakes wouldn’t be made by the typical counselor, even one who had never counseled before.

So, what are the most common mistakes of the novice counselor? Not sure, here are some I’ve observed:

1. Failing to collect enough data during the first sessionto assess matters of suicidality or mental status. Novice counselors tend to either drill too deep on one topic (and so miss other important matters) or stay on the surface and fail to ask questions they think might embarrass the client

2. Promising too much. We want the client to have hope and we hope they don’t see us as novice, so we promise the world. Such temptations lead sometimes to offering our phone number to call at all hours, to agreeing to meet outside of sessions, too allowing sessions to go beyond the planned limit.

3. Encouraging. Beginning Christian counselors sometimes fail to let the counselee sit with their pain. Instead, they trot out verses to comfort and encourage. Often, these passages fall flat without their intended result.  

4. Writing too much. Progress notes may look like novellas. When you don’t know what is important, everything is documented.

5. Going along with the parents. Novice counselors often seen kids and their parents. It is easy to become railroaded into allowing the parents to use the session to gang up on the kids. Novice counselors have a hard time managing the parents and the kids in the same session.

What mistakes did you make? Did you experience at the hands of a novice?

When I started, I hated the question about my age (I was 24 but looked younger). I tried all sorts of creative ways to illustrate my experience and to be vague about my actual age. I’m sure I never convinced anyone. They stayed because they didn’t want to start over. I should have just said (nicely), “your right, I’m young. We can either find you another client now or we can try the following intervention and if you don’t like what I’m doing, we can find you someone else then. What would you like to do?”


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology, 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 green counselor

No one wants to be a green counselor. “Hi, I’m an intern and you are my first counselee.” Who wants to say that? Also, no one wants to entrust their most significant problems to a green counselor. “I see you haven’t any experience, so let me expose my most tender parts to you and see what you can do.”

Houston, we have a problem.

Every counselor has to get their start somewhere just as every surgeon cuts a live human being for the first time. Young single folk counsel conflict-riddled married individuals or offer parenting advice while not yet a parent. Individuals with no history of addictions sit with folks in their 10th inpatient stay in a treatment center.

Is there any way this goes well? YES! Let me tell you why going to an intern with a good supervisor is good, even sometimes better than getting a seasoned counselor by them self.

1. You get two heads instead of one. Even if the supervisor is not in the room, you get a young, determined-to-do-it-right counselor and a supervisor on his or her toes (who loves to teach and wants nothing bad to happen) thinking about you and planning carefully. They talk about the intricacies of your situation at great depth, they consider the options, and carefully review the outcome. If you only have a seasoned counselor, they may perform better (relationship wise) in sessions, but they probably aren’t thinking as critically as they could. I can attest that I am thinking much more carefully about clients during supervision (as supervisee or supervisor) than when I am not there.

2. Book knowledge actually does help. The further a person gets away from textbooks, articles, etc. the more they rely on old knowledge. Teaching counselors and green counselors are fresh from their reading and thinking about key problems. For example, the student having just completed an ethics course will be more sensitive to boundary violations than the one who has grown accustomed to thinking they will always do the right thing. Sometimes resident doctors are more aware of subtle health issues because they are running down every article to learn and running down every symptom.  

Now surely a seasoned counselor provides many good benefits. Working with an intern or medical resident often takes longer to get to a good outcome. They just aren’t as fluid. They are still learning–learning on you. A seasoned counselor will make fewer mistakes. But if they are a humble learner, the green counselor will catch on quickly and repair any damage. Whether green or seasoned, the most dangerous character problem in counselors is arrogance and listening only to him or herself.

But the intern can manage some of this by dealing with his or her own anxiety. Confidence does actually help. It enables you to think clearly, consider options, be honest about your own weaknesses, offer the client help in finding someone else if you aren’t the right fit. It is like baseball. If you are afraid of getting hit, you’ll likely not catch or hit the ball. If you have confidence, you’ve got a better shot of catching it and/or at least making contact when hitting.


All that said, I have to tell you a story about my “first time.” I had just completed a 13 week internship where I counseled 2 separate clients with my supervisor in session and by myself. I could be given good grades for trying hard, but probably was too impatient to get to the good stuff of people’s problems–the stuff of repentance. In a moment of insanity my supervisor set me up as a staff counselor in a satellite center. On my first night I saw a person who said the Lord had told her I was the counselor for her but now was rethinking she had misheard. How could an 18 year old be right for her (ahem, I was all of 24!)? After trying to find out the issues, she said if I couldn’t figure it out, she definitely had misheard God. The next client was a couple. In the course of the session, the husband actually stood up and started choking his wife. I stood up–not knowing what else to do–and he fled the building.

There’s nothing like baptism by fire 🙂


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