Over the years I've noticed that many people seem to be a bit mystified as to what a biblical counselor is and more importantly what he or she does. Part of the reason for the mystification if I can put it that way is because of the use of the word "counseling."
Culturally speaking, counseling suggests psychology and psychiatry, therapy and medications, recovery and emotional healing. To some then, a biblical counselor is someone who, in some way, uses the Bible in a therapeutic way to assist in recovery and emotional healing.
Some conclude that a "biblical counselor" must therefore have training that is similar to that of a psychologist. Some biblical counselors in fact do have training in psychology. To what extent it influences their approach to what is called biblical counseling is a variable. (I had two courses in psychology in the interest of full disclosure.)
The way I attempt to demystify biblical counseling is to explain that counseling is nothing more than discipleship. This is often news to those confused about the terms.
I then explain that certified biblical counselors (NANC, IABC) and those who have been trained in crisis counseling (but are not necessarily certified) are usually sought out because the person is in some sort of a crisis. In this way, a biblical counselor is similar to the psychologist in that most people go to a psychologist because they feel they are in a crisis of some sort.
But that is usually where the similarity ends and that's because the true biblical counselor counsels out of their theological background and not through whatever psychology they have picked up on the way.
This is an important distinction and it means that the number one thing the biblical counselor is interested in is the progressive sanctification of the counselee, even in, especially in, the crisis they are experiencing. Thus, biblical counseling is nothing more than intensive discipleship, usually for a short duration of roughly 6-10 meetings. Keep in mind that many people who seek out psychologists can be in therapy for years.
In fact, after the crisis has passed or been dealt with scripturally the biblical counselor returns the counselee back into the mainstream of discipleship ministry, meaning whatever their church offers as a model of "normal" discipleship training.
People come to the biblical counselor because they are usually in some sort of crisis (not always though). They are seeking relief from fear, worry, anxiety, discouragement, rebellious children, adultery recovery, drug abuse, guilt, despair and any number of problems common to man.
What is it they need?
Let me submit to you that what they need is the application of the gospel so that they change to be more like Christ. That is progressive sanctification and in that way the biblical counselor is nothing more than someone trained to help disciple them through the crisis.
So, what is necessary for any person wishing to give biblical counsel to another?
1. Knowledge of what progressive sanctification is and (is not).
2. Serious application to one's life. (You can't give away what you yourself do not apply.)
I like Jim Berg's definition of discipleship: Discipleship is helping another believer make biblical change toward Christlikeness. Changed into His Image, Jim Berg, page 11.
Isn't that something we all should be striving to do?