Competent to Counsel?

Today's guest blogger is Suzanne Holland. Suzanne is a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, wife to John, and mom to two grown up boys. She is also a student at Reigning Grace Counseling Center and is in the prcticum phase to become a Certified Biblical Counselor, offering the hope of the Scriptures to those who are hurting.

 I recently attended my very first Biblical Counseling conference. I was excited about this event, as several of the authors whose books I have studied were scheduled to speak there. The topics were very relevant to our culture, and I learned a great deal. It was truly a blessing for me, and I believe it has changed the direction of my thinking regarding this ministry for which I am being trained and prepared. This is what I want to share with you today, but first, let me give you a little background.

I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Before I was saved, I was completely sold on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, talk therapy and the like. I believed that these things were the solutions to people’s problems, and I studied hard to apply what I was learning. When I became a Christian, however, my view changed radically. I began to see that without heart change, there could be no real life change (Mark 7:20-23). Through a series of providential events, I came last year to study biblical counseling at Reigning Grace Counseling Center. Here, this idea of “Heart Change for Life Change” began to be fleshed out in my mind, and I began to ponder the idea of “one another ministry.” What does this really mean, and who exactly is qualified to do it? As I have pursued my certification, this question has continued to present itself.

Now, back to the conference. Several of the speakers over the weekend used a phrase with which I was unfamiliar: Hug, Pray, Refer. What they meant by this was that in the past, faith-based counselors have referred the really tough cases to “professionals.” We considered ourselves competent to handle such things as sadness, mild anxiety, and communication issues in marriage. Maybe even a little pre-marital counseling was comfortable for us. But if someone came in with panic attacks or clinical depression, we would give them a hug, pray with them and then refer them to a professional psychologist or counselor. The point the speakers were making, that we should be able to help these individuals, was a challenge to us as Biblical Counselors to consider our belief that the Bible is sufficient, and that we are qualified to help even the most troubled of our brothers and sisters. I fully and wholeheartedly agree, and I honestly cannot wait to be the one to help these counselees to see the goodness of God in their circumstances.

This did get me thinking, though, about another kind of Hug, Pray Refer situation that is similar and equally challenging. More than once since I’ve begun this training, friends at church have said to me, “A friend came to me and told me how she is struggling with ___________. I listened, but I just had no clue how to help her. I just gave her a hug, prayed with her and gave her the number for the Counseling Center at church. I know they can help her! I’m so glad we have that counseling center. What a blessing!”

Hug, Pray, Refer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully agree that it is a blessing to have a counseling center in our church, and I know that not every believer has the temperament and personality to counsel the so-called “tough cases.” But we are commanded to comfort one another with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). Jay Adams’ Christian Counselor’s New Testament interprets Romans 15:14 this way: “…you…are filled with all knowledge, and competent to counsel one another.” So why are so many of us ill-equipped to do that? I believe that there are three primary reasons.

The first, and most important, is simply a neglect of daily meditation on the Word of God. We are busy people, and becoming busier all the time. Bible reading, meditation and prayer tend to take a low place among family, work, home and church obligations. If we do not intentionally and purposefully make time to be in the Word each day, it simply will not happen. If you are not reading and meditating on the Word of God each day, how will you be able to minister that Word to your hurting brothers and sisters? You don’t need a Biblical Counseling certification to be able to share scripture and help your friend apply it to her situation. You need a close and solid walk with the Lord, nourished by daily reading, meditation and prayer.

Another reason I believe we pass off hurting people to the “professionals” is that counseling and helping hurting people can be hard work. It requires patience and time. If we’re honest, many of us believe that we don’t have the time or energy to follow up with that person, so we refer them to the Counseling Center. But did you know that there is often a long wait to see one of those counselors? That person standing before you, tearfully sharing her trial, may have to wait as long as six weeks to see a counselor. A fellow believer could bridge the gap between today and that first appointment. Your friend may not even need that appointment by the time it rolls around, if you commit the time and energy to help her.

Finally, we may refer hurting people to the Counseling Center because helping them ourselves leaves us vulnerable. If I listen to this person share her life, I might have to share mine, and that makes me uncomfortable. Many of us are putting up a cheerful façade of when we come to church. Our guard is up, and we don’t want to share anything painful or private. Broken people are vulnerable, and they need vulnerable, broken people to come into their pain and help them heal. If we insist on hiding our own pain and troubles, we will lose the opportunity to be instruments in the hand of God to help someone who is not so good at the “church face.”

Do any of these reasons to hug, pray, and refer hurting people to the Counseling Center resonate with you? Think about the last time you felt ill-equipped to help a hurting friend? What did you need that you didn’t have? What can you do today to begin to prepare yourself to be ready to come alongside the next brother or sister in need? If God brings a friend in need to you, He will use you in whatever way He deems best. Remember, this is not about giving the right advice or saying exactly the right thing. God will use His word (Isaiah 55:11); you are merely the conduit. Even if your words are not perfect, His Word is, and it will never return void.