In this episode of TGC Q&A’s biblical counseling series, Nate Brooks answers the question, “Should Christians be skeptical about counseling?” He addresses:
- Encouraging reluctant people toward counseling (:35)
- Allowing others to see our struggles (2:03)
- Patience for others (2:47)
- Prayer for others (4:05)
- Talking about counseling in a helpful way (3:55)
- The first step in seeking counseling (7:03)
- Thankfulness for God’s leadership toward godly counsel (5:25)
- Bringing along a friend as an advocate in counseling (8:32)
- What makes for a good counselor (10:25)
- Good counselors are good listeners (10:49)
- Good counselors are scripturally wise (11:36)
- Trusting biblical counselors—wise advice vs. biblical commands (14:33)
- Encouragement for those wanting to be biblical counselors (20:13)
Find more from TGC on biblical counseling:
- A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry
- TGC’s Counseling Course
Nate’s recommended resources:
- Thoughts for Young Counselors by Nate Brooks (blog post)
- Six Ways to Make the Most Out of Counseling by Rick Thomas (blog post)
- Resources from the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF)
- The Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (IBCD)
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Nate Brooks: Hi, you’re listening to TGC Q&A, a podcast from The Gospel Coalition. And this is the biblical counseling series, featuring hopeful answers to your questions on navigating fear, anxiety, ministry, and marriage and everything in between.
My name is Nate Brooks, and I’m an assistant professor of Christian counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today I’ll be answering questions that you’ve submitted regarding biblical counseling, both receiving biblical counseling and seeking to pursue becoming a biblical counselor.
So the first question is, how do you encourage someone who seems willing yet reluctant about going to counseling? Oh, this is a really good question. I think that all of us as human beings, don’t necessarily love talking about the troubles that we face. Which honestly, if we’re honest is really ironic. Because as Christians, every single one of us has admitted that we are a wreck in and of ourselves, right? I mean, that’s what everybody’s testimony is. I was a disaster who could not fix myself and I needed Jesus Christ to come in, change my heart and renovate every corner of it. That’s what it means to be a Christian is to acknowledge these things.
When we start pushing into specifics though, that’s where everybody starts getting a little bit squirrely, right? It’s far more difficult for us to acknowledge many of these specifics, because then all of a sudden we have to recognize that some individuals are further along the path in some ways than we are, and we’re further along the path than other persons. You know, you even think of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. The very first thing that they did after they ate the fruit, disobeyed God’s commands is they hid themselves from each other, which is really fascinating. They realized they were naked and ashamed and were ashamed of it, but there was no one else around to see them. The only thing that had changed is all of a sudden they realized each other’s imperfections and hid themselves from each other. And even as believers, we all have that tendency where we don’t like to be known for our weaknesses.
We don’t like to be known in those things that we struggle with. We don’t like to be known in those areas of our hearts that are still under significant renovation by the Lord. We want to be known for the things that we’re strong. We want to be known that we are put together. So the step of going and seeing a counselor is ultimately a step of humility, but we’re also commanded to humble yourselves before the Lord. And he will exalt you at the proper time. So if you’re in a relationship with someone, any kind of relationship, whether that be marriage, being a parent or a child, or a friend, a ministry partner, whatever it may be. I think the first thing to remember is just to be patient with people. Seeking out counseling is a big step.
Think about how hesitant people are to go to the doctor over something that is wrong with their bodies over which they pretty much, most of the time have absolutely zero control. So recently I messed up my hand and started aching a lot. And I thought, “Man, it feels like I might have chipped a bone in there or have some kind of nerve trouble.” You know, it took me three weeks to decide to go to the doctor. Why? Because I was stubborn and just wanted to see if it would heal by itself. And we’re not that different when it comes to what’s going on in our hearts, right? That’s a big step for people to go and see a counselor a lot of times. They usually have to come to the realization that, “Hey, I’m not able to fix this by myself. I’m not able to just wait it out and it go away.”
It could be scary opening up to somebody else over the things that are going on in your heart, because usually the things we’re talking about in counseling are the parts of us that we don’t necessarily lead with our front foot with. So first off, just be patient with people, right? It’s a process. If you even think about the times that you have talked about your troubles with others, it usually took you a while to work up to this spot that you were willing to talk. I think the second thing is to pray for people, right? God moves hearts through prayer. And I know in my relationships, when I try and force things, things usually go quite badly. And when I step back and just commit myself to praying for people that God would move their hearts in certain directions, not simply so my life gets better, but so that their life gets better and they’re able to experience a lot of freedom and joy. You know, it’s interesting, the Lord oftentimes turns people’s hearts that way and that’s a beautiful thing.
So the first thing would be, be patient with people. The second would be to pray for them. The third is how we talk about counseling matters. Now it’s interesting, because counseling is a word that is both a noun and it’s a verb. And the noun form is more of what we think of when we think of professional counselors, right? I am a counselor. But counseling, the verb just simply means communication of wisdom from one human being to another. And I think that as we help understand that going and seeing a biblical counselor is more that second category, right? You’re going out and seeking advice and help rather than going to a professional who’s going to straighten you out.
One of the things that I talk about often with my counselees is “Look, the ground at the foot of the cross is absolutely level. I am a sinner who is saved by grace. You are a sinner who is saved by grace, which means that at our core, we’re the same. Now what I do have is a technical training, a lot of experience of doing counseling and just the moral character and wisdom as testified to by my employer and the church and such, I’m a good person to talk about these things with. But at our core look, we’re the same.” We’re human beings that need advice or human beings that need help. And our sanctification is meant to be largely directed and driven by people around us. So if you can help people kind of get past that hurdle of “I’m going to the expert to fix me.” No, that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re having a wise counselor, someone who’s giving wisdom and advice come alongside and help you interpret the Bible well and help you interpret your life well, and see how the two go together.
I always tell my counselors, “Look, I don’t fix you. Really the Holy Spirit is the one who’s active and working in transforming.” And my role is to simply be a pair of eyes, maybe above the maze, as you’re saying, “Man, I think I’ve tried every road and I can’t figure out how to get out of that maze.” Well, now I can help someone say, “Hey, turn left, turn. Right, and now you’re back in turf that you recognize, and you’re good to go now.” that’s really what counseling is. We’re wise people who come alongside you to help you figure it out, how to go. And I think that moving, helping people understand that it’s not kind of a big picture, little cup, I will fix you really can take a lot of the concern and consternation out of counseling.
Oh, the second question here follows the first one very, very well. It’s a two part question. It’s what is the first step to seeking counseling and how do I choose a counselor that’s right for me? That’s a really good question. I’m glad that we’re addressing these questions, because these are a lot of things that we don’t necessarily talk about. We talk about topics and counseling and we talk about how to be a counselor and we talked about the theories of counseling, but don’t talk too much about how do I even go about finding one, right? So I’ll answer the first part first. What’s the first step to seeking counseling? I’d say first, the first thing to do is just take a pause and thank God that he’s given you the motivation to even seek any help. Any step we take towards a greater growth in Christ is ultimately derived from God’s good pleasure and God’s good kindness upon us.
And it is always good to say, “God, thank you for bringing me to a place where I am ready to receive counsel from your scriptures and your people. And I ask that you give me the grace to change and humility, to see where I can grow.” The cornerstone of what it means to be a good counselee is to be humble, and humility is not something that naturally comes to us human beings. And so if God has brought you to a point of being ready to talk, thank Him for that and then pray for continued grace. We do need to remember that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, and Satan hates counseling. And it’s good for us to enlist God’s aid as we seek that.
I think the second thing that you can do is to connect with someone in your web of relationships that you can talk through your counseling with. So going back to what we talked about in the first question, counseling is not here’s the expert, here you are. Let’s go ahead and fix you. Rather, it’s a process of growth surrounded by God’s people. One of the things that I want from my counselees is actually for them to bring a wise and trusted friend with them, for counseling. A lot of times that’s a novel concept for somebody. But the reason for that is, I don’t have a relationship with my counselees beyond the hour or so that I see them once a week or a couple of times a month, whatever it may be. And having a friend come along actually helps you process through the things that you’re hearing and can kind of serve to be a really helpful dialogue partner throughout the rest of the week.
The purpose of doing counseling is for you to grow, and humility wants to grow even if it means exposing a little bit of yourself, that you would prefer not to be exposed. And this is why we have goods Godly wise friends, for times like this. There can sometimes be a tendency of wanting to hide in counseling saying, “I don’t want anybody around me to know what’s going on.” But think of it, those are the people that care for you most, that have been with you through thick and thin and they’re incredibly helpful. If that’s not possible, I would just find someone that you can kind of deprogram from your counseling with. So whether it be a friend, go out to coffee with them, talk about it. Go on a walk and talk with them, whatever it may be. It could be a pastor, a small group leader, a trusted friend Godly wise mentor.
The more that you’re able to kind of talk through what’s going on in counseling sessions, the more helpful it’ll be for you. So you won’t need to kind of bring your relationships into your counseling relationship there. So I’d say those would be two good first steps as you think about seeking counseling. The second thing, the second question here. How do I choose a counselor who’s right for me? That’s a really great question. There’s a lot of different factors. I’ll just cover a couple of them. I want to talk about what to look for in a good counselor, okay. As with anything, all that glitters is not gold and everything that proclaims itself to be biblical counseling, isn’t necessarily biblical counseling. What I encourage people to look for and what we help train our students to be is two things. First, we want to, you want to find a counselor that listens to you as an individual.
One of the things that I tell my students is, “Look, there’s no such thing as like a pornography case or an anger case. There’s a John Case, and there is a Alice Case. There’s a Jack Case, and there’s an Audrey case. We counsel individuals.” And you want to find someone that’s going to engage with you, with your life story, with you as a unique individual made in God’s image. Find someone that listens to you. Who treats you not as a problem, but as a person made in God’s image with much righteousness in your heart and much trouble in your heart. A good counselor just doesn’t treat their counselee like a cookie cutter case there.
I’d say, secondly, you want to find someone who’s wise in God’s word. The scriptures were written so that they might be a light to our feet and a lamp for our path. They were written that we might be held back from sin and promoted in righteousness. You think of Psalm one 119, and the number of statements that are in there about what the Bible does for us. Psalm 19, likewise talks about so many things that the Bible is for us. It makes the simple wise. The Bible is the wisest thing that we have in the universe. It’s the owner’s manual for being a human being. Think of how much we wouldn’t know about ourselves if we didn’t have the Bible. We actually wouldn’t know where we came from. We wouldn’t understand the soul. We wouldn’t understand how we might be saved. We wouldn’t understand sanctification if we didn’t have the Bible. This is where God has communicated to us how to live in the broken world with broken hearts that are being made new. And a good counselor is going to know their scriptures very well.
So I think what you want to see is someone who’s using the Bible as kind of the center point to engage your heart. That’s what a good biblical counselor is going to do. It’s the wise application of scripture for encouragement, correction, instruction, comfort, hope. That’s what you want to see in your counselor. If your counselor is someone that seems to talk a lot from their own experiences, and seems to think that their stories will change you, or talks a lot about things to do but isn’t working on cultivating things inside your heart from the word of God. It’s not saying that those other things are unhelpful, but we, if you’re doing counseling, you want to get to the root of the thing, which is ultimately what’s going on in your heart. Jesus, out of the heart comes a litany of human troubles.
Just practically a really good place to start and where I kind of push individuals who contact us for counseling is, look on the biblical counseling coalition website, it’s biblical counseling.org. They have a find a counselor tab and you can click on that. And they have links to help find individuals who are biblically centered counselors. I refer a lot of individuals to that particular website to find individuals in their area that are able to help. Also, it’s slightly less than ideal, but there are a number of centers across the United States that offer Skype counseling or Zoom counseling. If you’re not able to find someone in your particular area, you could find an organization that’s able to do it by Skype. And it wouldn’t be remiss to, another thing that you really ought to do. I probably should have mentioned this first is talk to your pastor, talk to those who are wise around you. God has put Godly leaders in your path for your growth and development, and they oftentimes have a network of people that they trust.
Looks like the third question here shifts gears a little bit. The question is asked, though God is our great counselor, how can I also trust the wisdom of a biblical counselor? Oh, that’s another great question because any human being, any Christian, any biblical counselor worth their salt is going to say that there is a gap in between God’s wisdom and our wisdom. God knows in full, we know in part. God understands completely, we understand in part. And perhaps even more importantly, God loves perfectly and we love in part as well. So we always recognize that there is a gap in between Christ’s great love for us and Christ’s great wisdom for us, and the great love of the counselor and the wisdom of the counselor for us.
I think one thing that that does do is, it keeps us from treating our counselors like a savior, right? A counselor is simply a guidance to point us to Jesus Christ. And if we grow in dependence on a person, that person is ultimately going to disappoint us. Rather biblical counseling is meant to consistently point back to Jesus Christ, the savior. But that being said, absolutely this is a great question. Okay. So we have to remember how God operates. God, in his manifold wisdom has consistently decided to minister to us through needs. So I mentioned some 19 a little bit ago, think of Psalm 19. Again, the heavens declare the glory of God. The firmament shows the work of his hands. So the Psalmist is stepping outside, staring up at the night sky at the brilliance of the stars and is reminded of God’s greatness, vastness, and glory.
Now what God did there is God created something that then mediated His grace to that individual. That individual did not perceive and behold God face to face. Rather, he or she perceived and beheld God’s creation face to face. And it turned his heart to the Lord. And that’s very similar to how counseling works. God is our wonderful counselor, and he has given means for individuals to grow in sanctification and holiness. And one of those means is wise biblical counselors who counsel according to His revealed word and under His authority. So as a counselor, I don’t have any authority. The authority rests inside of the church, inside of the leaders of the church who shepherd underneath the authority of Jesus Christ Himself.
So the way, the reason we can trust wisdom from a biblical counselor is because a biblical counselor is mediating God’s revelation to you by helping you connect God’s word into your, the particulars of what your life in a specific and nuanced way for your health and their benefit. Our ultimate trust is in the revelation of God. God has spoken to us in His word. And that’s why as a biblical counselor, I’m able to actually help people in the renovation of their hearts, because we believe that God’s word was written to transform the human heart. It did it for our justification and it’s doing it for our sanctification. A biblical counselor’s authority only extends so far as the Bible’s authority goes.
So perhaps one example here would be helpful. I was counseling a young woman a while ago who dealt severely with a social anxiety. She had a very difficult time even leaving her house over the fact that she would have to interact with human beings. That’s very, very sad.
And over time we worked on reflecting on God’s character, on god’s goodness, on God’s providence, on God’s care and then also God’s commands. And one of the things that the Bible says is that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. And instead of simply living off of her parents, her responsibility was to gain gainful employment so that she would be able to contribute. Now, that was terrifying for her. What I was able to tell her from God’s word is that it was God’s will for her life, for her to get a job so that she could make a living and support herself, instead of simply living off of the hard work of other people. What I could not tell her is go to Walmart and go get hired there, because God has not revealed that this woman needed to go to Walmart and be employed at Walmart.
That was, that would be a helpful suggestion that I could make, but that’s very different than saying thou shalt get thine work upon by Walmart. God commands us to be employed if we are able. We understand that disability, seasons of unemployment, different callings and occupations may play a role here. But we’re talking about a woman who is simply living off the largess of other individuals. And this is true across all sorts of counseling. When I’m counseling a young man or a young woman who is struggling with pornography, there are things that I can say that you need to cut off your hand, gouge out your eye, take radical measures to remove temptation.
But particular strategies, I can’t say thus says the Lord thou shalt download covenant eyes upon thy computer. So you want to find a biblical counselor who does make a distinction between wise advice and biblical command. And that’s how we can trust the wisdom of a biblical counselor. We can have absolute bedrock guarantee that the scriptures are true. And so far as the counselor’s wisdom is in accordance with God’s word, that’s an individual that we can trust as well.
The last question we have here is what is your encouragement for someone who wants to be a biblical counselor? Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m one of God’s most glorious promises in His scriptures is when Jesus says I will build my church. And wise is biblical counselors are part of God’s fulfillment of that promise that he will indeed build his church. Being a biblical counselor is doing ministry for the building up of Christ and the church. Now, when we think about how one might discern, whether one might being called into biblical counseling ministry, we want to think of that as a call towards ministry. Not necessarily pastoral ministry, but a call it towards ministry. Which means that as Christians have always talked about calls towards ministry. We want to look at two different factors. The first is the internal call. Does someone have the desire to move towards a ministry in a particular capacity?
And this is really important because to be honest, ministry is hard. It consumes your heart. So as a biblical counselor, I consistently get to see kind of the underside of humanity. I’m in an occupation where I will get a phone call that will just bring you to your knees over the sickness and pervertedness of what humans do to each other. And if you aren’t called towards it, if there’s not a desire, it’ll eat you alive. And God has given certain people that desire and that call. It’s not a more noble call than the call towards something else, but it is a fulfillment of Christ promise to build His church. So if you desire that wonderful, I’m so excited for that. I’m really thankful that God is fulfilling his promise. The second though, is the external call.
The external call speaks of whether those who are in the church around you believe that you’re a good candidate for ministry. Internal desires are not bulletproof. So I had certain sports aspirations growing up before I realized that I was going to be a five foot seven, relatively unathletic human being and that my dreams of sport hood simply wasn’t in the cards given who God had built me to be. Same thing with ministry. There are individuals who desire to do ministry, and yet at the same time, just may not be cut out for that. And that’s actually, God’s kindness to you for you to seek out people in your, in your church, specifically leaders, to see if they think that you would be at this time, a good candidate for that kind of thing. They may tell you a couple different things. Or they may heartily endorse that.
That would be wonderful. They secondarily may say,. “We see the gifting there. We see that you are a individual that deeply loves people, that deeply loves the Lord. But we think that there’s just a handful of maybe moral qualities or wisdom that we think you can mature in. So let’s take you under our wing and disciple you up in those things, and then we can talk about ministry.” If that’s the case, it may wound your pride. But you know what? That’s a good thing, because the foundation of being a good counselor is being humble, being sensitive to the spirit. And if the Lord uses that in your life, then wonderful.
And then other times individuals in your church may say, “You know what? That’s great that you have that desire, but I think that maybe just the way God has built you as a person, perhaps there’s not that relational sensitivity that makes someone a good counselor, or perhaps there’s just maybe a challenge of seeing the forest and not simply focusing on particular trees that’s necessary as you’re helping someone work through tendencies.”
That doesn’t mean that you’re not called to ministry at all. Rather it may mean that the Lord is using this to refine and redefine what lanes you may want to go in. I did not intend to become a biblical counselor when I started seminary. In fact, I actually one time said I will never get a doctorate. And yet here I am, many years later doing the very thing that I had prophesied that I would not do, because the Lord is calls in my life and directing me that way. But as we take steps in faithfulness, the Lord directs our paths as we’re going. And I will just say, if everything’s a green light, the next great step would be to pursue. Look at pursuing education in biblical counseling.
There’s a reason that there are graduate programs in biblical counseling, because there’s a lot of Bible theology and specific counseling training that are incredibly helpful as we seek to become wise biblical counselors. I myself am pretty partial to the program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I’m a professor at. Give us a call. We would love to talk with you about it. I will say there’s many, many great biblical counseling programs out there as well, we’re certainly not the only one. So if that’s something that you see the Lord opening up some means and opportunities for, and the testimony of your church, the Lord bless you. And I’m excited to consider you a partner in the gospel of Jesus Christ.