The New Life Christian Counseling Map (A Format to Follow)

While there will probably never be a single “format” to follow with every client in exactly the same manner, haphazard counseling can prove ineffective for the counselor and disastrous for the client. Failure is not an acceptable outcome for either the counselor or the client.  Therefore, to have the highest expectancy of success we need a clear working theory to follow, a process that allows for individual input while dictating a specified course, and certain specific techniques that to follow faithfully in every case, situation, and circumstance. This method will provide the capability for the counselor to self-evaluate by using measurable data and not rely solely on personal emotional criteria to decide progress and success.

In addition, new counselors struggle with feelings of inadequacy, though in many cases these persons were already “counseling” people for years. The sudden inclusion of the Counselor’s Certification seems to intimidate rather than to motivate some people. Even experienced and mature counselors may find problem with the prospect of having to follow “new” specific processes with which that they may be unfamiliar.

Many persons who were already “counseling” before they became certified, had been using “procedures,” “methods,” and “theories” which they just learned along the way. They had become comfortable with the way they used these processes though they probably realized that they needed something else. Becoming a Certified Christian (or Faith Based) Counselor carries with it the semblance of qualification, as well as the “approval of others” that many persons who already “counsel” on their own may feel they lack. Regardless of what got you here, one thing must become prominent in your style of counseling: you must have clear goals and objectives that will lead you and the client to the root problem, and therefore, the answers to identify the solution.

You’ve got to Know Where You Are Going to Know How Get There.

The goal of this section is to provide you with a clear path to follow with your client to search for and find the answers you will both need to find a resolution. The process will be a collaboration.  It will require you to guide the client in a specific direction, while they client follows you willingly. It requires you to have a predefined process you will implement, and require the client to cooperate, even if they do not initially understand what you are doing.

People are not going to come to you because they already trust you great counseling “prowess” and “abilities.” You will have to earn their trust. You will best accomplish this by taking them through measurable steps that will prove, systematically, that the process you will be using with them actually works.

Winging it, or “making it up as you go” will always prove inadequate in the end. If you are unwilling to adapt to a working model of counseling, you will never really know where you need improvement or change. You must have something with which to compare your counseling style.

The following “Map” or process is a standard that to follow and apply in all your counseling sessions. Variances will occur due to the situation and circumstances presented in the case, but these variances should never derail the process. Be faithful to the process and it will work well for you.

With all this said, remember, any “Map” or process may need updating or modifying as time goes on. Be ready for the changes that will be necessary. Learn them, internalize them, and own them. Include them in you counseling “Map,” this will make you a better counselor.

The All Important Session One.

There are certain specific principles that you must use in this sessions without fail. They will help you start in the right direction, and will help you not get distracted by the client’s feelings and arguments about what their “real” concern is. These principles are included here for you. Use them wisely.

The “Map”

As with any map, you look for and identify the place where you want to go. Then you trace back along a route, which you will have to follow to get there, from your beginning point. Once you know where you are going, you will also learn lots of other needed information.

For example:

1. What the distance is.

2. How long it may take to get there.

3. Whether you should travel by road, train, or by air.

4. What provisions and other needs will you have to take with you.

5. Will you need to take someone with you?

6. Etc.

Session 1 must be used to ascertain these things in reference to the client’s real (or root) problem.

The most important question is where are you going to be heading with this client? Will it be different from other people you counsel? The answer to that is to reach a point where clients:

· Understand, as much as possible, the factors that got them on the unhealthy pattern they have been living.

· Learn new behavior that will get them started on THE new healthy pattern.

· (And where possible) Come to a closer walk in their relationship with our Lord.

These things will be the same with every client.

Along with the above, each case will have specific sub-goals as well. For example, a couple comes to counseling because they realize they have serious communication problems. Besides the above two things, the counselor will also need to help the clients learn to develop interpersonal and communication skills. The urgent need, though, (needing to learn healthy communication skills) must never over-shadow the greater needs as explained in the first answer above.

To best help someone understand his or her unhealthy life pattern, the counselor must first get as much information as possible. The information needs to be as complete as possible.  We have included the following list as a guide to accomplish this:

1. Time Line.

In many cases (especially where more than one person have accounts which conflict), you will need to establish a timeline. This means to get the dates and circumstances lined up so that you can later refer to certain and specific events, which you determine to have produced unhealthy responses in the client that became part of their life pattern.

This will help the client begin to understand that specific events can cause persons to react in specific ways that can cause the person to start believing untruths that can harm them the rest of their lives. If they can see that certain events have shaped their thinking, the counselor has a greater chance of helping the client start to change their pattern to a healthy one. The principle here is: People do what they do because they believe what they believe.

2. The Client’s Responses to Events.

Your goal here is to learn the responses the clients had to revealed events in their lives. It is not what they said they did, as much as what they came away believing. Keep in mind; the client will not already know what they need to tell you to help you figure out this point. You must learn to ask open-ended questions (those that cannot be answered with one syllable words like, “yes” or “no”), and follow-up on any point that is not yet clear in your mind.

Though the client may not be conscious of his or her direct responsibility for life choices, they must eventually make that connection and learn to choose their responses in a healthier manner. Galatians 6:7 teaches, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows he will also reap. The principle is this: It is not what happens to us or what we do, but how we define ourselves because of those things, which shape our lives from then on.

I mentioned revealed events, so, therefore, I need to mention “unrevealed events” as well. The best course of action for the counselor is to realize that the client has neglected to provide needed information or that they have considered some information as irrelevant and therefore just chose not to include it.

One other possibility is that the client may be trying to manipulate the counseling for unhealthy purposes and will leave information which will either not help them in their personal goal, or which may prove them wrong in some way.

In either case, the counselor should approach this information gathering process sort of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You may have an idea what the real problem may be, do not start assuming anything until you get as much of the puzzle together before you decide that you fully understand the circumstances. As long as there are pieces missing (holes in the information), you do not have enough to start yet.

3. Take your time, and be on time.

One of the “nice” faults of many counselors is that they are so anxious to help others that they do not take their time to gather enough information before plunging head-on into the counseling “process.” Their desire, which is admirable, can result in misdiagnosing the client’s problem and wasting much time and effort working on something that may not be the real problem at all. The result of this will be frustration on both the counselor and client’s parts. The client will start to lose faith in the counselor, and the counselor will unconsciously blame the client for the lack of progress.

For the first session, the counselor will need approximately two (2) hours. This is only to begin gathering information. It would be rare to have a counseling session that will provide all the information you need to make a full diagnosis of the root problem. Scripture puts it this way, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter,” Proverbs 25:2 (NASB95). The principle is this: “A wise counselor will search out and consider the information carefully, but the foolish one will rush head-on without having all the proper information.”

The second perspective on this section is that another thing that can undermine the counseling effort is the seeming inability to manage session time effectively. When New Life clients fill out the Intake Form, they learn that the first hour is going to take approximately two hours and that all sessions after that will be about one hour to one and a half hours in length, for the most part. Clients will take you at your word and make plans for after the counseling sessions. Counselors need to be conscientious of their management of the session times.

Even if the counselee arrives late, the counselor should begin immediately. As well, during the session, one should use the clock to encourage active participation from the client. As an example, you could start the session by informing the client that you will be ending the session in one hour. This will inform the client that if there is something they really want to talk about, that they should get to it. You can also use the clock by informing the client that you would like to use the next fifteen (15) minutes to cover a specific topic before going on to something else. Finally, about ten minutes to the end of the session, you can inform the client of the time so that they will be even more encouraged to bring up some topic that they really need discussing. As well, you can refer to the time at five minutes to the end of the session, and go over the client’s homework with them. Effective management of the time will help the clients with their confidence in your management skills. The Bible teaches that anyone who is faithful in the small stuff (“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much. . .” Luke 16:10 (NIV)

4. Remember that our style of counseling is Belief Therapy.

Also known as “Cognitive Therapy,” is usually used in combination with behavioral approaches and Scriptural principle which impact on the nature of humans. Cognitive theory emphasizes that distress does not come from the traumatic event, but what they think or believe about what happened to them. Maladaptive or irrational thinking styles and beliefs about one’s “self” produce psychopathology (unhealthy forms of thinking). Belief Therapy primarily uses teaching and educational approaches, mixed with behavioral modifications, with clients. This type of therapy is effective because clients learn new and more adaptive or rational ways of thinking about themselves and their lives, and learn different ways to react or respond to events, traumatic or not.

As long as you keep this concept in mind, you will allow the therapeutic style counseling of Belief Therapy to dictate much of your counseling for you. This is a healthy practice to follow and will lend itself for resulting in the greatest benefit to the counselee. The first rule of NCCM’s Code of Ethics is “Do no harm” (to the clients). Losing sight of the Belief Therapy pattern of counseling actually can result in harming the client. This can happen because you will not be allowing the process and method of Belief Therapy to work at its very best and most effective manner.

5. Learning to listen to what is not said.

Make up your mind ahead of time and start the questioning period of the session with a realistic expectation. That is that most of what the clients say complain about, argue, cry about, emphasize, stress over, and such is not the real problem. As mentioned before, the first step toward ineffective counseling is to zero in on what the client is saying and being too lazy to search out the real (or root) problem which is hidden somewhere in all that the client says.

To make matters worse, women (in general) say one thing while meaning another, and men say exactly what they mean, but are not always sure what they mean. If you take what they claim at face value, you will end up with an erroneous diagnosis of the situation or circumstances. Bad diagnosis (what is wrong) means bad prognosis (what should be done), and that means bad prescription (how to solve the problem).

Do not be satisfied, even when you think you got it. Allow yourself the possibility that you still got it wrong, or at least, not accurate. Many times, you will find that after the client presumably told you everything, several sessions down the line you will learn new information. Compare this new information with what you have already learned about the client. The new information can indicate that you are following the right “path” to the real problem, or that you have completely missed it.

6. Question everything.

Always ask clarifying questions. Just because the client said something that made sense to you, which does not mean that the client meant it the way you understood it. Challenge keywords. For example, if the client states that they accept responsibility for their actions, ask them to explain what the word “responsibility” actually means. You will be looking for more than for the client to tell you what he or she thinks you want to hear. Other words like “love,” “guilt,” and “accountable,” will mostly always mean one thing to them and another to you.

In one example: a male client told the counselor that even though he battered his wife, it did not mean that he did not love her because he did. When the counselor asked the client to define “love,” He said that it meant that he loved her. The counselor again asked him to define love without repeating the word. He said that it meant that he had so much love for her that he knew it was real. The counselor again asked him to define the word love, but to leave it out of the sentence. The man became agitated and complained that you cannot express love without saying the word. The counselor told the man that Jesus proved His love by dying, and that He never used the word “love” while He was on the cross dying. The man argued that was because Jesus was God and he was not so that he had to use the word to say it.

The counselor asked him to give an example of how maybe he could show his love without saying it. The man answered that it did not matter what he did, that if he did not tell his wife he loved her she could not know it. The counselor told the man that one way he could show his wife that he loved her without saying a single word, was by accepting full responsibility for everything that went wrong in his home, and accepting full guilt for his own harmful actions. The man countered that it was not all his fault. He claimed that she was mostly responsible and that if his words were not good enough then there was nothing more he could do.

Do not take the clients words at face value. Challenge everything.

7. Start to identify the lies.

Challenge your client on the things he or she believes that are erroneous. The biggest problem most counselees are dealing with is flawed truths. In many cases, they believe things which they are convinced are true, but even though they have seen the evidence all of their lives of the fallacy of these “truths,” they still will not give them up. It is these “truths” (which are actually lies) that dictate the life pattern, healthy or unhealthy, of the client.

Your job is to start identifying (even if you do not start to attack them yet) these lies so that you can help the client see the error of those beliefs and choose to change them. Remember that Romans 12 states that we are not to “follow the pattern of this world, but be transformed.”

One technique for challenging these false truths, Is to ask questions that will force the client to have to compare the truth and the lie and choose to change their beliefs.

Here is an example: Maria (not her real name) says that she has a very bad relationship with her mother. She says that her mother is an abusive, angry, and hateful person. She claims that her mother is always taking advantage of her, by borrowing money and never paying it back, and then when Maria does not lend her money, the mom tells everybody that Maria is just a stingy mean person who hates her mother. She asks what she can do to improve the relationship with her mother.

The counselor asks Maria why she feels that she needs to try to improve the relationship.

Maria answers, “Because she is my mother.”

The counselor says, “Yea, and so.”

Maria responds, “Well she’s my mother and I am supposed to have a good relationship with her, right?”

The counselor then challenges Maria’s belief, “Where is it written that you have to have a relationship with someone (anyone) just because they are related to you?”

“Doesn’t the Bible say you have to honor your mother and father?” Asked Maria.

The counselor did not answer her question, but instead asked a counter question, “What does the Bible mean by honor?”

Maria looked puzzled and said, “Does it mean to love them?”

The counselor said, “Now you saying something different. The two are not necessarily the same.”

He then explained the meaning of honor in the Bible.

Jesus underscored the importance of this commandment (Matthew 15:3 6) and instructed us to care for a parent in need.  In addition, the Apostle Paul applied the commandment to young children obeying their parents (Ephesians 6:2) and older children caring for a parent or grandparent who is a widow (1 Timothy 5:4).

In Maria’s case, it sounded more as if she struggled with anger and guilt.  Anger at her mom’s destructive behavior and guilt because she (Maria) got angry. The anger proved only that Maria wanted something from her mom. It was that need (whatever that was) that was driving Maria to keep accepting the abuse from her mother, not some misconception about “honoring” her mom. Her situation illustrates the problem that many well-intentioned Christian people have.  Their mother’s behavior is not honorable.  Permitting her to destroy your property or to use Scripture to manipulate and guilt trip you is not honoring her.  Moreover, it is certainly not honoring the God of righteousness because mom’s behavior is wrong.

Maria needed to sit down with her mother and talk to her about the concerns she had. If talking to the mom about those issues did not improve things then she may need to set some consequences in response to the mom’s abusive behavior. For example, like stopping visiting her until she agrees to behave appropriately. Ultimately, if her bad behavior continues Maria may need to consider possibly eliminating the relationship completely from her life. There is no requirement or obligation to accept abuse from anyone just because someone happens to accidentally be related to us by blood.

One very clear example of these is when Jesus was teaching at Peter’s home one day, his mother and brothers came to see Him. “While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him.  Someone told Jesus, ‘Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.’ Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, ‘Who do you think my mother and brothers are? He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:46 50 (MSG)

Maria had to learn a painful, but real lesson. Those that you love do not have to love you back. Moreover, if you choose to remain in a bad relationship, it is your fault. If you want things to improve, in some cases you have to let the relationship go.

You are not obligated to anybody, except your own underage children (not adult children). No matter what anybody says, and no matter what your own feelings say, you owe nothing to anybody just because you are blood-related. The only obligations you have are those you choose to accept.

8. To confront or not.

Another problem area when counseling is whether to confront or not. There are going to be times that are very evident that confronting is not only appropriate but necessary. On the other hand, just because a client is being difficult that is not always clear indication to confront. Sometimes the confrontation can be the reason the client stops coming back to the sessions.

Confrontations can be the result of several factors, up to and including, the frustrations of the counselor. The counselor may feel that he or she has been working on the case with the client long enough and should be seeing different results than what is happening. The counselor may base his or her success on the choices and behavior of the client and will start feeling that they need to push the client to the next step. People progress at different rates, depending on the person, the situation, and the degree of trauma suffered, real or imagined.

Another factor is that the client may still not have developed the level of trust in the counselor needed to take the chance of doing the things the counselor has been suggesting. The client may understand what the expectation, but the more real the consequences seem the more frightened they may become.

One woman called for an emergency counseling session. She told the counselor that her situation was very drastic. She said that her husband had been beating her. She said that she so desperately wanted to be able to do something to change all of that. The counselor asked her when her husband last had hit her. She said that he had done it just before she left to come to the counseling session because he was trying to keep her from coming. She showed the counselor the bruises. She added, that the reason she had come to counseling was that she wanted the counselor to teach her how to get along better with her husband so he would not hit her anymore. The counselor said that what she was asking for was completely irrelevant, that her request, now, was ludicrous. The counselor told her that the only thing she needed to do “right now” was to call the police and report this man. She responded that she could not do that, “He might get angry.” The counselor confronted her on the response, “If you won’t call the police right now to report this man, then there is nothing we can do to help you. You will not even help yourself. You do not need any counseling right now. You need to be safe. Counseling can come later.”

A bad example happened this way: after several weeks of counseling with a client, a certain counselor was become frustrated with the lack of seeming interest on the part of the client. The counselor had asked the client to do some specific homework that involved writing a report on a recommended book. Weeks went by and the client kept making excuses for not doing the homework, so the counselor decided to confront.

“If you choose not to do the homework by this next week,” said the counselor, “then I am going to take that as your way of saying that you are not interested in working on your problem, and we will discontinue the sessions.” Well, the client did not return.

After some time went by, the client again called the counseling ministry, but this time asked for a different counselor. Early on in the sessions, the new counselor asked the client if he would do some homework for him. The client asked what kind of homework would be involved. The Counselor noticed the way the client asked the question and asked the client if he could read and write. The client said that he could read very little, and wrote even worse. He then told the new counselor that this was the reason he stopped seeing the other counselor. The new counselor then gave the client audio tapes on the same subject as the book the other counselor had given him. The counselor asked him to listen to them and that they would discuss the subject at the next session. At the next session, the client arrived early and excited. “I learned a lot. Thank you.”

9. Decide together the goals and objectives of the sessions.

Do not let the client leave the first session without identifying clear goals and objectives that you will both be working towards in the coming sessions. This gave the client a sense of hope. As long as they see progress, they tend to relax a bit. Their attitude and worldview can make immediate changes.

As an example of this is, “Well, Bobby, from this session I can see that we will need to work on helping you identify some personal behavior patterns that are hurting you, and teach you behavior which will change the way you see things. This should help you get a better grip on how you react and respond to circumstances in your life. Do you agree with this or do you see something else?”

The Principle here (from Proverbs 29:18 [KJV], “Where there is no vision, the people perish”) is: You have to be able to see what you want to know what you have to do to get it.

10. Give homework

Homework is crucial. Homework keeps the client focusing on counseling “stuff” during the week when they are not in session. There are several pointers for the counselor to consider when giving out homework:

a. Is the client able to read and write?

i. Does the client have other problems that may affect their learning ability?

(1) Comprehension problems.

(2) Cannot read English or Spanish specifically?

b. Is the client’s home environment conducive to doing homework?

i. Will the husband, wife, or children interfere with the effort to do homework?

ii. Are noise, living conditions, and other situations a factor?

c. Are you asking too much from the client?

i. Can do the work, but in smaller parts?

d. Do they prefer different media than written materials?

i. CDs

ii. DVDs

iii. Video Tape

iv. MP3s to their MP3 players, iPods, phones, or Thumb or Flash Drives?

11. Clarify the schedule for future sessions.

Make sure the client is very clear on the dates and times of the sessions. Specify that they inform you as early as possible of the client not showing up so that you can choose to plan something else. Ask the client to be faithful about showing on time, and not coming too early. Let them know that they can call and reschedule if needed and that you will work with them if they want to change the date and times of the sessions. Input the date and time to your personal schedule or calendar immediately.

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