What Steps Should You Follow to Get Started as a Counselor?

My strongest recommendation to you is to find an organization or ministry that will offer training in this area. Yes, it will probably cost some money, but it will be worth it. On the other hand, I want to warn you away from groups that offer “weekend” training and certification. Without a doubt, I can tell you (after about 30 years of experience as a counselor) that nobody can train effectively as a counselor in just one weekend. Yes, you will find these type groups, and they will “certify” you as a counselor, but, my experience over many years is that the vast majority of people who get the weekend training/certification actually do not go on to real counseling.

In fact, the organization I represent, New Life Christian Counseling Ministry, did that very thing for the first five years of our existence. We have found that many our graduates, as well as many who we are familiar with from other ministries, who paid for their weekend Training/Certification Course; still found that they felt unqualified to counsel. The result is that these particular people never fulfill their calling for lack of confidence.

I am including here a list of the things I recommend you look for in any training/certification program. Unless you just want to get the certificate without going through training, which you can readily do, I recommend the following for your consideration.

Find a training and certification program that offers the following:

1. Weekly training sessions that cover varied topics and issues relating to counseling people.

2. That some of these weekly sessions include theory as well as practical lessons.

3. That some of these weekly sessions allow for drawn-out discussion on the topics taught.

4. That some of these weekly sessions include practice in make-believe counseling sessions, where the participants receive helpful critic, and instruction for correcting non-beneficial counseling habits and practice.

5. That each trainee is given the opportunity to practice, as well as just watch others practicing.

6. That the instructors make themselves available to the trainees for personal one-on-one discussions and instruction.

7. That there be an overall “course” “test,” which helps the trainees see his or her strengths and weaknesses.

8. That there be “hands-on” sessions where the trainee can attend real session while in progress, as spectators to see a trained counselor in action.

9. That there be “hands-on” sessions where the trainee can attend real session while in progress, where they can participate with the trained counselor in a kind of co-counselor capacity.

10. That there be “hands-on” sessions where the trainee can attend real session while in progress, where the trainee is the lead counselor in a real counseling situation, with the more experienced counselor watching in a supervisory capacity.

11. A clear program offered to the trainee where the trainee knows what steps are expected, where he or she is in the process, and what it will take to gain full certification status.

Along with this, I strongly suggest that you continue to attend seminars, training, and other such opportunities, as you are able. The more you train the better you become, and the more helpful you will be to the client. However, not all training is from seminars alone, conferences, and such. You already have at hand one of the most important training tools at your disposal, your Bible.

Using the Bible as a counseling tool.

The Bible is full of principles that are at the disposal of the counselor for use. You are encouraged to read the Bible stories from a counseling perspective. To best illustrate how you can do this we will take a story right out of the Old Testament and demonstrate.

Second Kings has a very interesting story about a woman whose husband died, leaving her and her children in debt and unable to pay it off. Her situation is common in modern times either. Too often, we find that men abdicate their responsibilities and leave their families without means of sustenance. There are just too many families without fathers.

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“1 One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead. You will know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves.”

2 Elisha said, “I wonder how I can be of help. Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Nothing,” she said. “Well, I do have a little oil.”

3 “Here’s what you do,” said Elisha. “Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few—all you can get. 4 Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside.”

5 She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them. 6 When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, “Another jug, please.” He said, “That’s it. There are no more jugs.” Then the oil stopped.

7 She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, “Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what’s left.”  – 2 Kings 4:1 7 (MSG)

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Let us carefully look at all the aspects of this story and see how scripture can lead us through a set of Biblical principles that will offer solution and peace to these people.

One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead. You will know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves.”

The most important thing in counseling anyone is to identify what the real problem is. The clearer it is to the counselor and the client, the better the chance that together they will find the solution. The widow had two choices when her husband died.

First of all, to become despondent, fearful, and angry about the turn of events in her life.  She and her sons suffered a serious blow to their security. They were in danger because of a decision that was out of their control. The one who had gotten himself into debt had died and had left them with the burden of paying it off. Sometimes life can be so unfair. Other people do things that hurt us, and as a result, we have the burden of having to live through it. This is enough to lead many into a depressed and bitter life.

Secondly, she could have chosen (and did) to face the fact that the problem she now had to deal with was not going to go away by itself and take steps toward finding some kind of solution.

In the case of the widow, she went to someone to counsel her on what she might be able to do to resolve the matter. The lesson so far is that hiding a problem will not help, and may make matters worse. However, bringing it out into the light will at least provide the possibility of finding an answer.

Elisha said, “I wonder how I can be of help.

Counseling can help anyone find answers, but not all counselors have the right answers. An experienced and trained counselor will not have the attitude that he or she will have the answers to all problems. It is very important that we constantly remind ourselves of the dependency we have on the Holy Spirit to help us discern the root problem, and then find the solution(s) that will work.

Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

The questions the counselor asks are pivotal. What you ask, and how you ask it, will determine whether you get the right information for formulating some plan for finding the solution. The information she had already given him, along with the desperation in her voice, probably suggested to the prophet that the widow saw herself in a hopeless situation. She was probably looking at herself as being uneducated, untrained, old, no money earning skills to speak of, and trapped in a hopeless situation.

This type of mentality may cause the person to shut down. Thankfully, she did not, and she reached out for help. The prophet could see that there was a glimmer of possibility in her, or she would not have come to him at all. The thing he had to do was challenge her thinking while helping her find a solution.

“Nothing,” she said. “Well, I do have a little oil.”

Her answer was not surprising, as she was probably assuming he meant to ask her if she had any money at all. That was not his question, but her immediate concept was that the only real solution was that someone gives her money to pay the debt.

Many persons who come to counseling already have an idea of what they would want to happen. In their minds, if things were to turn out the way they think they should, then everything would be ok. For example, the man whose wife has had an affair may feel that his wife must suffer as he sees himself suffer and that the other man must suffer as well. That man may not be open to any other options at present.

The prophet accomplished three things by asking her what she had in her home. Firstly, he distracted her from the pressing issue that brought her to him. Secondly, it forced her to sort of step outside the problem for a moment and consider something else. Finally, it gave the prophet the opportunity for the Holy Spirit, speaking through the woman herself, to give him the answer he needed to find.

“Here’s what you do,” said Elisha. “Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few—all you can get.”

Too often, in counseling situations, counselors spend much of their time trying to make the person(s) feel better. That may have some limited use, but what they really need is to start doing something that will produce immediate results. The results do not have to be as dramatic as in this story, but they have to be real. Even something as simple as beginning to read a book the counselor suggested that may offer real solutions to the problem is a big step. Remember, before the person came to counseling, they were doing nothing truly helpful to resolve their concern.

The prophet told her to do something that seemed to make no real sense at the beginning. As we learned in session two, the first step to changing the way we think is to begin behaving in a different manner than that which we had been. Different actions produce different results, and doing anything is better than doing nothing.

He told her to do something that would test her. Counselors should always give the client “homework.” Something they can work on that will prove out to be useful for their healing and progress toward a working solution. Even if the counselor has a clear idea of what the outcome will be, it is not always prudent to let the client know what you are trying to accomplish. In some cases, if you do, they will work against you. They may not be fully aware of it, but they struggle against the changes required. Remember, they may already have in mind what they hope you will tell them, and any real progress in another direction would disqualify their plan. Notice that he did not explain to her what he had in mind.

Notice also that the prophet told her to do something that required clear and measurable action. If you ask the client to take five steps forward and they only take three, the results will be obvious, and so will be what still needs to be done. If you tell the client to pray and trust God for the answer, there is no way of measuring whether they actually did, and how much. They will think they did, and start believing that you cannot help them at all.

One more point is necessary here, the prophet did not just tell her to get jugs and bowls, he told her to get, “all you can get.” The point is that your instructions to the client need to be clarified so that both of you are clear as to what will be expected. Never give ambiguous instructions that the client can apply as he or she feels they should. If they do not get the results that were to be expected, they will lose feel even more hopeless.

“Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons.”

As has been evidenced in the lives of many persons who begin counseling, when they start to change, others around them become angry. Often we see that those who used to complain that “mom is always angry and acting crazy,” now are getting upset because she is taking control of herself and refusing to play their head games with them anymore. One young man once said of his mother, “Yea, she acted weird and yelled a lot, but she never stopped us from doing what we wanted. Now she keeps telling us that we all need to change. That’s not fair!”

He told her to “lock the door behind you,” because he knew that once people start to notice what she is doing they would inevitably start to tell her how it could not work. Everyone has “nay-sayers” (people who whine about how things are not going to work the way they should) in their lives. As the counselor, you need to instruct your client to stop listening to the opinions of others while counseling with you. Even if the other person is their pastor or a loved one. The devil will use anyone to try to distract someone from finding freedom in Christ.

Notice this passage out of the book of Mark. [Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Mark 8:33 (NLT)]

Peter was only trying to help his friend and Lord by admonishing him to stop saying the things He was saying. Peter’s intentions were good. He wanted only the best for Jesus. So then why did the Lord call Peter “Satan.” Because at that moment Satan had come to Peter and put the thought into his mind to try to take Jesus’ minds off of His true purpose (giving up His life for our sins) and thinking of what would be humanly the best thing for Him to do (not to suffer needlessly). This is the same lie the enemy uses with many persons who come to counsel. He will use those who are closest to the client to confuse them with opinions that differ from what the counselor is saying. Confusion comes when we listen to more than one voice at a time. While the client is counseling with you, the only voice they need to be hearing is yours. Once you have terminated the counseling, then they can listen to whomever they want.

“Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside.”

We all have to be wondering what was going through the widow’s mind. “I told him I only had a little oil,” she must have thought. “And, he wants me to pour it into not only many bowls and jugs, but some of these are really big.” Here was the beginning of her test. Would she do as the prophet had said, or would she let the circumstances of her problem dictate her actions?

Your job as a counselor is to start teaching the client new behavior. Do not worry, at first, whether they get it or not. New behavior will always produce new results. New results have the capacity to change the self-image and worldview of the client. With that change, the client can start making better decisions, and this will result in their feelings about their whole situation improving. The pattern they had been living following for all these years will start to change. Slowly at first, sure, but change nevertheless. A principle we learn from Scripture is “As we obey, we change.” Every step of obedience will result in a change in our nature.

Without a doubt, the prophet was depending on God to do His part. The prophet could give all the advice he wanted but God it was up to God to perform any miracle. God works through faith. Faith requires action on the part of the believer. Not just any action, but faith (trust in the Word of the Lord to the point that one puts His Word into action). Your client will have little to no idea of how to do that. It is up to you to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to identify the steps necessary. Fortunately, for you, He wrote a book (the Bible) and put the answers in it, and made it available for us to use. He does not even require you to memorize it completely, for it to work. We can refer to it anytime we need to, and it will always be applicable to whatever situation we confront. Challenge your client’s faith by leading them to take steps that will provide God the opportunity to do His work through them.

She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them.

“She did what he said.” Wonderful words to the faithful counselor (and to God). Many will be the times you will encounter those who do not do what you said. Those times will feel like a failure to you. But keep heart, because if you did your part of the counseling experience faithfully, then you were 100% successful. Your success is not dependent on the client actually doing what you say. The client’s success is dependent on their applying the new behavior and actions as required to see progress, and possibly a real and lasting solution. The two are not the same. You have your obligations and responsibility to meet within the framework of the counseling sessions, and they have theirs. If you do not do your part, they will be hurt also. If they do not do their part, only they (and their families, etc.) will be hurt, you still succeeded because you did your part faithfully.

When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, “Another jug, please.” He said, “That’s it. There are no more jugs.” Then the oil stopped.

This story tells of a woman who trusted the voice of her counselor just enough to take a chance that maybe what he said was actually going to help her somehow. She could have argued and complained and he was asking her to do something that, besides being even possible, was going to have no immediate effect on the problem at hand. She needed money, not to try to do something crazy, like fill up large containers with just a little oil.

The difference in her was that she knew one thing for sure; she did not have the answer she needed. With this in mind, she was willing and ready to try whatever anyone who seemed to know what they were doing would tell her. It was her actions, not the instructions of the counselor, which made the difference in her and her sons’ lives.

She learned valuable lessons that day. She learned that if you want things to turn out differently, that you have to start behaving differently than you have. New actions produce new results. In the future, she would probably not need to go to the counselor for help. She will instead search God’s Word to see what He has to say and just start doing it. This must be the goal, which every Christian counselor should strive to accomplish, with every client.

“She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, ‘Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what’s left.’”

The final step for the woman was for her to share the good news of finding the answers to her problem with others. To let others see that she had success. In this way, God will be glorified for the solution, which He (through the counselor’s obedience and the client’s actions), and only He, brought about.

The number of stories in the Bible, like this one, is numerous. Your job, no, obligation, is to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB95)

Pull out your Bible, start studying, and get better equipped for the work to which the Lord has called you.

The final question of this chapter has to do with where you will do your counseling. If you are part of a church counseling team, then you will need to speak with the church leadership (possibly the pastor himself) and see if they will provide a room as a counseling office. If you are not, then you may want to either select a room in your home (not recommended), rent a room of storefront elsewhere, or do as some of our counselors did, have one of those backyard wooden or metal storage buildings built on your property and convert it into a counseling office.

In either case, you want to be conscious of the following:

The Counseling Office

Select a place that is both public and private. You need privacy for the assurance and safety of the client, but you also need the public part for your assurance and safety. Choose soft colors if possible. Keep wall hangings at a minimum. Pictures of peaceful scenes are appropriate. You do not want pictures that distract or are visually stimulating (as this may serve to keep the counselee distracted). Certificates and awards are appropriate wall hangings.

Leave the door open, if it is possible to remain private during the session. Soft music may be playing in the background, but not loud enough to disrupt the session. Use a chair that will keep you at eye level with the counselee.

Place a clock behind the seats where the counselees will be sitting. The location of the clock should be such that when you look away to see it, the counselee will not be able to obviously tell that you are looking at the clock. If you have a married couple in your office, seat them where they face you, but can see each other during the interview.

Taking Notes

Take notes only if you must, but be conscious that taking notes will often have the effect of stifling the counselee confidence in the privacy of the session. A good practice would be to wait until after the session and then write your notes concerning that session in your notebook.

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