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Christian Counseling
by Dr. Henry Vazquez, BBS, M.Div., Th.D.


In This Lesson
The Goal/Objective of Counseling | Christianity & Psychology: Enemies or Allies?
Motivation: Why Do We Do What We Do? | Personality Structure
A Simple Model for Counseling | New Insights



The Goal/Objective of Counseling
The goal of biblical counseling is:

  • to promote Christian maturity;
  • to help people enter into a richer experience of worship; and
  • to help the person enter into a more effective life of service.

In broad terms, Christian maturity is developed by:

  1. dealing with any immediate problem circumstances in a manner consistent with Scripture; and
  2. developing an inward character which conforms to the character (attitudes, beliefs, purposes) of Christ.

The Lord has told us that there are pleasures forever at His right hand. If we desire those pleasures, we must learn what it means to be at God's right hand. Many of us place top priority, not on becoming Christ-like in the middle of our problems, but on finding happiness. However, the truth is that we will never be happy if we are concerned primarily with becoming happy. Trying to find happiness is something like trying to fall asleep. As long as you consciously and zealously try to grasp it, it never comes.

The next time you struggle with a personal problem (maybe even at this present moment), ask yourself: "Why do I want to solve this problem?" If the honest answer is, "So I can be happy", you are miles away from the biblical solution.

What, then, can you do? You need to adopt, by a conscious, definite and decisive act of the will, a different goal: "I want to solve this problem in a way that will make me more like the Lord. Then I will be able to worship God more fully and serve Him more effectively."

Write it on a three-by-five card or in a notebook. Read it every hour. Reaffirm it regularly, even though it may feel rather artificial and mechanical. Pray that God will confirm it within you as you continue, by an act of the will, to assert it. Put your goal into practice in definite ways. Begin to worship Him by thanking Him, praising Him for who He is, for what He has done, and for what He is going to do. Then look for creative ways to serve Him. Then, you will experience a supernatural change!

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Christianity & Psychology: Enemies or Allies?
There appear to be a number of different positions on the matter of integrating Scripture with psychology. As ministers, we are keenly aware that secular psychology is committed to the radically opposite presupposition of humanism, a doctrine which fervently insists that man is the highest being and the central event in all history. Humanism believes and teaches that everything revolves around man and is evaluated in terms of its advantages to man.

Psychology deals largely with unobservable or hypothetical [suppositional] constructs. Although ingenious strategies have been designed to measure these unobservable concepts, a strict empirical [derived from experiment and observation] approach has robbed unseen reality of much of its common-sense meaning. Logical positivity and dust bowl empiricism [quackery] are positions which demand that every meaningful term be defined exhaustively in terms of an empirical, observable referent [significance].

In other words, humanism believes nothing is meaningful unless we can see it. As soon as psychology began to do more than report observable data, its conclusions necessarily required a great deal of subjective [modified by individual bias] interpretation. What psychology finds usually reflects, to some degree, a wrong set of presuppositions.

With this said, however, psychology does offer real help to the Christian counselor who endeavors to understand and solve personal problems. However, all must be filtered though the inerrant Word of God who is the Author of life itself.

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Motivation: Why Do We Do What We Do?
People are motivated to meet their needs. If they are hungry, they behave in ways designed to secure food. If they are insecure, they try to find love. Until a person's needs are met, he is operating from a deficit [shortage]. His motivation can be characterized as self-seeking. He is trying to meet his own needs.

Motivation can best be understood as energy to do something which, the person believes, will lead to gratifying their most basic needs. Unfortunately, people develop ideas from interaction with a faulty world system about what is required to meet their personal needs of significance and security. Their beliefs, then, determine the goals for which they live and strive. They will never surrender that goal — money, power, a successful relationship, successful business, etc. — until they recognize that personal needs are met only in a relationship with Christ.

It is not uncommon to hear Christians address life's problems by stating any number of evangelical clichés like: "You're not trusting in the Lord's power; you're depending on your own strength," or "Let go and let God take control," or "You are allowing your flesh to control you and you are not walking in the Spirit. You need to plead the blood of Christ and stay in prayer."

Nevertheless, the problems continue. The person seeking/needing help then develops feelings of guilt, which only compound their difficulties. What is the answer then? The answer is not easily expressed in a few words. People looking for a simple, pat answer or an authoritarian, rigid set of principles will be disappointed in the true answer. The effort to change should not focus on behavior but rather on wrong thinking. The real problem is unbelief or a wrong belief system that will never fulfill a human's need for significance and security. God alone has met, and will meet, our five basic needs:

  • Physical
    But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

  • Security
    "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:34)

  • Love
    35"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
    36As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
    37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
    38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
    39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
    (Romans 8:35-39)

  • Significance and Purpose
    "...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him..." (Ephesians 1:4)

  • Ephesians 2:10—

    "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me." (Philippians 1:21-22a)

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Personality Structure
Taking Apart the Watch to See What Makes It Tick

The Holy Spirit provides the resources for transformation through the normal mechanisms of the human personality. The Holy Spirit brings to the receptive mind the truth of Scripture, particularly suited to the immediate circumstances.

When that happens, the individual then recognizes that no event can rob them of personal worth, that s/he is a whole person with both significance and security, regardless of what happens to them. They then can evaluate the events in their life in such a way that s/he will not behave or feel selfishly.

As s/he continues to evaluate events from a biblical perspective, the Holy Spirit deepens their appreciation of God's truth. Their Christian beliefs seep down into their basic assumption [belief] system, slowly replacing the wrong beliefs s/he has held from childhood. S/He is maturing. Their inner man is changing. They come to regard themselves as a non-threatened, whole person who can express their true worth in worship and in service.

Transformation Depends upon Renewing the Mind
A Christian living as a carnal man is still living for himself, still evaluating his world from a false perspective. He therefore behaves selfishly, disobediently, and without compassion. He thinks, acts, and feels just like an unbeliever. This is the biggest tragedy that any human being can experience. Only a Christian whose needs are met in Christ is capable of sustained compassion, no matter what the circumstances are. The abundant life that Jesus talked about is simply the knowledge that we belong to the God of reality and that we are living a meaningful life under the guidance and control of a caring Savior who one day will bring us into eternal rest.

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A Simple Model for Counseling
Counseling is based on building a relationship. Here is a model you can use during your counseling sessions.

  1. Identify Problem Feelings
    During this initial step, you might ask the question, "Tell me about your marriage," as an example. In every instance, you are looking for problem feelings.

  2. Identify Goal-oriented Behavior
    The question to ask yourself is: "What was my client doing when he experienced the obstacle which created the negative feelings?" At this stage, counseling should move inside to an exploration of the person's attitudes and beliefs.

  3. "Early Recollection Technique"
    Next, you may want to use the "Early Recollection Technique"1 in order to identify some root causes of problem thinking.

  4. Start Constructing a Biblical Route to Meeting Needs
    Once the assumption has been identified, now the hard work begins. In this step, you want to convince the client that their thinking has somehow become skewed [not the same as convincing them their thinking is "wrong"]. Then, construct the biblical route to meeting their personal needs. At this point, some deeply-held assumptions do not yield easily to suggested new ways of thinking.

    For example, your goal is to convince a wife who's having trouble in her relationship that she does not "need" her husband to love her, that Christ can totally meet her need for security.

  5. Clarify Biblical Thinking
    As the client at least recognizes the error of their old assumptions, you must present biblical truth that clarifies [makes clear] biblical thinking in their mind.

  6. Secure a Commitment
    As the client tentatively grasps the new thinking, you need to persuade them to make a commitment to act according to their newly-learned assumption(s). This is a critical step in the process.

  7. Identify Spirit-controlled Feelings
    At this point, you need to look for biblical behavior in the client and identify Spirit-controlled feelings. As you look for this evidence of the Spirit's work in your client's life, you should ensure that the client also notices and enjoys the changes.

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New Insights
The following basic tools, or premises, will assist you greatly in counseling others.

  1. All people need significance and security in their lives. It doesn't matter whether they are Christian or not. The problem comes when the individual has the wrong assumptions of what makes them truly significant and secure.

  2. You don't need a Doctorate to be engaged in counseling; we do it everyday. Everyone takes part in Level 1 counseling without even knowing it. We are all called to counsel one another, but not all are called to Levels 2 or 3 counseling.

  3. Even though Level 3 counseling requires a certain amount of training, it does not take a lifetime to complete. Counseling is not a discipline like dentistry or medicine which depends fundamentally upon a growing amount of technical knowledge administered by a highly trained professional. Rather, counseling is centrally and critically a relationship between people who care.

  4. Although many Christians have been born again, not every one of them lives in a guilt-, anger- and fear-free existence. My saying they can experience freedom from these emotions, I do not mean never experiencing these negative emotions. What I mean is, we do not allow ourselves to be overcome by them. We can experience pain and grief at the loss of a loved one, but we should not be utterly destroyed by it. Paul said it best in his letter to the Thessalonian church when he told them: " may not grieve as others do who have no hope [in the resurrection]." Yes, we will mourn, but we will not become totally dysfunctional and psychotic2. We will not go crazy as some do who cannot face death without Christ.

  5. Unreachable or unrealistic goals produce guilt, external circumstances sometimes produce resentment, and the fear of failure produces anxiety.

  6. People will often flee to safety [or what they think is a safe place emotionally or physically] via different forms of disorders: Phobias3, sexual dysfuntions, obsessive4 or obsessive-compulsive5 behavior, neuroses6, etc. You can immediately tell when a person has an unhealthy level of fear, anxiety, or resentment by examining their behavior.

  7. The unhealthy and overboard emotional feelings of anxiety, guilt, or fear can have a negative impact on a person's physical health. These problem emotions can correlate to organic problems like ulcers, headaches, or skin conditions.

  8. Hamartiology is the theological study of sin.

  9. The mind is the seat of reflective consciousness. It comprises the faculties of perception and understanding and those of feelings, judging, and determining. It is that part of the person which makes conscious evaluations, including moral judgments.

  10. Adam and Eve where both significant and secure before the fall. After the fall, sin ended their innocence and broke their relationship with God. What were formerly attributes now became needs. After the fall, Adam hid from God, fearing His rejection. They both blamed another for their sin, afraid of what God might do. They were now insecure. The earth was cursed and Adam was instructed to work by the sweat of his brow. There was now a struggle between man and nature. Would Adam have the strength to handle the job? He now was wrestling with threatened insignificance.

  11. The goal of Christian counseling is to glorify God by developing the client's Christian character inwardly, reflected outwardly in attitudes, beliefs, and purpose. Our goal is to help the client respond biblically to the problems of this lifetime.

  12. So-called "Charismatic" Christians must begin to realize that not all problems relate to the demoniac. We are created body, soul, and spirit. Thus, it is possible for a born-again believer to have mental or emotional problems that are not necessarily spiritual.

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For His glory! Dr. Henry


1 Early Recollection Technique — [Developed by Dr. Alfred Adler (1870-1937)] The counselor asks the client to pull out of their memory the earliest memories they can recall, typically up to the age of 6. "Early memories cast light on the 'story of our life' because they represent metaphors for our current views." (Corey, 2009, pg 111) The counselor can use these early memories to assess the client's views as well as their strengths and weaknesses. By identifying life themes, strengths and weaknesses, the client and counselor can then begin to reshape views and behaviors that can help to change the client’s life.

2psychoticadj. characteristic of or suffering from psychosis [severe mental disorder in which contact with reality is lost or highly distorted].

3phobian. Anxiety disorder characterized by extreme and irrational fear of simple things or social situations.

4obsessiveadj. Characterized by obsession [an irrational motive for performing trivial or repetitive actions].

5obsessive-compulsiveadj. Characterized by obsessions and compulsions [an irrational urge to do or say something that might be better left undone or unsaid].

6neurosesn. A mental or personality disturbance not attributable to any known neurological or organic dysfunction.