IRBC’s Counseling Methodology

Preliminary Considerations

Counselors should view the process of counseling as one which is both linear and variegated.

Having discussed IRBC’s philosophy of counseling, we are now ready to begin discussing the methodology of biblical counseling. The first thing we want to note about IRBC’s methodology, and that of the broader field of biblical counseling, is that it is objective versus subjective in nature. The process involves observing a number of steps to accomplish specific objectives in the life of the counselee.

Even though there are some slight variances in the number of steps and the way they are ordered and defined, the essence of the process is similar among counselors within the biblical counseling tradition. The person who should be rightfully credited for ascertaining the underlying principles for the basic counseling methodology employed by most biblical counselors is Dr. Jay Adams.

In IRBC’s counseling training courses we utilize a seven-step model which includes the following steps: 1) Provide Perspective, 2) Collect Data, 3) Identify/Prioritize Problems, 4) Direct or Confront the Counselee, 5) Establish Directives/ Secure Commitment, 6) Provide Hope, and 7) Assign and Evaluate Homework.

In their model for biblical counseling, Eyrich and Hines recommend that counselors view the process of biblical counseling as one which is both linear (i.e., represented by a line) and variegated (i.e., diverse) in nature (see Eyrich and Hines, 2007, 77–78).


rightfully credited for ascertaining the underlying principles for the basic counseling methodology employed by most biblical counselors is Dr. Jay Adams.


In IRBC’s counseling training courses we utilize a seven-step model which includes the following steps: 1) Provide Perspective, 2) Collect Data, 3) Identify/Prioritize Problems, 4) Direct or Confront the Counselee, 5) Establish Directives/ Secure Commitment, 6) Provide Hope, and 7) Assign and Evaluate Homework.

In their model for biblical counseling, Eyrich and Hines recommend that counselors view the process of biblical counseling as one which is both linear (i.e., represented by a line) and variegated (i.e., diverse) in nature (see Eyrich and Hines, 2007, 77–78).

Viewing the process as one which is linear in nature provides the counselor with a framework which is structured. This structure helps him or her continue moving forward in the counseling process with each session.


Viewing the process as one which is variegated provides the counselor with the flexibility he or she needs to move from one step to another in a non-sequential manner as necessary. For example, if while in the pursuit of collecting data the counselee becomes overcome with sorrow and a sense of hopelessness, the counselor should provide hope. In the same vein, it might become necessary to confront the counselee while in the process of collecting data, and to collect more data while in the process of confronting the counselee.


A Word About Prayer

Before we begin focusing our attention on each of the steps of counseling, a couple of things will be shared that are specific to the first session and generally apply to all sessions. Concerning the latter, it is important to ensure that prayer is a part of each session. Prayer not only reminds the counselor and counselee of their dependence upon God but also is the means by which God brings his wisdom to bear in the lives of all involved. James 1:5 (New King James Version) says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Both the counselor and counselee need to receive wisdom from God, regardless of how well versed either is in knowledge of the Scriptures, for wisdom involves being given the ability to apply knowledge to the best advantage in real-life situations. It utilizes the most effective means in order to achieve the highest goal. Only God ultimately possesses the wisdom that is necessary to apply correctly the knowledge of his Word to the life of the counselee in light of all of the personal and interpersonal variables that surround each case.

Furthermore, only God possesses the power that is necessary to direct the lives of both counselor and counselee in the way of truth. Prayer is an essential part of counseling. It greatly grieves our hearts to hear reports from counselees who speak of meeting with “Christian” counselors who rarely, if ever, look to God in prayer.

The IRBC director shares an instance when he met with a couple who came for marital counseling and had earlier met with a counselor from a well-known Christian counseling clinic. The couple had met with a counselor from this establishment for nine months. In the initial phase of collecting data the couple was asked how many times their counselor prayed with them during their time with him. They responded, “Not once.” When asked how many times he quoted Scripture or made reference to the Bible while meeting with them, their reply was the same. They were then asked if their counselor ever mentioned the name of God or Jesus Christ. Their reply was yes, but the number of times could be counted on a single hand. The director’s reply was, “My friends, you did not receive Christian counseling regardless of the sign that was posted in front of the building.”

True Christian counseling involves looking to Christ and his Word for wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and help. All other forms of Christian counseling are Christian in name only. Nine months of counseling under the banner of Christ without a single prayer being offered or a Scripture verse shared is shameful! It reflects dishonesty in advertising on behalf of the Christian organization and counselor negligence. How sad it is to receive such a report. As counselors who are dependent upon God for receiving insight into the counselee’s problems, along with the wisdom necessary to understand properly, explain, and apply the Word to effect positive change in their lives, we must include prayer as an integral part of every one of our sessions.

Having discussed IRBC’s philosophy of counseling, we are now ready to look at the seven practical steps we teach our counselor trainees to use when counseling.

Step 1: Provide Perspective

Although not listed as an individual step, we believe it is important to offer prayer at or toward the beginning of each session. It is best to employ a method wherein you are praying with the counselee about his or her problems versus for him or her.

Oftentimes when people come for counseling, they are anxious, confused, depressed, or a combination of them all. One of the reasons their lives are in a state of disequilibrium is usually related to the fact that they have lost sight of God’s sovereignty. This is to say that they have lost a sense of knowing that God is in control. Because counselees often lose this important vantage point, the counselor must work to help counselees regain it. Regaining perspective not only will provide the counselee with hope at the onset of counseling but also will provide for him or her a meaningful context in which to deal with the problems he or she is facing. Regaining a perspective which properly recognizes the sovereignty of God involves touching upon the omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence of God.

The Omnipresence of God (Ps. 139:7– 12; Prov. 15:3; Jer. 23:23–24)

Reassuring the counselee that God is everywhere present can be a great comfort. God’s omnipresence is closely related to his omniscience and omnipotence.

The Omniscience of God (Lam. 3:37– 38; Ps. 139; 145:5; Rom. 11:33–36)

The counselee needs to be reminded that God has always known and will always know all things. Before he laid the foundations of the world and set the hands of time in motion, he already knew everything that would come to pass throughout time. In fact, he predetermined everything that comes to pass in time. Most Reformed believers usually possess a fairly good understanding of the doctrine of predestination, wherein they recognize the fact that God predestined the adoption of each one of his children before the world was created (Eph. 1:5). There is often a disconnect, however, in their taking notice of the fact that he not only preordained their adoptions but also all of the happenings preceding and following them. In other words, there is not a thing that happens in the life of a Christian that has not been predetermined by God. All of the things, both good and bad, that occur in the life of a believer at any given point in time have been preordained by God. In relation to the problems that the counselee is experiencing, they have been designed to bring glory to God and do the person good, not harm (Rom. 8:28). This does not make God guilty for the sins that might lie at the root of the spiritual problems the counselee is facing. Nor does it make him guilty for the evil-producing hard heart of the unbelieving family member, workmate, or church member who may serve as the primary source of the trouble the counselee is experiencing in his or her life. It does, however, recognize God’s superintendence over the sinful nature of the counselee and all other human beings to accomplish his perfect will which was determined before time began. Ursinus touched upon this truth while writing about the providence of God in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism when he gave the following summary:

[W]e must admit that God does execute his just and holy judgments and works by instruments that are evil and sinful. It was thus that he sent Joseph into Egypt through his wicked brothers and the Midianites, blessed Israel through the false prophet Balaam, tempted the people through false prophets, vexed Saul through Satan, punished David through Absalom and the blasphemies of Shemei, chastised Solomon by the sedition of Jeroboam, tried Job by Satan, carried Judah and Jerusalem into captivity by the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. (See Ursinus, 1851, 153)

Whether or not the counselee’s problems are rooted in personal sin, the sins of others, or unfavorable events or circumstances that occur as a result of sickness, adverse natural causes (storms, droughts, pestilences), or difficulties related to finance, God is superintending over them in accordance with his perfect will which was determined before the beginning of time. The problems (trials) the person is experiencing have not come into his or her life via chance; they are there in accordance with God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. Ursinus and Olivianus remind us of this in a general sense in their discourse on the providence of God in Answer 27 of Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand. (See Zondervan edition, 2003, 2145)

The Omnipotence of God (Jer. 32:17; Job 42:2; Luke 1:37; Matt. 19:26)

When speaking of God’s omnipotence in this context, the counselor should emphasize two things. The first is that God’s power, which is unequaled and unstoppable, is at work in association with the unfolding of every detail of the problem that is coming to pass in the life of the counselee. By God’s power, all of the people, conditions, and circumstances that constitute the counselee’s trial are like pieces that have been arranged on a chess board to create a stale or checkmate scenario in which the counselee is in an inescapable and indefensible situation, or one wherein no productive action can be taken or forward progress made. There are a number of biblical examples that one can utilize while sharing this explanation.

One of the most familiar is the Israelites and their experience at the Red Sea. Bounded by the Red Sea in the front and Pharaoh’s oncoming army in the rear, God’s people were providentially placed in a checkmate. They could not take an alternate course that would enable them to flee from the unpleasant situation in which they found themselves (they were trapped), and they could not defend themselves against their enemies who were hotly pursuing them (their destruction appeared to be inevitable). They, along with their leaders, could only look to God in faith, lest they perish. You know how the story goes from there. Moses was told by the Lord to order the children of Israel to go forward; if they did the sea would be divided and they would cross over on dry land. And when, in compliance with the divine command, Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, we see what happened:

[T]he Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen . . . Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. (Exod. 14:21–23, 28, New King James Version)

As you explain to the counselee that God has providentially moved each piece into its respective position to create a scenario in which he or she is in a check or stalemate, emphasize the fact that God has not done this to destroy him or her. Rather, the trial has been tailor-made by our loving heavenly Father either to correct and/ or test his or her faith, as well as to provide an opportunity to express his or her faith in connection with the divine commands and promises revealed in Scripture. As the counselee expresses his or her faith in connection with Christ’s commands and promises, he or she will experience the power of God at work in the appointed trial.

This leads us to consider the second thing that should be discussed when speaking of God’s omnipotence in this context: the divine power that is both at work in and reserved for the believing counselee in the midst of trials and temptations. The apostle Paul possessed a desire that the Christians in Ephesus should know something of this power. After praying that God would give them a spirit of wisdom, he said the following in Ephesians 1:18–21 (New American Standard Bible):

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

After praying that they would know something of the exceeding greatness of God’s power available to them (Eph. 1), we find him on his knees again (Eph. 3). This time he prays that God would grant them inward strengthening through this incomparably great power:

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:14–21, New American Standard Bible)

We understand, then, that the wonderful power of God is manifested both outwardly and inwardly via the trials that God has lovingly designed for his children. Outwardly, it is working to bring all of the scenes, characters, situations, and circumstances (outward variables) together that constitute the trial. Inwardly, it is working to correct (sanctify), strengthen, and instruct the inner man to respond to the trial or temptation by faith in accordance with the commands and promises of God. Sometimes it is God’s will that the length of a particular trial is short; at other times, it is long. Regardless of the length, God will provide for his child the measure of strength he or she needs to endure the trial as he or she looks to our heavenly Father in faith. Along with encouraging the counselee to look to God for strength as he or she deals with life’s trials (problems) is the need to instruct him or her of the importance of learning to possess a correct disposition of mind throughout its duration; that is, one of humility and contentment.

The apostle Paul unites the inward strength available to the Christian in difficult situations to the matter of contentment in Philippians 4:12–13 (English Standard Version) when he writes: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Of course, interceding for the counselee by praying that the Lord will strengthen or empower his or her inner person and keep him or her content in the midst of his or her trial(s) is an important activity in the ministry of biblical counseling. The broader context of God’s plan and the associated problems he has lovingly designed for his children is, obviously, his glory (Isa. 43:6–7). God is glorified as his children look to him for the wisdom, knowledge, promises, and strength they need to stand up under or be delivered from their problems.

We will close this section featuring applicable words from the “prince of preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, which summarize well the content that has been shared concerning the first step of counseling. In his timeless morning and evening devotional, Spurgeon comments on Acts 14:2:

God’s people have their trials. It was never designed by God, when He chose His people, that they should be an untried people. They were chosen in the furnace of affliction; they were never chosen to worldly peace and earthly joy. Freedom from sickness and the pains of mortality was never promised them; but when their Lord drew up the charter of privileges, He included chastisements amongst the things to which they should inevitably be heirs. Trials are a part of our lot; they were predestinated for us in Christ’s last legacy. So surely as the stars are fashioned by his hands, and their orbits fixed by Him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us. Good men must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. Mark the patience of Job; remember Abraham, for he had his trials, and by his faith under them, he became the “Father of the faithful.” Note well the biographies of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and you shall discover none of those whom God made vessels of mercy, who were not made to pass through the fire of affliction. It is ordained of old that the cross of trouble should be engraved on every vessel of mercy, as the royal mark whereby the King’s vessels of honor are distinguished. But although tribulation is thus the path of God’s children, they have the comfort of knowing that their Master has traversed it before them; they have His presence and sympathy to cheer them, His grace to support them, and His example to teach them how to endure; and when they reach ‘the kingdom,’ it will more than make amends for the ‘much tribulation’ through which they passed to enter it. (March 8 morning entry)

Dr. Jeff L. Doll is director at The Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling, director at The Shepherd’s Way Biblical Counseling Center in Holland, MI, and pastor of biblical counseling at Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.