IRBC’s Fourth and Fifth Steps of Counseling

Step 4: Direct or Confront the Counselee

This step is an essential part of the practice of biblical counseling and is one which sets it apart from various forms of Rogerian psychotherapy1 which are highly utilized by both secular and Christian counselors. While Rogerian-styled counselors utilize a non-directive approach, biblical counselors believe that directives are absolutely essential in the counseling process.

This step in our model of biblical counseling differs slightly from the traditional biblical counseling model by making a distinction between directing and confronting the counselee.2 While both models involve the impartation of biblical principles or teaching in light of ignorance or rebellion, we believe that “direct” is a term befitting of the method best utilized when counselees demonstrate a submissive spirit; that is, they want to learn from the counselor the principles necessary to resolve their problems in light of their personal ignorance or their lack of sufficiently understanding how biblical truths apply to their situation. “Confront,” by contrast, is befitting of the method best utilized when more of a face-to-face confrontation needs to be employed. Such a style of interaction is necessitated when counselees demonstrate a proud attitude and need to be openly challenged relative to unbiblical notions they stubbornly hold or habits of behavior or communication they are unwilling to relinquish. Further insights and applications of this step of counseling will be discussed in the DPTM 1.

Step 5: Establish Directives and Secure Commitment

Establishing Directives

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a directive as “something that serves to direct, guide, and usually impel toward an action or goal; especially: an authoritative instrument issued by a high-level body or official.” This definition is helpful as we think about this pivotal step in IRBC’s model of counseling, because it identifies the two critical elements of biblical counseling that make it work: an “authoritative instrument” and a “high-level body.” In an authentic biblical counseling scenario the “authoritative instrument” is the Bible and the “high-level body” is the Godhead (the three persons of the Holy Trinity). These are the two critical elements of biblical counseling that make it work.

They are also the elements that set it above all other types of counseling, for there is no person or instrument of any type that has or ever will come close to possessing the authority or wisdom and knowledge inherent in God or the instrument that he inspired.

The role and ministry of the Holy Spirit is of particular importance as we think about these critical elements. The Holy Spirit not only intimately knew and interacted with the genetic, biological, experiential, and other combinations reflected in the expression of personality in the forty human authors he used to write the Bible but also intimately knows the associated combinations of those he brings to us to counsel. He illuminates our minds that we might effectively communicate truth to them, and illuminates our counselees’ minds in order that they properly interpret and apply the truth we share with them in an understandable way. Another important job the Holy Spirit does in this and other steps of the counseling process is to help us pray. He helps all involved in their weakness. When any Christian within the parties represented becomes overwhelmed, perplexed, hopeless, or even fearful about their circumstances or the changes that need to be made, he is there to help them pray. This help is especially a blessing when things become so dark that one can’t seem to find the words to offer in prayer. At such times the bright rays of Romans 8:26 shine hope into our hearts: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (English Standard Version). The Spirit also strengthens us inwardly (Eph. 3:16).

Not only does the Holy Spirit intercede and empower, but also he helps all involved to work cooperatively in establishing a plan of action to address effectively the issues of the counselee; this objective is directly related to the first component of step 5 of the model under our consideration. When this objective is fulfilled in association with all parties being led by the Spirit, clear, realistic, understandable, and achievable (biblically rooted) directions for addressing the problem(s) will be provided for the counselee.

The members of the Trinity cooperatively working together and the Bible are indeed the critical elements of biblical counseling. These critical elements not only serve to provide (via the utilization of the counselor’s gifts and leadership) direction and guidance to the hearts of those we counsel via the directions (directives) constructed, but also they provide for them the fuel for the “inner impelling factor” or “motivation” necessary to follow and work toward fulfilling the objectives of truth contained within them. The “inner impelling factor” is often fueled when introducing the second component of this step of counseling.

Securing Commitment

The entire fifth step of IRBC’s model may be summed up as the agreement phase of the counseling process. “Establish Directives” and “Secure Commitment” are included as a single step in IRBC’s model of counseling, because they represent different sides of the multiple agreements that ordinarily take place in the course of counseling. A large number of these agreements are informal as the Spirit directs or confronts the counselee (internally) with various truths that he brings to bear in the discussions that occur between counselor and counselee. In these internal agreements the counselee is inwardly either agreeing or disagreeing with the truths being brought to bear, whether he or she gives visual disclosure to them or not.

The type of the agreements we are addressing here are those which come to formal expression via the counseling process in various places where counselors do their work. They are those wherein the counselee, after being given a clear set of directions (a prescription), is challenged to make a commitment to the Lord and those present to follow through with the directions that have been openly expressed around the counseling table.

The counselor should introduce this component of the step by saying something like, “Trusting that the Lord has given us insight into the problem you are currently experiencing, are you willing to submit to the directives that have been established out of your love and appreciation for Jesus Christ and what he did for you on cross?”

Securing a commitment from the counselee in light of his or her receiving the free gift of salvation is important in this step, for it directs him or her to his or her spiritual Head and assists him or her in making a commitment out of a sense of gratitude for what he has done. A heartfelt commitment secured in this fashion is what God often uses to fuel the inner impelling factor, or motivation, which was spoken about earlier. Let’s review some of the things that have been shared about this inner drive or the inner impelling factor.

You will remember from our earlier discussion about the term “directive” that it was defined as “something that serves to direct, guide, and usually impel3 toward an action or goal; especially: an authoritative instrument issued by a highlevel body or official.” Out of this definition we identified the critical elements of biblical counseling, those elements that make it work (i.e., make it effectual)—God and the Bible. Later in our discussion, it was said that these critical elements not only serve to provide directions (directives) for the counselee but also the motivation necessary to follow and work toward fulfilling the objectives of truth contained therein. This motivation is especially fueled when they are introduced and embraced within the context of a theme of gratitude to God, especially for Christ’s work on the cross. We will conclude by adding that God’s power is also made available to the inner man of the counselee to accompany his or her motivation or the inner impelling factor. It moves him or her toward fulfilling the directives that have been established, as each day is lived with an underlying attitude of humility, thanksgiving, and praise with complete dependence upon God.

Some Final Thoughts about “Establishing Directives”

Most Reformed believers would agree that the primary purpose of biblical counseling is to facilitate the process of sanctification. Sanctification is defined by the Westminster Shorter Catechism as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness” (see Answer 35 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism).

When we speak of the “whole man” in relation to the directives we construct, in association with counselees being restored to the image possessed by our first parents prior to the Fall, we mean to communicate that we believe that the Lord is concerned to use us to address both soul and body. To be sure, the primary emphasis is upon the soul. Yet we realize that various conditions of one’s bodily health and the impaired function of the brain, organs, and other bodily systems can and do affect the soul and therefore must not be neglected in the practice of biblical counseling. We would encourage you to review the three following statements which were earlier shared:

• All knowledge from the realms of special and general revelation comes from God. Knowledge from the realm of special revelation is of a different nature than knowledge from general revelation, because it is truth. Since it is truth, we can use it as a lens to discern what is ethical and valuable in the realm of general revelation and appropriately apply knowledge from both realms to counsel-ingrelated endeavors in a meaningful and effective way.

• Jesus Christ is the Head of the church and the member of the Trinity in whom all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are revealed (Col. 2:3). Biblical counselors are utilized by Jesus Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring the truth of Scripture to bear in the lives of counselees for their regeneration, edification, and particularly sanctification. God is glorified through the knowledge of special revelation as counselees respond to it by faith, are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and are brought into greater communion with him and members of his body.

• Biblical counselors are used by Jesus Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring applicable knowledge from general revelation to bear in the lives of counselees. This is done in such a way as to minimize the effects of sin and the Fall and/or restore bodily components or capacities associated with various aspects of the Internal Dominant Domains. Such work can and often does positively affect the regenerated person’s soul, thereby enabling it—along with his or her body—to be more productive in service to God for his glory. (Important note: Working in cooperation with a person who is adequately qualified to address the aforementioned capacities is implied in this statement.)

1. Rogerian psychotherapy, also known as person-centered therapy (PCT), was developed by Carl Rogers, a popular psychologist in the 1940s and 1950s. PCT is one of the most widely used models in modern mental health and psychotherapeutic milieus. In this type of counseling, therapists strive to create a comfortable, non-judgmental environment by demonstrating congruence (genuineness), empathy, and unconditional positive regard toward their counselees while using a non-directive approach. This aids counselees in finding their own solutions to their problems.

2. It seems that the idea for “direct” and “confront” are found in 2 Timothy 3:16. Reproof (elegmon) has much to do with confrontation while the other three terms tend to be more positively directing: doctrine (didaskalian), correction (epanorthoosin), and instruction (paideian).

3. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “impel” as follows: “to urge or drive forward or on by or as if by the exertion of strong moral pressure” (2018; https://www.merriamwebster. com/dictionary/impel) Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “impel” in the following manner: “to drive or urge forward; to press on; to excite to action or to move forward, by the application of physical force, or moral suasion or necessity. A ball is impelled by the force of powder; a ship is impelled by wind; a man may be impelled by hunger or a regard to his safety; motives of policy or of safety impel nations to confederate.”

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.