IRBC’s Sixth and Seventh Steps of Counseling

Step 6: Provide Hope

We are now ready to complete our series of discussions on IRBC’s counseling philosophy and methodology. While focusing our attention on the latter, last time we looked at counseling steps 4 and 5. In this article we look at the final two steps of Reformed biblical counseling.

In the context of biblical counseling, hope is probably best described as a biblically-based expectation of good, and hope is an important part of counseling and Christian living. In his book, Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling,”1 late veteran counselor and pastor John Kruis recommends that counselors begin counseling with this step. We agree with the essence of what Pastor Kruis has communicated and believe that IRBC’s first step (i.e., Provide Perspective) provides the “framework of hope” necessary to give counselees the confidence they need to begin to openly talk about their problems. Hope, however, needs to be provided throughout the entire counseling process.

There are a couple of important points we need to take into consideration when we talk about hope in the context of counseling. Although very basic, the first point is important because it provides the spiritual foundation for hope by acknowledging the fact that all true hope comes from God. This “divine medicine for the soul” can be experienced only in the context of a personal relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, his Son. To state it simply, true hope can only be found in a personal relationship wherein the counselee is focused on Jesus Christ.

Secular psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists all direct the attention of the counselee away from the true Source of hope. The secular psychiatrist directs the counselee’s attention away from Christ and focuses it upon the multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry. He or she often promises counselees false hope and relief by getting them to believe in and become dependent upon a psychotropic drug, which will alter their moods so they do not have to wrestle with the struggles of life or with the pangs of guilt associated with violating their consciences.

The secular psychologist places a counselee’s hope in some of the highly deceptive systems of thought (theories) which are disseminated via the mental health industry—systems which effectively deceive them into thinking that mankind (via man-centered philosophies) possesses the answers to life’s problems.

Although the modern secular sociologist2 purports to be an expert in studying and understanding individual behavior in the context of societal norms, he or she fails to acknowledge that both individual and societal behavioral patterns are directly affected by the individual’s and the society’s relationship to God and their adherence (or the lack thereof) to his moral law. So instead of pointing confused and hopeless counselees in the direction of true resolution and hope, the secular sociologist further confuses counselees by factoring Jesus Christ, biblical theology, and absolute moral values out of the social dimension of their lives. He or she thereby convinces counselees that their hope, acceptance, and security are to be found in conforming to a prevailing set of social norms instead of the moral image of Jesus Christ.

All of these efforts by the “experts” of the world point counselees away from the only true source of hope, wisdom, and knowledge which are necessary for true healing and restoration. The true source of hope, along with all of the other resources that are necessary to support and restore all aspects of human life, are found in the everlasting Triune God of the universe, and the only way that one can gain access to them is through a personal (faith) relationship with his Son Jesus Christ, the “Word made flesh.”3

Biblical counselors must never affirm the temporary or false hopes of anyone who is outside of Christ. Any true hope experienced in counseling will come in and through the counselee’s personal relationship with Christ and his or her accompanying affirmative response(s) to the written Word, as it is brought to bear in his or her life via the counselor and other people who occupy the landscape of his or her life.

Step 7: Assign and Evaluate Homework

Dr. Adams once said that homework “is of the essence of good counseling” (see Jay Adams, 1973, 343). Homework is a very important part of biblical counseling.

Homework as an Aspect of the Educational Component of Counseling

Because a biblical understanding of education has all but been lost in our day, let us first renew our minds with a biblical definition of it. Education may be defined as the process by which God develops and furnishes the mental, moral, and social capacities of the human mind with the knowledge that is necessary to glorify him in the various spheres in which people interact, positions they fill, and situations they encounter in day-to-day life.

Glorifying God involves reflecting his love, knowledge, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and mercy in one’s worship and service to God and one’s fellow man. When we view homework in counseling as a function of education, then we are assigning it for purposes associated with developing and furnishing the mind with biblical knowledge that will enable one to more fully love, serve, and worship God, as well as love and serve one’s neighbor.

Often, problems occur in marriages because one or both spouses are ignorant or have been misinformed about God’s covenantal roles for husbands and wives. In such cases, time needs to be spent educating the couple with Scripture during sessions and with homework. Such an education not only will enhance their private and family worship of God but also will make a positive contribution to Christ’s command to love (and serve) their closest neighbor, which is their spouse.

If knowledge is to be broadly understood as propositions of truth, principles, and facts in the aforementioned definition of education, it must be distinguished from wisdom. Wisdom has more to do with matters related to discernment and making a proper application of knowledge. The New Testament authors utilized three different words to convey different aspects of wisdom in their writings. Let’s spend a few minutes looking at some general explanations of these three words as we seek to deepen our understanding of education, especially as it pertains to the educational component inherent in the practice of biblical counseling.

First, there is sophia wisdom, which “pertains to the knowledge of eternal things” (Augustine, De Div. Quaest. 2.2; Barclay, 2000, 259). This wisdom is probably best described as that which provides insight into the true nature of things, that is, insight into the true nature of things surrounding God’s will (both his decretive and preceptive will). This type of wisdom is that which discerns good from evil and right from wrong.

Then there is phronesis wisdom, which is more practical in nature. It sees what ought to be done in any given situation. Such wisdom enables one to discern a mode of action with a view toward what will result.

Finally, there is sunesis wisdom, which may be described as the critical or discriminating wisdom which can assess and evaluate every course of action which presents itself.

As the counselee prayerfully interacts with knowledge imparted via the counselor and homework, the Holy Spirit grants to the counselee the type of wisdom he or she needs to make a proper application of biblical knowledge. The counselor should emphasize repeatedly the importance of the counselee going to the Lord to ask for wisdom in association with the promise that is given in James 1:5, which 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” (New King James Version).

Benefits of Homework in Biblical Counseling

Although a fair amount of time could be spent listing the benefits that homework lends to the counseling process, we are going to briefly focus our attention on three of the primary benefits.

Reinforcement of Principles: Homework serves to reinforce and expand upon the biblical principles that are introduced in the counseling session. It also functions to aid counselees in storing up God’s commands within them (Prov. 7:1–3).

Evaluation of Understanding: Evaluating and reviewing the homework with the counselee provides an opportunity for the counselor to evaluate the counselee’s understanding of the biblical principles which have been covered in counseling. Additional instruction can be provided if the counselee has failed to grasp the concepts covered.

Continued Engagement: Homework keeps the counselee engaged in the counseling process while away from the counselor. (For a detailed discussion on matters related to assigning and evaluating homework in counseling, you are encouraged to consult Eyrich & Hines, 2007, 144–54.)

Since homework is such an important part of counseling, the wise counselor will seek to improve this part of the process. Ongoing improvements can be made by asking your counselees the four following simple questions after each assignment:

Did you understand the assignment?

Was the assignment helpful?

What could be done to improve the assignment?

Was the length of the assignment reasonable?

You have now been introduced to The 7 Principles Underlying IRBC’s Philosophical Model of Counseling, The 7 Dominant Domains of Origin for Human Problems™, and the 7 Steps of Biblical Counseling. May God be pleased to grant you deeper insights into the material covered in this manual. May he be pleased to use you and other Reformed Christians to add to the collective pool of knowledge for the field of biblical counseling. Most importantly, may God bless you and further equip you to more effectively minister to the needs of his hurting children; and, may it all be done soli Dei gloria—solely for the glory of God!

It is time for conservative Christians in all fields to quit their quibbling with each other and step up to the plate and lead. Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) once said that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, Who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” All of the fields of knowledge, including psychology and all of the sciences, belong to Jesus Christ, who is, indeed, sovereign over all. Therefore, let us as his ambassadors and warriors, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, press onward in our respective paths of duty and lead; and as we do so, we dare not doubt. A devotional thought with the same title was written by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in his Faith’s Checkbook (see below). May the Lord be pleased to use it to motivate you to press forward in the faith from this day forward and lead.

1 This book is an excellent resource for counselors, pastors, elders, deacons, or anyone who is interested in effectively ministering the Word of God to those in need.

2 The father of modern sociology is Auguste Comte, a nineteenth-century French thinker who hoped to unify history, psychology, and economics. Comte promoted the idea that societies pass through three stages to acquire knowledge: theological, metaphysical, and scientific (also called positive science or logical positivism). Comte believed that if one could grasp this process he could prescribe the remedies for social ills. Positivists in the humanities and social sciences advocate a value-free approach to the study of humanity that shares much in common with methods employed in the modern-day natural sciences.

3 The aforementioned statement does not mean to imply that biblical counselors cannot benefit from insights provided within the realms which were discussed insofar as they agree with Scripture. The thrust of the various statements which were set forth mean to convey the fact that unregenerate people will rarely, if ever, point others to the true Source of hope, which is Jesus Christ.

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.