The Emotional, Social, and Bodily Domains™ of IRBC’s Counseling Model

Last time we began looking at the Primary or Internal Dominant Domains™ of IRBC’s philosophical model of counseling. We considered the first two, which are the Spiritual and Mental Domains. In this article we will be introduced to the final three: the Emotional, Social, and Bodily Domains.™

The Emotional Domain

When evaluating counselees for problems originating in the Emotional Domain, things such as one’s expression of emotion are looked at, along with the person’s overall regulation of the same. Evaluating emotional factors, especially in the area of communication, is important because it has a direct bearing on forming and maintaining meaningful relationships with others.

There are a number of variables that affect one’s expression of emotion. The manner in which parents expressed themselves while one was growing up is an example of one variable. Cultural background is another. Various cultures express certain emotions in greater or lesser intensity and frequency than others. While the expression of certain emotions can become sinful,1 their being expressed at varying levels of intensity or frequency can be a morally neutral function. Although they are morally neutral, extremes relative to the intensity and/or the frequency of expressed emotion can often have negative effects on one’s relationships with others.2 Thus, there are times when one must be given insights into how to regulate one’s emotions, in order that the person successfully relate with those in the various environments in which God has appointed him or her to live and work. For example, think about some of the issues that may be encountered in the life of newlyweds wherein a traditional Christian Dutch lady marries a Christian young man she met in college who is from a traditional Italian family. Would the lady from the Dutch family be sinning if she failed to give emotional expression to things in the same manner as her husband or members of the family in which he was reared, or vice versa? I hope you would agree that the answer is no. Each would need to be taught how to appreciate and respect the differences in the way emotion is expressed from the perspective of their respective cultural backgrounds. They may also need to be taught to understand some of the basic differences in the way men and women ordinarily express themselves emotionally.

The Social Domain

Evaluating counselees for problems in the Social Domain involves looking for any problems that are rooted in poor communication skills or patterns of communication. This includes, for example, natural speaking ability, under-communicating, and over-communicating. Concerning the latter, most of us have known people who over-communicate. They are those with whom you converse and cannot get a word in edgewise. For some over-communicators the problem is sin-based. They are self-focused and need to be in control of the conversation. For others it is a skill which needs to be taught. They need to be taught that proper communication involves both speaking and active listening. If one does all of the talking and fails to give others the opportunity to speak, others will grow frustrated and weary, and meaningful relationships will either languish, dissolve, or fail to be established.


The Bodily Domain

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a prominent Welsh pastor who was known for his powerful expository preaching, was a trained physician as well. He pointed out that certain mental illnesses and depression often have causes that are not spiritual. Pernicious anemia, arteriosclerosis, porphyria, and even gout are all examples of bodily problems that Jones believed could cause dementia or produce depression (see Jones, 1987, pp. 144–45). Factors related to the breakdown of bodily organs in association with old age, injury, sickness, and disease all need to be taken into consideration when a counselor is seeking to determine the origin of the problem the counselee is facing.

When evaluating problems in light of the Bodily Domain, counselors should be sensitive to the fact that glandular and other non-nervous system dysfunctions can cause depressive or anxiety-like symptoms in a counselee’s life. For example, hypothyroidism leads to lower bodily energy levels and can mimic depression. By contrast, higher energy levels that are experienced with hyperthyroidism can produce effects similar to an anxiety disorder. Pancreatic malfunction is often at the root of diabetes, which can cause extreme fatigue and depressive-like symptoms as well. A good rule of thumb for counseling those who come to you for depression is to require a medical examination.

May God grant us the wisdom and discernment we need to properly diagnose what is at the root of the problems of those he brings us to counsel in order that we may be more effective instruments in the hands of the Wonderful Counselor.

1. Anger becomes sinful when it is without cause (Matt. 5:22), is excessive (Eph. 4:26), or becomes protracted (Col. 3:8).

2. There will be some overlap between this aspect of the Emotional Domain and related aspects in the Social Domain.

Dr. Jeff 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.