Archive for the ‘Counseling’ category

Counseling Unbelievers

April 26, 2007

I was recently asked what I thought about counseling unbelievers:

I have recently been thinking and discussing how practically to handle unbelievers in counseling. I’ve read stuff by Jay Adams on “Pre-counseling” and found the I agree in principle. But my questions surround how practically do you transition into the Gospel? I have contacted others and basically I have heard two different approaches. One approach was simply to tell the unbelieving counselee that we would not be dealing with their personal problem until we lay a foundation concerning their relationship with God (which then leads to doing an evangelistic Bible study). The other way I have heard it explained was to counsel the person like you would a believer, except that you would intertwine the Gospel into the truths that you are laying about concerning their problem. In essence, you might say something like this will not really work unless you come to Christ. So I’m writing to you to ask how you practically handle unbelievers when they come in for counseling. Thanks.

Here was what I wrote:

I think I wind up somewhere in between the two methods you mention. First of all, as Dr. Adams discusses, I think it is foolish to counsel an unbeliever as you would a believer for sound biblical reasons (2 Cor. 2:14-15). At the same time, I don’t think I would write off the person’s presenting problems. They are the means by which God has saw fit to bring you into relationship with that person. If they are coming for help because they are ensnared in sexual sin and substance abuse, they want help for these problems.

For example, lets say I have a guy come into my church who needs to be counseled b/c he is enslaved in his sexual sin. If I was to ignore the presenting problem and focus solely on some kind of evangelism program, I wouldn’t blame the guy if he left quickly. What I would probably do, is have him read “The Purity Principle” by Randy Alcorn for homework along with a study through the Gospel of John and Romans. Then, in the counseling sessions, I would be relating his sexual lust problems to the other areas of his life that are dominated by idols (i.e. I would try to show him his heart). I would then use this as a platform to discuss the pervasiveness of sin and the cure for that sin that is only found in the gospel (I would do this repeatedly, session after session). I would also try to find someone in the church to disciple him outside of our counseling relationship (pre-discipleship actually). In my mind, the truths of Scripture used to combat specific sin issues (sexual immorality, anger, pride, etc.) should be seen as means that we can use to move people along to see their need for Salvation. An unbeliever who is coming for counseling already knows they need something, its our job to show them what they need. Ultimately though, I would remind them (often) that even if some of the “techniques” work and they get “better” without true repentance and heart change the changes are insignificant and will probably be short lived.

Finally, keep in mind that all counseling, to unbelievers or believers, should have large doses of the gospel. It is often true that believers need to understand the depth and breadth of the gospel as much as unbelievers do. Many believers think the gospel only applies to those who are unsaved. They have been there, done that. It is often helpful to give believing counselees something to read that will make them study anew what the gospel really is.

FYI, Adams discusses this in Appendix A of “A Theology of Christian Counseling.”

I welcome your respectful critiques ….