BCC Staff Note: Today’s blog is the first article of a three-part series on the BCC Grace and Truth website on the topic of Counseling Together. Tuesday, Howard Eyrich discusses safeguards for non-spousal co-counseling and Friday we will hear from Garrett Higbee on the role of an advocate in biblical counseling.
I love team counseling. Whenever I counsel a woman, I involve a female co-counselor or trainee. She might be my wife Lauren, or she might be another godly sister in Christ. Perhaps I want to give that woman added training and experience. Or she might bring valuable experience or expertise. Or maybe she has a positive relationship with the counselee, or better fits her demographic, etc.
With marriage counseling, however, I typically co-counsel with Lauren. It’s the best option I can offer. Let me mention ten advantages. Some of the ten are true even when it’s non-marriage counseling. Some are true even if my female co-counselor is someone else. But all ten come together nicely when Lauren and I counsel a married couple, so I will assume that format here. (And while I write this article as a male counselor, the same advantages apply if you are a female counselor co-counseling with your husband.)
1. Added comfort, connectivity, and protection for the wife. Your spouse’s presence can provide a more relaxed and less clinical feel to the session. We are simply two couples talking together.
2. A second set of ears and eyes—a female set. Without overstating gender differences (too many do), a female counselor might see something in a female counselee that I might miss or misinterpret, and vice-versa.
For example, in debriefing with each other after a marriage counseling session, I might focus too much on the husband’s failure: “Lauren, I think the main problem is that this guy is too insensitive.” “But, Bob, didn’t you see how resistant she was?” “No, Lauren, surely women—the ‘fairer gender’—can’t be as sinful as we guys are.” “Bob, all have sinned and fall short. . . .” My mistake.
3. Added biblical wisdom, counseling experience, homework ideas, and available resources. Your spouse doesn’t have to be a trained biblical counselor. If she walks with the Lord and cares about people, she can contribute something before, during, or after the session.
4. Testimonies and lessons on how the Lord has helped you with similar marital struggles. Together you can share insights you have learned, practices that have helped you, a positive or negative marriage incident that might help the couple, etc. Hearing both your and your spouse’s perspective on that same incident brings extra value.
We have found this dynamic particularly helpful when we discuss with couples their sexual problems. Hearing how my spouse and I have each navigated those challenges and practiced 1 Corinthians 7:2–5 has especially helped various couples. The same is true with sensitive topics like parenting, in-laws, and finances.
5. Specific positive qualities highlighted in your spouse that might help the same-gender counselee. I can tell the wife how Lauren has handled something or ask Lauren to share it with her. She can ask me to do the same for the husband.
6. Added credibility to your counsel. When your spouse is present, counselees are less apt to think you are exaggerating or wonder if you really practice what you preach.
7. A woman’s perspective provided to the husband. In most marriage cases, at some point, Lauren and I have individual sessions with each spouse. While some biblical counselors subdivide for those sessions (man-to-man, woman-to-woman), we find it more valuable for us and the couple for Lauren and I to stay together as a co-counseling team even in these individual sessions.
Suppose that in the private session with the husband, he shares some step he is contemplating. My wife might say, “Joe, I’m not sure that’s the best way for you to care for Beth right now.” As a married woman, Lauren sometimes carries more perceived insight in his eyes than I carry, even if I say the same thing (how humbling!). Ditto when I as a husband speak directly to the wife.
8. Healthy marital communication modeled within the session. By giving my wife my full attention, valuing and not dismissing her comments, and not interrupting or criticizing her, I model good listening skills— something they likely lack. How we interact, including how we discuss disagreements, provides them with examples of godly interaction.
9. A rewarding ministry for your spouse. If your wife is less skilled or experienced in counseling, then co-counseling provides her with meaningful growth and ministry opportunities.
As a seminary professor, I train men and women who emerge with masters and doctoral degrees in biblical counseling and thereby have more counseling skill and knowledge than their spouses. The spouse can profit from partnering with a trained biblical counselor. Sometimes that spouse goes on to get further training.
10. Improvement in your own marriage. When my wife and I give godly marital counsel, we are more motivated to apply that counsel ourselves and practice what we preach.
Of course, co-counseling with your spouse (or anyone) also brings challenges. You will have to learn how to function together in the session. The counseling might expose weaknesses in your own marriage. You might be tempted to focus too much on your marriage. And there are others.
Based on our experience, the benefits above far outweigh the downsides. If possible, consider co-counseling with your spouse.
Questions for Reflection:
What other benefits come from co-counseling with your spouse? What are the downsides? If you are married, how might you involve your spouse? What steps could you take? (We started with premarital co-counseling.)