Lessons Learned As a Biblical Counselor, Part Four: Reflections after Forty Years of Biblical Counseling

October 13, 2011

Howard Eyrich

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Howard Eyrich

Lessons Learned As a Biblical Counselor, Part 4

Note from the BCC Staff: This is the fourth in a series of periodic posts by biblical counselors regarding what they have learned during their years of ministry in biblical counseling. Read Part One: Hayley Satrom: Reflections after Two Years, Part Two: Deepak Reju: Reflections after a Decade, and Part Three: Bob Kellemen: Reflections after Thirty Years. Today Dr. Howard Eyrich shares what he’s learned after forty years as a biblical counselor.

Some Things I’ve Learned Along the Way

The storm took out the power at church last night but I did not get the message. So another staff member and I (he did not get the message either) showed up and could not work without air conditioning and lights. We decided to go to the Crystal restaurant and get a biscuit and coffee.

As we sat there a fellow jumped out of this red SUV (in the drive through lane) and stuck his head in the door. “Dr. Eyrich, I saw you and just wanted to say ‘Thank you.’ You counseled my daughter a couple of years ago and she is doing great.” He popped out the door and was gone. My partner sat across the table somewhat stunned (and so was I).

“How come you have been so successful at this business of counseling,” he asked?

I responded something like this. “Dave, all I can tell you is that I work with Divine authority. I listen to what people tell me about their lives and then I engage them with the Word of God. As they respond positively to the Lord, I coach them in the implementation of the Word to bring course correction and work hard at training them to walk in His way.”

My Story

In 1968, the Lord appointed me to two positions at Lancaster Bible College, Dean of Men and Soccer Coach. As it turned out, these positions were complementary and opened many opportunities to counsel these college students.

The experience was reminiscent of my college days when I observed friends who got into trouble. According the rule book they deserved the discipline they received. But, it always seemed to me that the discipline only addressed the misbehavior and not the root cause.

Not wanting to be an administrator who only dealt with behavior, I enrolled at the local university and began an MA in counseling. After completing nine hours of the program I dropped out. Grade-wise I was doing great, but there was no advancement towards gaining any understanding what drove student behavior. I dropped out of the program sorely disappointed.

A friend inquired as to why I did not enroll for the fall semester. “I put everything I read and heard into my theological sieve and it all ran out on the ground,” I told him. “There has to be a way of understanding people that is consistent with my theology,” I continued.

Subsequently someone suggested that I should read Competent to Counsel which was recently published. I did so and really became excited. Here was someone plowing new ground. Here was someone who was starting with God in order to understand man. That made sense.

I liked Jay Adams’ humility. He knew he did not have it all figured out and said so. But, he was absolutely convinced that God did. I certainly knew that there was a lot I did not know, but I was convinced that God did. I was also convinced that if I joined with this movement, which became known as Biblical Counseling, we could forge a new discipline that began with God to address the problems of living (only to discover along the way that there were others before us who had made valuable contributions). I have not been disappointed.

My Journey Continues

Working at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in the early to mid-seventies with comparatively little training, it was fascinating to see God work in the lives of many people. Some of these folks walked in our doors with very severe problems. I had my first taste of working with people carrying psychiatric labels. I had my first encounter with a transvestite, a homosexual pastor, a series of women with severe PMS. The medical doctors had waved them off with, “It’s all in your head” (gratefully, the medical profession has also learned a lot about this issue since then).

I (we) dug in. We listened to people and then we applied biblical principles utilizing the authority of God. We saw amazing changes!

Lessons Learned

Out of those early days grew an ever-increasing group of scholar-pastors, professionals of various stripes, educators and counselors who rested in the authority of God and His Word. Early I learned the value of using homework to engage people in the process of addressing their issues. The result was 110 hours or more of effort focused on biblical change rather than simply ten hours of talking in the counselor’s office in a ten week concentrated effort to address a life issue.

I also learned the value of engaging the church in the process. Sometimes we drew life-coaches from the counselee’s congregation to assist with overcoming depression. Sometimes we set up accountability partners to assist people in resisting temptation. Sometimes we engaged pastors and challenged them to engage in church discipline.

On one occasion I sent a young woman to her pastor to seek assistance with her husband who had committed adultery. Several days later the pastor called me somewhat upset. In a frustrated tone he asked me, “What is this you want me to do?”

I spent 30-40 minutes walking this pastor through the biblical perspective of church discipline. His response was, “I never heard that in seminary.” But, he agreed to engage the young man, the young man repented, and the marriage was salvaged.

Along the way I made a lot of mistakes. I join all other sinful human beings in this reality. Sometimes I failed to be patient. Early on my confrontation was too often condemnatory. In the beginning I gave far too much homework (looking back, I’m amazed how many did most of it). Early on I took on cases far out of my league (mostly because I was convinced that they were not beyond God’s help).

I have learned that Biblical Counseling is viable. I have learned to never be ashamed of the power of the gospel. I have learned that there are legitimate physical problems that are manifested in forms that give rise to psychiatric diagnoses. I have learned that I never have to fear real science while I must always be on guard for scientism. I’ve learned that the better I understand contemporary psychology the more effectively I can bring the Word of God to bear on secular society.

Last (at least for this brief blog), I have learned that 40 hours a week of counseling is not a very good investment of my time. Rather, 15 to 20 hours of counseling coupled with training and developing other counselors, both lay people and professionals, has far more impact for the Kingdom of God.

Join the Conversation

What is your story, your journey, as a biblical counselor? What have you learned along your journey?

5 thoughts on “Lessons Learned As a Biblical Counselor, Part Four: Reflections after Forty Years of Biblical Counseling

  1. Dr. Eyrich, you have been a professor of mine and this blog adds to the many things you have taught me, opened my eyes to, and encouraged me in.  I’m immensely grateful to all the early adopters and pioneers of biblical counseling, like you, that we get to learn from.

  2. To all: This series has been so well received as valuable insight, that the BCC will be running another four-part series during the first week of November. We hope to make this an ongoing part of our Grace & Truth blog.

  3. Dr. Eyrich,  You were one of my professors and oversaw my biblical counseling hours.  Your humility and grace amazed me and I can never thank God enough for guiding me to you.  You told me to read, “Instuments In the Redeemers Hands which ignited my fire for training lay counselors.  Thank you. Thank you.  God bless!

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