Postmodernism promotes one thing that I like. It promotes the use of storytelling. I have found that stories well told have at least two values. First, they stimulate clarity. Second, they magnify memory.
When the subject of the use of stories in counseling comes up in counseling classes the first question posed is, “What kind of stories do you tell?” That is a good question. There are a number of answers to this inquiry.
Sometimes an allegorical story is helpful. It has the advantage of timelessness. Perhaps the most memorable allegory in the Christian world is Pilgrim’s Progress.
In a counseling session, the counselor may set the stage for the counselee by explaining the nature of the story and then pulling out one incident to illustrate the particular truth being emphasized.
Another type of story is some incident from the counselor’s own life regarding a challenge faced—the context in which it was faced as well as the outcome of his/her learning an important lesson. For example, not too long ago I shared a story from my college days to illustrate for a counselee how an action I took offended a very good friend. The story displayed how I learned of my offence because my friend began avoiding me.
After a couple of weeks I went to his dorm room and pointedly asked, “What have I done to offend you?” When he told me, I agreed with him and asked his forgiveness. He verbally granted the forgiveness, but refused to rebuild the relationship. Telling this story helped my counselee appreciate that I understood his situation and provided me with a platform to begin to address his next steps with his circumstances.
A third genre of story is the historical. Our pastor is a Civil War expert. He frequently uses incidents from that war to illustrate a point in his sermon. On occasion I have adapted several of these for the counseling context.
This genre may also include movie clips. My son’s pastor will often use a movie clip to set up and illustrate his sermon. Since I am not as adept with electronic gear as he, I’ve not actually played the clips, but I have retold the stories from movies to illustrate a principle in counseling.
However, the most frequent story you will hear in my counseling office is an Old Testament narrative. Over the years I’ve developed Sunday School series titled, Lesson for Living from ___________(whatever the Old Testament book currently under consideration). The Apostle Paul teaches that these things were written for our instruction (I Corinthians 10:11).
What I like about using these stories is two-fold. First, they get the counselee into the Scriptures. Second, they speak with the authority of God. For example, in the story of Hezekiah the counselor does not need to surmise that pride became his problem; the Scripture plainly and authoritatively states the fact (2 Chronicles 32:25).
Recently an adult male has come through our counseling ministry. He is a man that might be identified as having been sexualized. Early in childhood he was sexually abused by an older sibling. Subsequently as a junior-aged child he was introduced to pornography. As an early teen he was engaged by others into various forms of illicit sex.
Though raised in a strict evangelical church, this behavior continued. He married and secretly participated in various deviant sexual practices. Though these things were discovered his wife elected to remain in the marriage. This individual has been in counseling with various counselors over the years. Finally, he landed at our center. After what appeared to be good progress, it was discovered that once again he was lying and hiding. After carefully assessing his salvation experience early on, upon the revelations of the continuing behavior, our counselor challenged him by retelling the story of Solomon.
The story started with Solomon’s prayer for wisdom and God’s promises and ended with 1 Kings 11 where it is recorded that Solomon not only evidenced sexual addiction with his stable of wives and concubines, but his being led into idolatry to keep them happy. The counselor emphasized that the Word says that God challenge him twice regarding his persistent life of sexual obsession evidenced in his engaging in idolatry. This story ends with God pronouncing judgment upon Solomon. Our counselor pointed out that this man was God’s king blessed with unbounded wisdom and yet pridefully defied God and thereby brought God’s judgment upon him. He finished telling this story with this question, “Should you think that because you are a believer that God will not bring discipline upon your life?”
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How do you use stories in biblical counseling?