How do we effectively train biblical counselors? From the proliferation of graduate programs over the past twenty years or so, it would seem that the answer is obvious—get them into a graduate program. If you can’t do that, get them into one of the numerous online programs. (There are even some good free ones out there today.) But, notice, the question is not how do we educate biblical counselors? The question is how do we train biblical counselors?
From time to time those who request supervision are educated but not trained. Recently one supervisee responded to a critique of his counseling session, “I am sorry. I have only seen counseling done on video. All my training (education, would have been more accurate) has been through live seminars.” So again, I pose the question, “How do we train biblical counselors?”
In most graduate programs (at least I hope most and want to think all) there are required hours of live counseling observations. In many programs an internship is also required in which the student is the counselor and the certified counselor observes and coaches. For example, this week one of our ministry counselors, who is already certified, joined me for a session. I introduced him as one of our counselors who is in the process of completing an in-service requirement, and they (the counselees) would be getting two counselors for the price of one. On another occasion this counselor will be the lead counselor, and I will be his observer. This is characteristic of the on-going training within our ministry.
The best educational module that I experienced in seven years of graduate school was not under the auspices of university or seminary. It was in the training program at The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). Each week we would began the training day with a two hour class. There was no class tuition. There were no credits. There were no grades, and there were no papers. There was recommended reading.
After the lunch break we were assigned in pairs to two counseling cases as observers. Yes, you read that correctly. There was a counselor and two observers in each counseling session. Observers said nothing unless invited to do so by the counselor. At four o’clock in the afternoon we met around a large conference table. Observers reported the case facts and the counselor’s interactions with the counselees. Counselors explained and defended what they did. Counselees were scheduled the same time each week so that the observers could follow the cases through the duration. At six o’clock we returned to the counseling room to continue counseling until 9 pm. Each class had twelve trainees, and the class met every Monday for ten weeks.
I personally went through this training program three times, acting as the counselor the third time with the mentor/counselor being one of my observers. For twenty-five years I continued this training module in various locations. Because of contingences at my current location, the procedures have had to be modified. However, the basic principles of this training modality continue.
In the current setting we provide a two-semester course as the foundation for post-certification training. The first semester of this training program utilizes a 140-page syllabus that very practically develops the theology of counseling and the philosophy of biblical counseling along with coordinated video cases that are used as teaching tools. Two complementary texts are assigned for outside reading: Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp and Leaving Yesterday Behind by William Hines. The second semester we provide a notebook of altered real cases that are used for analysis, planning a counseling session, role playing, etc. In addition, we include ACBC exam preparation so that much of the exam will be completed by the end of the semester.
Following the completion and passing of the exam, the educational/training experience becomes a training/educational experience. The counseling ministry provides the fifty hours of supervised time required for ACBC and IABC certification. But, training does not end with certification. Training is on-going and comes in a variety of forms. We co-counsel with one another. As the Director I meet individually with each counselor every six weeks. In between scheduled meetings, the ministry counselors are invited to (and do) come to me with questions, seeking assistance, requesting directed reading suggestions, etc. In addition we provide an annual summer training program to expose participants to “cream of the crop” counselors/trainers. This past summer there were nine presenting trainers in addition to me. Of these, the majority were ACBC/IABC certified.
We represent the Lord and His Word. We must be responsible to develop great (not just good) training programs and methodologies. We must train people well, and we must develop training systems that support them and expand their skills. While our counselors are primarily para-professionals who are volunteers, we cannot be sloppy in our training, support or expectations for excellence in biblical counseling.
I have cited my personal experience as the highlight of my training in hopes that it will inspire others to emulate it. In addition, I have shared the details of our ministry’s training as one example of how training, and not just education, can be accomplished. I hope you are challenged and perhaps will glean some inspiration as well as concrete ideas to enhance your approach to training counselors.
Join the Conversation
What techniques have you found to be helpful, either in your own training or in the training you’ve provided to others?