Do You Need a Counseling Coach?

During the first half of this year’s baseball season, Yankee rookie Aaron Judge was a phenomenon. He hit for both power and average, and he was on track to set numerous batting records. During the second half of the season, Judge’s production fell way off. The only record he set was most consecutive games striking out at least once. Many theories have been proposed to explain Judge’s extreme slump. Some experts believe that opposing pitchers have discovered how to exploit Judge’s weaknesses at the plate. Others suggest that Judge’s hitting mechanics have deteriorated and he needs to work on his swing. Judge’s coaches worked frantically to help him recapture his early season form before the playoffs began.

A baseball player’s performance can significantly diminish if his opponents recognize that a hitter tends to swing at a cut fastball out of the strike zone low and away, or that a pitcher almost always throws a fastball on a 2-1 count (or when he touches his cap before his windup). Based on over twenty years of experience, supervising dozens of biblical counselors, I would suggest that many counselors also go into a slump like baseball players and might benefit from coaching. I have noticed that some biblical counselors have unhelpful tendencies. Consider just a few:

Does your counsel include unhelpful tendencies?

  1. Do you tend to show favoritism to certain types of counselees? Do you give preference to wealthy or influential counselees? Do you favor one particular gender?I supervised a woman counselor who had been in a terrible marriage and she had a tendency to make unfounded negative assumptions about only the husband in a marital conflict. I also know of counselors in cases of marital abuse who have a tendency to focus on the wife for provoking her husband to anger, while at the same time failing to recognize that the husband’s abusive behavior is a much more dangerous sin. As the counselor, the duty is to make efforts to ensure the safety of the wife and children. Scripture reminds us of God’s impartiality and warns us against showing improper favoritism (James 2:1-9; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 10:17; Proverbs 24:23). 
  2. Do you find yourself missing key points because you did not listen well or gather sufficient data?Are you doing the great majority of talking in the session? I have had cases in which I jumped on an issue early only to realize later that I had failed to address a much more urgent and significant problem. This can happen due to poor listening (Proverbs 20:5; 18:13), or a failure to adequately hear from all sides (Proverbs 18:17). Do you allow one party in couples counseling to dominate the conversation? In one case, I was guilty of allowing a talkative and domineering husband to divert our attention from his marital infidelity to the trouble he and his wife were having with a teen-aged son. In addition, an abusive man will often try to take over a session in order to focus on the sins of his wife (and even the counselor) rather than address his own sin. 
  3. Do you find yourself running out of time in the session?Do you have sessions in which you spend too much time gathering counseling data and not enough time opening the Scriptures? Is the hour up before assigning homework? Do you mismanage your time with one counselee causing the next counselee to wait? The possibility exists that we may run out of time on occasion. However, if this is a pattern, you may need to grow in your ability to plan the session (Proverbs 21:5). 
  4. Do you find that you give the same counsel, using the same passages, with most—if not all—of your counselees? Scripture teaches that different people require different emphases in counseling (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Do you over emphasize the biblical imperatives (what we should do for God) while not giving adequate attention to the foundational gospel indicatives (what God has done for us)? Do you address every problem in terms of idolatry?

 Do you need coaching?

  1. One of the most valuable benefits of training through organizations like ACBC and educational institutions that teach biblical counseling is when the student counsels under the supervision of a seasoned This person can help identify the counselor’s weaknesses and work with her or him on making improvements.
  2. Experienced counselors also benefit from regular feedback; we all need sharpening (Proverbs 27:17). I am privileged to work in counseling ministries where student observers sit in on counseling cases. Afterwards, both the students and counselors meet together to discuss their cases. It is fascinating to hear feedback about my counseling from an observer’s perspective. The questions they ask challenge me, as do their helpful suggestions. In addition, I profit from as I receive feedback from fellow counselors and learn from how they handled their cases. I would strongly encourage you to go through this beneficial process.
  3. If you are not regularly counseling in an environment where you can receive coaching, seek out a mentor with whom you can discuss your cases. Ideally, with the permission of your counselees, your mentor can listen to some of your sessions and help you identify blind spots in your counsel.
  4. Finally, are you coachable? Some highly gifted athletes don’t improve because they don’t like to be corrected. Scripture teaches that those who counsel and correct others should welcome counsel. We should love those who correct us (Proverbs 9:8).