As a seminarian and in my early years of ministry, counseling was the ministry which I feared the most. I felt young, immature, and lacking in wisdom … and rightly so! By the time I graduated from seminary I’d only read a couple of really significant books on pastoral counseling. One struck me as too psychological, not grounded in sound biblical doctrine; the other, as quite biblical, but overly simplistic and not much help for people facing certain issues. Fortunately, since that time many good books have been written on the subject of pastoral counseling, including the one I’m reviewing today. The author, John R. Cheydleur, not only has a Ph.D. in counseling, but he’s a Salvation Army officer with years of experience in the trenches, counseling people with all kinds of problems.
In the introduction Cheydleur writes, “Called to Counsel will teach you very little theory of any type. Instead, it trains you to use eleven basic counseling skills and provides dozens of practical tips and advanced techniques to make your counseling more effective.”
I like the book because it’s full of Scripture and also because it’d laid out in a clear and progressive fashion so that it can be used as a textbook for a class in counseling or for independent study. If you’re looking for a simple method to learn how to be an effective Christian counselor, this might be the book you’re looking for. I personally went through it twice so that the insights would truly sink in.
Called to Counsel is readable, practical, and even fun! Sprinkled throughout the book are cartoons illustrating the principles the author is teaching. The cartoon characters are “Doc” (the counselor), “Duck” (the client), and “Quack” (the untrained counselor). Other helpful features of the book are the questions and the case studies at the end of each chapter. The beginning counselor can use them to practice his or her newly acquired knowledge and skills.
This basic book on counseling begins with some of the most fundamental of counseling skills, such as listening. The author writes, “When we listen attentively to the client’s spirit, we listen for emotions and feelings, for reasons and facts, and we especially listen for faith and beliefs (as well as misbeliefs).”
Cheydleur moves on from “Basic Skills” to “Advanced Skills”. In this part of the book he points out that the experienced counselor goes beyond support and acceptance. He learns to help his client to reconnect content and emotion with key values. He also teaches how to use probes and prompts to move the interview to a deeper level.
The next section on “Specialty Skills” teaches how to use Scripture in counseling and distinguishes it from how we use it in preaching. The author also discusses prayer – how it can be used or misused in counseling, and he teaches how to help the client have a realistic faith in what God can do. Finally, in this section the author gives guidance in specialty intervention, for example, how to deal with someone who is demon possessed.
The last section, like an appendix, is on “Continuing Education” in which Cheydleur explains how to keep written notes on counseling sessions using two simple systems. I prefer the simplest system, “DAP”. The “D” stands for “data”, what you learn from the counselee. The “A” stands for assessment, your assessment as a counselor of the situation. The “P” stands for plan, the plan you and the person you are counseling agree to work on.
“Continuing Education” also has a helpful chapter on Scripture-based values in areas, e.g. ethics and business issues, social issues, sexual and relational issues, expectancy and gratitude issues, as well as spiritual and emotional issues. Numerous useful Bible verses are including in this section.
A specific skill I gained from reading the book: Cheydleur often uses the metaphor “empathy sandwich”. An empathy sandwich is like a hamburger, but instead of surrounding a meat patty with a bun, you surround new information you share with your client with empathetic reflections. In other words when you challenge someone with something in their life, perhaps using a Scripture verse, it’s important to do it in a loving empathetic way. This is probably just another way of saying “speak the truth in love”, isn’t it?
If you want a bit more from Cheydleur’s book, keep reading:
Ten Most Common Counseling Mistakes:
Mistake #1: Patronizing or cliché responses
Mistake #2: Questions and probes too soon
Mistake #3: Inappropriate self-disclosure
Mistake #4: Advice instead of information
Mistake #5: Misuse or nonuse of Scripture
Mistake #6: Overlooking clients values
Mistake #7: Misuse of prayer
Mistake #8: Misuse of religious symbols
Mistake #9: Poor challenging skills
Mistake #10: Superficial decisions
Mistake #11: Artificial action plans
Mistake #12: Overlooking accountability
The Faith-Based Counseling Process
- Client feels instability – isolation, weakness, confused thinking, contradictory behavior, unbelief, unrealistic belief.
- Request for counseling – Counselor is sensitive to the opportunity for brief counseling.
- Reflection of content – Counselor helps client to become accurate and specific about facts, sequences, etc.
- Empathizing with feelings – Counselor helps client accept and express feelings.
- Mirroring values – Counselor helps client to see connection between values, value conflicts, feelings, and content.
- Sorting values – Counselor helps client to identify sources of values: personal, family, cultural, etc.
- Value comparison – Counselor helps client compare prior values to biblical values/standards.
- Value choice – Client chooses value(s) on which to base decisions.
- Connecting feelings to values – Counselor helps client to examine feelings about values.
- Decision making – Client makes new decision(s) based on clear values and accurate facts.
- Action planning – Client and counselor brainstorm and evaluate new possibilities to create a specific action plan.
- Client achieves stability – Accountability to group/individual, strength/support, clear thinking, focused behavior, sane spirituality
Big picture thoughts on counseling:
“When we are commissioned as counselors, we are commissioned by God to serve as His representatives to heal the hurting. God promises that He is ‘near to those who have a broken heart’ (Psalm 34:18) and that He ‘heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds’ (Psalms 147:3). The deep, caring searching heart of God understands that the lack of congruence in our life is not simply a mechanical thing to be fixed, as though we were assemblage of auto parts! God feels the deep distress of the individual and understands that shame and reproach can break a heart (Psalm 69:20). God knows that the emotions of heartbreak also affect the spirit (Proverbs 15:13) and can destroy the health as well (Proverbs 17:22).
“It is important that our deep desire and purpose in pastoral counseling be to heal the brokenhearted rather than to acquire a series of techniques or some type of system to use in order to make it easier to keep people at a distance.
“The better we become at spiritual counseling, the less pride we will take in it. Every time God uses us to release joy in a previously troubled person, we will realize that the power that has healed the person is of God and does not stem from our righteousness or ability. It is most effective when we empty ourselves and allow God to bring healing and wholeness through us.”