Competency in Counseling

There is no shortage of advice-givers in today’s society. Actually, it seems no matter where you turn, you hear someone giving advice or counsel on one issue or another. Frequently it’s hard to try and avoid those wanting to give advice. To prove my point, simply express to others a dilemma you have, and watch folks stumble over themselves to give their opinion. Some counsel you hear is good, little is from a biblical worldview, and much counsel is simply bad and ungodly. With that in mind, who are capable to provide counsel or give advice? Are Christians competent to counsel people with problems? What actually constitutes competency? What are the qualifications for a counselor?

Biblical counselors frequently quote Romans 15:14 to support the position that Christians possess adequate ability (competency) to counsel: “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” Colossians 3:16 is considered the comparable verse to Romans 15:14, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,….” Continuing in Romans, Paul makes the case for boldness: Romans 15:15, “I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me.” Each of these verses contains the necessary characteristics or prerequisites required of a competent counselor. Counselors are to be, “full of goodness,” “complete in knowledge,” the word of Christ should dwell in them richly, they should be full of wisdom, and they should speak boldly.

First, counselors should be full of goodness. This is not goodness that is natural within us, but is from the Spirit of God whose fruit is goodness, Galatians 5:22. Being full of goodness denotes an abundance of grace consisting of benevolence, humaneness, and an understanding to fellow Christians in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”

Second, counselors should be complete in knowledge. This is spiritual knowledge relating to: 1. God, His nature and perfections, His mind and will, 2. Christ and the work of redemption, 3. The Holy Spirit and how He operates, 4. The Gospel knowledge necessary to salvation. If a counselor is to have an understanding of the biblical issues relating to human nature and behavior, the study of the scriptures will be fundamental to his or her qualifications and effectiveness. It would be paradoxical for someone to say they counsel biblically, yet lack the wherewithal or inclination to provide biblical explanations to issues and problems. 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

Third, the word of Christ should dwell richly in the counselor. The counselor should understand the scriptures, especially those which speak of Christ and testify of Him, teach pardon by His blood, justification by faith, and salvation. He must know the Bible thoroughly and how to use it practically. I would seriously question the motives and presuppositions of a biblical counselor who lacked the willingness or desire to study and learn the doctrines central to the work of a true biblical counselor. If a counselor believes “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” Psalm 119:105, how can that truth be applied without having more than a Sunday school knowledge and understanding of God’s word? How can the counselor provide the lamp and light if he doesn’t know its whereabouts? Richly implies he should not only possess the word, but it should have a significant place in the counselor’s life. The counselor should be engaged in frequent reading, hearing, and meditation on the word.

Next, the counselor should possess wisdom. James Strong defines wisdom as “devout and proper prudence in relations with men including the skill and discretion in imparting Christian truth.” The counselor must learn how to discover the facts about the problems to which he must find biblical solutions. Psalm 111:10 states where one should start in obtaining wisdom, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”
Finally, the counselor should speak with boldness. He should reprove, advise, and exhort without dread or fear. 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.”

Having stated the biblical prerequisites for what constitutes a competent counselor, what then constitutes an incompetent counselor? One might assume it would be just the antithesis of what I just stated. However, since all Christians possess the key competent attributes in some degree (albeit many in extremely small amounts), there is more to what constitutes incompetency. The strength of biblical counseling begins with its presuppositions. In other words, it accepts on faith that God exists and the Bible is true, and understands the implications of adhering to it.

What are some of the key presuppositions in biblical counseling? To start, counseling issues are theological issues because our life is lived before God. That is the exact opposite of psychology’s main presupposition of there is no God. If there is one single difference that makes the two counseling models stand out, it’s the fact that one acknowledges God and the other does not. Also, the heart drives behavior and all counseling issues are heart issues. This establishes that all behavior is righteous or unrighteous, not healthy or unhealthy; and certainly not the psychological heresy “feelings are neither good nor bad, they just exist.”

Furthermore, one’s view on the nature of man is critical in understanding behavior and offering biblical solutions. If man is depraved and his behavior is the result of sin, the biblical counselor can offer solutions, hope, and a cure. If there is no sin, reductionism becomes the presupposition and all behavior is reduced to chemical imbalances, diseases or other ambiguous impulses. Doctors David Tyler and Kurt Grady explore this further in their book, “Deceptive Diagnosis: When Sin is Called Sickness.” Dr. Dr. Ed Bulkley comments from the forward of the book are most appropriate: “The church has a growing tendency to pathologize every form of spiritual discomfort…, instead of seeking God's definitions and explanations of human behavior, more and more pastors, elders, and congregations are accepting a secular world-view which is based on humanistic psychology rather than the Bible. The result is an increasingly weakened Church, no longer certain of its message, mission and calling.”

Author's Bio: 

Johnny Kicklighter is a counselor at Gateway Biblical Counseling & Training Center, a ministry of Edgemont Bible Church.