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Characteristics of an Effective Counselor: Unique Characteristics of a Christian Counselor (Part 4)

*Editor’s Note: this is Part 4 in a series on how you—yes, you—can help bring wise and kind counsel to a young person’s life. For Part 1 (“Do You Have What It Takes?”), click here, and for Part 2 (“The ‘Big 3’ Characteristics”), click here, and for Part 3 (“Additional Traits That Contribute to Successful Youth Counseling”), click here

Having an understanding of biblical principles and being able to apply them to the counseling encounter is important, but it is not as important as the counselor’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Whatever other qualities the counselor possesses naturally or seeks to develop through training, these will always be secondary to the importance of a relationship with Jesus that is vibrant and growing.

“The first requirement for anyone wanting to contribute as a Christian counselor in healing and restorative work with distressed and trouble people, is a vital relationship with Jesus. This will always be the ‘foundation distinctive’ for Christian counselors.”[1]

Unique Assumptions

The Christian counselor is going to possess some basic beliefs about the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the attributes of God (i.e., God is a compassionate, forgiving, sovereign God), the nature of humankind (i.e. made in the image of God, but fallen), and that the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. Wholeness, restoration and healing is the desire of God for all people. These beliefs are going to guide the counselor as they seek to come alongside the young person and provide godly guidance and counsel.

Unique Goals

The main goal of Christian counseling is the facilitation of spiritual maturity and growth. Like other counselors, Christian counselors do seek to help the client deal with the problems that are presented. But solving problems is not their primary objective. Rather, their goal is to help people understand their problems, and their lives, in light of their relationship with God and then to make responsible choices in light of this knowledge. The Christian counselor works with the client to alleviate their problems because he wants the client to experience the abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). But problems should never be the primary focus. The focus should be on helping the client become a whole person as he or she lives out life as a child of God. God is not as concerned about a person’s happiness as He is their holiness.

“Genuine soul care is never exclusively focused on any one aspect of a person’s being to the exclusion of all others. If care is to be worthy of being called soul care, it must not address parts or focus on problems but engage two or more people with one another to the end of the nurture and growth of the whole person.”[2]


“The focus should be on helping the client become a whole person as he or she lives out life as a child of God.”


Historically, Christian soul care has involved four primary elements: healing, sustaining, reconciling, and guiding. Healing involves efforts to help someone overcome an impairment and move toward wholeness. These curative efforts can involve physical healing as well as spiritual healing, but the focus is always the total person, whole and holy. Sustaining refers to acts of caring designed to help a hurting person endure and transcend a circumstance in which restoration or recuperation is either impossible or improbable. Reconciling refers to efforts to reestablish broken relationships. The presence of this component of care demonstrates the communal, not simply individual, nature of Christian soul care. Finally, guiding refers to helping a person make wise choices and thereby grow in spiritual maturity.[3]

Unique Methods

Besides using the standard counseling skills and techniques of professional therapy, the Christian counselor is also going to incorporate prayer, Bible reading, confession, meditation, worship, and devotional literature when appropriate.

“When religious resources are used in counseling, it is crucial that they be employed with care and sensitivity. In particular, it is important that a pastor understand how they are experienced by the person who is seeking help. Prayer, scripture reading, and other religious resources carry heavy, negative emotional freight for some people. They can also easily be used in ways that arouse inappropriate guilt or unnecessary discomfort or block creative dialogue.”[4]


“The Christian counselor is also going to incorporate prayer, Bible reading, confession, meditation, worship, and devotional literature when appropriate.”


When using a particular religious resource in counseling, it is important that the Christian counselor think through why he is choosing that resource at that particular time. It could be that the resource of choice is the most appropriate and helpful for the situation at hand. But, it could also be a way of avoiding talking about an uncomfortable subject, or it might be a way of providing premature reassurance, possibly even a way of relieving one’s own anxiety or distress.

“Religious resources should always be used in ways that empower the person, never in ways that might diminish his or her sense of initiative, strength, or responsibility. They must facilitate rather than block the owning and catharsis of negative feelings.”[5]

Conclusion

You may be saying to yourself, “There is no way I can measure up to all of these expectations. I might as well give up on being a counselor.” Take heart! There is no counselor or therapist who possesses all of these characteristics. But you should be aware of them and their importance in the counseling process and be willing to try and develop them to some degree in your life.

Possessing the aforementioned characteristics or traits will greatly enhance your chances of being an effective youth counselor, but I would caution you that there are no guarantees. Even the best professional counselors are not immune to oversights or blunders. But do not let fear of failure keep you from involving yourself in the life of a troubled teenager.

“If you are a counselor in training, give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them. No one expects you to be a ‘perfect’ counselor right out of the gate. So, don’t give up if you initially fumble your way through the practice of counseling struggling adolescents.”[6]


“Do not let fear of failure keep you from involving yourself in the life of a troubled teenager.”


[1] Graham A. Barker, and Clifford J. Powell, From Woe to Go: A Training Text For Christian Counselors (Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press, 2014), p. 41.

[2] David G. Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-Term Structured Model (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 1992, 2003), p. 15.

[3] David G. Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-Term Structured Model (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 1992, 2003), p. 15.

[4] David G. Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-Term Structured Model (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 1992, 2003), p. 37.

[5] David G. Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-Term Structured Model (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 1992, 2003), p. 37.

[6] Les Parrott III, Helping the Struggling Adolescent (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 50.


Excerpted from Gary Zustiak, Intensive Care: A Manual for Nonprofessionals Who Work with Hurting and Broken Youth. Used with permission.

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