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The Question Every Counselor Must Ask & Answer: "What's My View of People?"— An Excerpt from "Gospel-Centered Counseling"

Categories Ministry Book Excerpts

Robert W. Kellemen, author of the new book Gospel-Centered Counseling, invites readers to picture someone named Mike seated across from them, whether in their counseling or pastor office.

Imagine he begins pouring his heart out, tracing the contours of his story, his grief, his pain. In that moment, how you respond depends on several factors wrapped into one question every counselor must ask and answer:

What is my view of people, their problems, and their solutions?”

In the excerpt below, Kellermen argues those factors and this question "shape how the counselor views Mike (understanding people), how the counselor assesses the root causes of Mike’s core issue(s) (diagnosing problems), and how the counselor perceives and presents the route to change with Mike (prescribing solutions)."

Read this excerpt, share it with your colleagues, and learn from Kellemen’s resource how to conduct your counseling in a way that’s gospel-centered.

First, every counselor has a theory of knowledge. We may not all be aware of ours, or even know that we have one, but we all trust some source of insight for living. Sitting down to minister to Mike, we’re all asking ourselves the questions, “Where can I find answers for Mike? Where do I find wisdom for life in a broken world?”…Second, how we respond and relate to Mike is conditioned by our view of reality. The ultimate reality question revolves around our view of God. “Who is God? Do I even believe he exists? Is he caring and in control?” What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important factor, not only about our counselee, but also about ourselves as counselors. In helping others, how the counselor answers this question makes a huge difference: “Whose view of God will I believe — Christ’s or Satan’s?” …

We unite our theory of knowledge and our view of reality by pondering another ultimate life question, “In what story do I find myself?” How we answer that question as Mike’s counselor is just as important as how Mike answers that question. Are we part of a story where we’re our own source of wisdom for living and where reality is the result of a chance evolutionary process? Or are we part of a grand gospel story that is sovereignly and affectionately guided by a God who has a good heart and whose Word is our loving source of wisdom for living?

There is a third factor that determines how we respond and relate to Mike. It includes three aspects wrapped into one question that every counselor must ask and answer, “What is my view of people, problems, and solutions?” We’ll explore biblical answers to this threefold question throughout chapters 6 – 12 and 15 – 16.

  • Creation: Understanding People (chapters 6 – 7) — Whose am I? Who am I? What is the nature of human nature? What is the shape/design of the soul? What does a healthy human being look like?
  • Fall: Diagnosing Problems (chapters 8 – 10) — What’s the root source of our problems? What went wrong? Why do we do the things we do?
  • Redemption/Sanctification: Prescribing God’s “Soul-u-tions” (chapters 11 – 12 and 15 – 16) — How does Christ bring us peace with God? How does Christ change people? How do we find peace with God? Why are we here? How do we become like Jesus?

A counselor’s answers to these questions shape every aspect of his or her response and relationship to Mike. They shape how the counselor views Mike (understanding people), how the counselor assesses the root causes of Mike’s core issue(s) (diagnosing problems), and how the counselor perceives and presents the route to change with Mike (prescribing solutions).

While I understand that as biblical counselors we get nervous with words like “psychology,” “psychopathology,” and “psychotherapy,” every counseling model addresses these categories. Think of it like this:

  • “Is my psychology model — my understanding of people (Creation) — biblical?”
  • “Is my psychopathology model — my diagnosis of root causes/problems (Fall) — biblical?”
  • “Is my psychotherapy model — my approach to caring and prescribing cures (Redemption/Sanctification) — biblical?”

I’m not suggesting that biblical counselors start using these terms or that we start calling what we do “psychotherapy.” I’m simply highlighting that every counselor, pastor, people-helper, and spiritual friend must examine these three ultimate life questions. In chapters 6 – 12 and 15 – 16, we’ll probe these questions scripturally by seeking to understand the nature of human nature as designed by God, marred by sin, and redeemed by grace. In chapters 6 – 7, we start with the age-old question every human being has always asked and that Mike is asking, “Who am I?” We’ll place that question into the context of God by asking it as, “Whose am I?” And we’ll place that question into the context of God’s grand narrative by asking, “In what story do I find myself?”

Pursuing God’s Target: The Image of God—God’s Design of the Soul

In developing a biblical understanding of people, we could begin at the Fall and highlight human depravity. Some biblical/Christian approaches to counseling seem to start here, which is understandable, given our desire to address the deep impact of sin. While we’ll thoroughly address sin in Gospel-Centered Counseling, we won’t start there. That would be like a medical student examining diseased cadavers before ever learning the basic anatomy of the healthy human body. We’ll begin at the beginning, where we’ll learn from the One who made us in his image as we examine the spiritual anatomy of the soul. In doing so, we’ll discover that life as we now find it is not the way it was supposed to be.

In the film Grand Canyon, an attorney attempts to bypass a traffic jam. His route takes him along streets that are progressively darker and more deserted. His expensive car stalls on a secluded street patrolled by a local gang. The attorney manages to phone for a tow truck, but before it arrives, three young thugs surround his disabled car and threaten his life. Then, just in the nick of time, the tow truck driver arrives. Savvy enough to understand what is about to go down, the driver takes the leader of the group aside to introduce him to metaphysics.

“Man,” he says, “the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without askin’ you if I can. And that dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you rippin’ him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.”

The creation narrative teaches us how things were supposed to be — including how we were meant to live life with God and with each other. It teaches us God’s original design for the soul — the nature of human nature as bearers of God’s image — the imago Dei. It enables us to answer the questions,

“What is health? What does a healthy image bearer look like?”

Gospel-Centered Counseling

By Robert W. Kellemen

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