QUESTION: Does the “success” of counseling depend on the counselor’s personal spiritual maturity or is it more a question of tactics? If the Holy Spirit is the one who does “most of the work,” why then is it important to have a personal spiritual life and to study Scriptures and theology (and psychology)?
These questions nicely capture the difficulty of expressing the relationship between complementary truths. It gets to the heart of the question of WHY people change. Here are a few brief comments that address these questions.
1. It is important to define “success.” Counseling success means fruitfulness and change into the image of Jesus. By nature, choice, habit, and nurture, we are not like Jesus. We obey the desires of instinctive fallen flesh and bear the works of the flesh. In a Christian understanding, counseling is an aspect of the hands-on care and cure of souls. Because counseling is ministry, both the goals (“success”) and the means (the roles of the Holy Spirit and of the counselor) are described in Scripture.
2. Wise counselors play a significant role in our fruitfulness; the Holy Spirit plays a significant role in our fruitfulness. And a variety of others factors also play significant roles. So it is not a matter of either-or between people who help and the Helper who helps (often by using people to help people).
3. The counselor’s personal maturity and the counselor’s skillfulness are intimately connected. Spiritual maturity means skillful love for God and others. Wisdom is skillful living. Wise counseling is a skillful form of love. So I prefer “skillful love” to “tactics.” Tactics sounds more mechanical—a way of maneuvering, performing a trick to get someone to comply, following a formula or set of procedures, applying a technique. Some popular therapies are all technique and tactics. The premise is that the right tactics automatically produce the desired effects. But God and human contrariness/complexity inevitably frustrate such an approach in the long run.
4. It is because the Holy Spirit does “most of the work” both in us and in others that we can energetically seek to do our assigned work. He is lifegiver; he gives ears to hear; he awakens those dead to God and to Scripture; he convicts; he is fruitproducer. We are his agents, his servants, his ministers, his messengers, his bearers of the burdens of others.
5. Studying the secular psychologies can be informative and provocative—just like studying film, music, literature, comparative anthropology, history, pop culture, philosophy, other religions, medicine, or your friends and neighbors. But, understanding Scripture and understanding yourself, other people, and life circumstances (as they are in God’s eyes) is the key. Many other human endeavors may contribute something to your knowledge, but they can never give you the essentials or the framework.