The wisdom and healing of Scripture applied to life
Counseling writing is about engaging specific people in specific situations with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Counseling papers are meant to prepare you as a future counselor or pastor for real counseling situations and to facilitate your own personal engagement with the gospel. Therefore, these papers require you to focus on
By maintaining this dual focus upon truth (Scripture) and application (counseling situation), you will grow in your understanding of the gospel and your ability to apply it to everyday life.
The following guidelines speak to the two most commonly assigned types of counseling papers, the response paper and the case study. Professors have their own purposes and goals for these types of papers. Therefore, the first step in completing a counseling assignment is to read, understand and follow your professor’s instructions for that particular paper.
Counseling is about people. Unless you tailor your thinking and your writing to engage the particular person you are addressing, your insight will be general and theoretical, lacking the perception and timeliness that make for good, wise counseling.
Your descriptions of problems, feelings and situations should be vivid and detailed, and your application of biblical truth should be packaged in such a way that it poignantly addresses the specific context into which you are speaking. Whether you are describing your own experience or that of another counselee, ask yourself, “Have I spoken directly to the complex person involved in these struggles?”
Counseling papers seldom require you to discuss abstract truth or counseling theory. In counseling, theory functions as a servant to praxis. You should demonstrate your knowledge of biblical-counseling methodology by applying it thoughtfully, creatively and contextually.
When considering your response to a problem or situation, don’t be content simply to sketch a general outline of a solution: I would show the counselee from Scripture that God loves her. Rather, season your writing with rich, practical details: Since Chantel feels abandoned and unloved by anyone, including God, I would take her through the story of Naomi, showing how Boaz (and ultimately God) intervened to bring life to a woman who had lost everyone.
By writing with this level of specificity, you will be much better prepared for real counseling scenarios.
When writing counseling papers, it is especially tempting to drift from the format and guidelines of the assignment to discuss other matters that you feel are important. Your professor has spent time crafting the assignment in a very particular way for important reasons. Be sure to pay to close attention to the directions of each assignment, thoroughly speaking to every issue the professor wants you to address.
The situations that prompt many people to pursue counseling are often difficult, strained and poignant. Many counselees struggle to bring their experiences and feelings to expression. It is therefore appropriate for you, as a future counselor, to use appropriately poignant language to express yourself.
Using expressive language not only dignifies the counseling situation (by seeking to represent it carefully and accurately), it also aids in clarity of communication and forces you to be specific. As you seek to convey the specifics contours of a problem or situation, use this opportunity to seek out the most appropriate language to do so.
The world is full of people who act in response to other people and the world around them. Your writing should express this active character of life. Failing to craft your writing accordingly can have important negative consequences. For example, consider the following two sentences:
Katie’s question hurt James’ feelings and prompted an unexpected response.
James took offense at Katie’s question and shot back with a sarcastic jab.
Both sentences relate the same event, but they do so with important differences. In the first sentence, the subject is the impersonal “question,” which is responsible for “hurting” James’ feelings and “prompting” his response. In this construction, James is presented as entirely passive. Even his response is due to a “prompting” by someone else.
In the second sentence, however, it is made clear that James is a responsible agent, “taking offence” and “shooting back.” There is also a very big difference between being prompted by someone else to give an unexpected response and actively shooting back with a sarcastic jab.
The point of this example is that the choice of words and constructions communicate very important information about how you view a situation and how you want your audience (specifically, your counselee!) to view the situation.
The case study is a real-life example of a counseling situation you may encounter. Many case studies are based on actual counseling cases from your professors’ experiences. Alternatively, the case study might be a “self-counseling” project, in which you are required to address to a particular need or struggle in your own life. Because of their eminently practical nature, case studies are well-suited to teaching you how to handle real counseling scenarios.
A major part of the case study involves understanding the counselee well.
This means paying attention to life circumstances, thoughts, emotions and actions as well as underlying heart issues.
These and other questions should guide you as you probe into the inner workings of the person you are studying. It is very important for you to demonstrate specifically the connections between core attitudes and beliefs and their real-life manifestations. For example, it is not sufficient to write Jerome is depressed because he doesn’t believe that God loves him. This may be true, but it is simplistic and does not demonstrate how unbelief works itself out as a pattern of hopelessness. A more thorough analysis might discern that
Jerome’s pattern of depression is rooted in feelings of loneliness, helplessness, anger and an overwhelming sense that God is far off. Facing difficult life decisions, Jerome worries constantly about making wrong choices. He is convinced that no one understands him and that he has always been “on his own.” He is silently angry about this loneliness is cynical toward assurances of God’s love and care. While he knows intellectually that God loves him, he can’t shake the feeling that God is distant, absent and unconcerned. Instead of actively relying on God for guidance, help and strength in the face of the uncertainties and dangers of life, Jerome anxiously tries to ensure his own well-being. When things are going well, he feels self-satisfied and experiences glimpses of hope for the future. But most of the time, he simply feels overwhelmed, angry and despondent.
This description indicates that, for Jerome, depression and unbelief have a particular “shape.” The use of specific words and phrases (such as “convinced that no one understands him” or “can’t shake the feeling that God is distant”) communicates Jerome’s situation much more clearly than do general expressions such as “is depressed” or “doesn’t believe.” You should strive to present as clear, specific and vivid a picture of the counselee as possible, drawing connections between his or her feelings, actions and beliefs about God.
A second goal of the case study is to provide a strategy for helping the counselee. This strategy should not be “one-size-fits-all” but rather be personally tailored to the situation with which you are dealing. For example, instead of saying “I will remind Jerome from passages of Scripture that God loves him,” you must explain both why you will emphasize God’s love instead of his mercy or sovereignty and why you would take Jerome to a certain passage or story in Scripture instead of another. In order to develop a relevant and sensitive strategy, ask yourself questions such as the following:
These sorts of questions should guide your development of a specific, concrete and personally-tailored plan for helping the counselee look to Christ. By developing a clearly laid out and specific plan for walking the counselee through his or her struggles, you will practice the sort of planning necessary for real-life counseling ministry.
Most counseling courses require you to write a response paper. The primary purpose of this paper, as the name suggests, is to elicit your response to the material you are studying.
Response papers facilitate your interaction with the material. Because biblical counseling focuses on the intersection between truth and application, your interaction with reading assignments should maintain a balance between the theoretical and the practical.
That is, your response should not merely be a discussion of theoretical truth but should probe into your personal engagement with this truth.
On the other hand, a paper that only expresses your emotional reaction suggests that you have failed to reflect thoughtfully on the material. Therefore, your response paper should seek to strike a balance between your intellectual engagement with the reading and your spiritual and emotional engagement.
The way to maintain balance in a response paper is to allow yourself ample time for reflection before you write. Counseling response papers are intended to serve you by facilitating your own growth in grace and your preparation for service to others. If you first commit yourself to determined and thoughtful reflection on the material you are studying, you will probably find that writing a balanced and engaged response paper comes naturally.
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