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How to do Biblical Self-Counseling
by Lara d’Entremont
I can be far too dependent upon others for growth and change. When a problem, question, decision, or sin becomes apparent in my life, my first step is to run to the comfort of others and seek their help. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; believers within the body of Christ are meant to support and build one another up. Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (NASB).
However, the book of Galatians doesn’t end there. If we keep reading, we find an interesting exhortation: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” (vv. 3-6).
So while fellow believers are to help, support, exhort, and encourage us, there comes a time when we must bear our own load and deal with our own sins. While your fellow sisters in the faith may be able to point sin out to you, give you advice to overcome it, keep you accountable, and pray for you, there comes a point where you need to step up and actually do something. We cannot rely on other people to change us and fix our issues. We need to do biblical self-counseling.
This is what Paul called, “Working out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, this is our side of sanctification. In realizing all this, I was intimidated. If you are feeling that same overwhelm, don’t panic; I have a few steps to help you.
Step One | Choose an Issue to Work On
It may be tempting to become distressed by all the sins in your life and feel hopeless (at least that’s what I often experience). But we can’t allow that to discourage us. Instead, simply choose ONE issue to attack.
Once you choose your sin or issue, find a journal and write out this problem in detail, explaining what it is, when it shows up, what causes it, and why you should stop it. I would also suggest doing some biblical research and finding a few Bible verses to support your decision and writing them down to memorize in the future.
At this point, you should also be confessing to those who have been effected by this problem, especially God. He’s the one our sin is truly against, and we must own up to it. Remember, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9 NASB).
Step Two | Create a Thought Journal
You will want to create a thought journal in which you track when the problem shows up. Here is a list of things you could include in your thought journal:
- The temptation/sin/emotional issue
- The circumstance:
- What happened?
- Who was involved? What did they do and/or say?
- How did you respond? (To the people and/or situation)
- The unbiblical thought & response
- What did you want in that situation?
- What did you get that you didn’t want in that situation?
- What were your sinful thoughts in this situation?
- What was sinful about how you responded? (provide Scripture)
- The biblical thought & reaction: (provide Scripture for each answer)
- How could you have reacted biblically?
- How could you have changed your thinking to be biblical?
Answering questions like these will help you to see if there are any common denominators in your problem and help you root out the true root sin. For example, you may realize that your anxiety comes up whenever there’s a financial issue, which then leads you to realize that you love money too much. Knowing that, you can now better attack the sin; rather than managing your anxiety symptoms, you can work on loving money less.
If you would like a journal for your specific issue, you can find a few like that here.
I suggest keeping this journal during the entire process so you can see how you are improving on the issue as you go.
Step Three | Develop a Plan of Action
Now that we have a sin to attack and are learning what the root cause may be, we need to determine a biblical plan of action.
Start with choosing a few Bible verses to memorize. People sometimes undervalue the power of memorizing Scripture, but it is a great tool for overcoming sin. The Psalmist knew this: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11 NASB).
Important Side Note: Please make sure you don’t take a random verse and rip it out of context. Instead, study the passage and make sure it means what you have interpreted it to mean. This will also be helpful in both your memorization and conquering your issue.
Along with the Bible verses, find some biblical material to read on the subject. When I was working at my anxiety, I read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges, which taught me why I did not need to fear but instead trust God wholly. I suggest looking for resources on ACBC’s approved reading list.
Through doing those steps, you should be able to create a put off (sins to stop) and put on (righteous actions to start) list. If you were struggling with anger, your list may look like this:
- Angry outbursts
- Listening to angry music
- Hitting things
- Unkind words
- Kindness & patience
- Trusting God with how people react
- Praying in moments of anger
Finally, find at least two or three accountability partners to keep you on track. This doesn’t mean confessing to two people who will never bring this up again. Find people who will be intentional and love you enough to ask, “Did you sin today? Did you remember to put on patience?” Find people who will remember you in prayer and are mature in their faith to provide biblical guidance.
Step Four | Rely On God
At this point you’re probably feeling one of two things:
- Easy enough! I’ll be on my way to overcoming this sin on my own in no time.
- It’s too much! I’ll never be able to do all this on my own.
Neither of these feelings are biblical or helpful to the self-counseling process. Consider Paul’s words to the Philippians: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:12-13 NASB).
To the person who thinks this is easy and will be finished before the end of the week, remember that you are a depraved sinner incapable of change on your own. You are utterly dependent on God in this. That means it’s in His timing and His power. So put off your pride and conquer your sin with reverent “fear and trembling” knowing that it is “God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
To the discouraged person, you are right that you cannot do it on your own! Congrats on humbly recognizing your own inability. Now, find courage and confidence, because you have the Holy Spirit working in you. Consider 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Find your boast in your weakness, realizing that your ability to conquer sin is found in the power of God.
Lara d’Entremont is a child of God, a wife, and Biblical Counselor in training. Having been made new by God and completely transformed by Him, her desire is to point others back to that same gracious Saviour. Find more of Lara’s writing at her blog, Renewed in Truth.
16 thoughts on “Guest Post: How to Do Biblical Self-Counseling”
Excellent and practical. Thanks Lara!
Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Thanks to Lara for this practical and easy-to-follow guide. I have a question. At what point, or under what circumstances, should a person seek professional Biblical counseling?
Leah, do you have a pastor, pastor’s wife or elder that you consider to be wise and mature in his or her Christian faith? That is where I would start. I’m not the one you addressed the question to, so with all due respect, I am commenting from my perspective as being an older Christian woman.
Thanks for your reply. I always appreciate wisdom from older ladies of the Church. We need more of you in every local baptized body of believers.
My question was more about the role of a professional Biblical counselor versus the DIY approach. But I certainly will keep your answer in mind if I get in over my head. Bless you!
Hi Leah! I’m glad you enjoyed the article! And that is a great question.
I would say that it would never do any harm to seek help from your pastor, a mentor, or biblical counsellor. I wouldn’t say there’s a certain point in which you should or shouldn’t seek help.
The end goal of biblical counselling (other than salvation and freedom from sin) is to eventually lead the person to self-counselling, so when the counsellor sees that the counselee is becoming more and more able to handle their troubles on their own, they will teach them these same principles. Ultimately, I say that biblical counselling is exactly the same as self-counselling except the biblical counsellor is giving suggestions, reminding you of Scripture, and teaching you biblical truths rather than you doing that on your own.
The idea of biblical self-counselling is not that we never seek help, but that we learn to deal with sin and issues in our lives. Often times I find people go to counsellors and pastors expecting them to give a miraculous cure or to fix them, not wanting to put their own effort. At some point though, we must learn to take responsibility for ourselves and do the not-so-easy work of mortifying sin, whether that’s following through with the suggestions and guidance of a counsellor or finding answers yourself through books, the Bible, and such.
I hope that answers your question! (And feel free to tell me if it doesn’t). And I appreciate your comment as well Robin 🙂
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I’m a process person, so I needed to have more clarity around the role of a professional Biblical counselor and where they fit–or don’t fit–into your guide. Thanks for your thorough and gracious response.
And thank you, Michelle, for selecting Lara to do a guest post!
Thank you for those words, they helped me so much in my journey.
I’m glad you found my article helpful! 🙂
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The guest poster seems to have a heart tor staying true to Scripture in her article. That is always right when we cite Scripture passages to back up our opinions or writing. If someone has a disagreement with that, then he or she has a disagreement with Scripture, not the opinion of the writer.
I do have some concerns and cautions about “Biblical counselors.”
Are people who are counselors through the ACBC organization required to have degrees from accredited colleges or universities? Michelle, if I recall correctly from reading your bio at some point, you have graduate degrees, don’t you? I have much admiration for your hard work to achieve that.
Biblical counseling should first and foremost be with one’s pastor, hopefully a seminary-trained one. Of course, there may be a situation where a woman would prefer counseling with another woman such as the pastor’s wife. These roles (as counselors) have been abdicated in many places over the years, and that’s a shame because a pastor and his wife should know that is part of their calling. Why would a Christian need to pay someone and go outside of one’s own church for counseling, when it is part of the pastor’s calling?
If the pastor is not available at times for this, then the wisdom of an elder and his wife (both roles outlined in Scripture) should be sought. Note: the definition of the word “elder” should include the Scriptural description of the office AND the dictionary definition of the word – “of greater age, older.” (This is my opinion, only.)
There can be legalism and subjectivity in some of these Biblical counseling organizations. And, frankly, they are often big money-making organizations with high fees not paid by health insurance, and books, seminars and other sales items.
The guest poster has some authors listed on her webpage who hold dogmatic beliefs and, upon closer look, may not be Scriptural as much as personal.
We need to be discerning in these situations, also. There is a potential for emotional damage and flat-out wrong information to be inflicted by so-called Christian counselors. As someone who has been in situations with counselors over the years, I can affirm this to be true.
Robin- I will let Lara address most of your questions if she has the time, but there are a couple I can address:
1. I have a bachelor’s degree in child/adolescent psychology with a minor in music. I have about half my Master’s degree in marriage/family counseling.
2. Biblical counseling is a whole different ball game from what we think of as Christian counseling. I’ll let Lara elaborate on that if she’d like.
3. One reason people seek out biblical counselors instead of going to their pastor is that, when the need for counseling hits, their eyes are simultaneously being opened to the fact that their pastor doesn’t rightly handle Scripture or leans more toward secular psychology in his counseling than rightly applying the word of God. There are so many bad pastors out there that biblical counselors have stepped up to fill in that gap. I always try to encourage people to get counseling from their pastor first if that’s possible.
Thanks for the prompt reply. And again, I admire your educational background and maturity. I know there is a difference between Christian counseling and Biblical counseling. It’s also referred to as nouthetic counseling, isn’t it?
And, I agree that there can be pastors who do not rightly apply the Word of God. Then it’s time to find a new church and you have written correctly and often about that subject. However, there can be also be mistakes made by Biblical Counselors, because of subjectivity.
Your degree is in psychology, yet you refer to “secular” psychology. I respectfully do not agree with Christians who take an “us vs. them” approach to the subject of psychology and counseling. I’m not writing that you are doing that.
However, do we throw the baby out with the bathwater because something is written by an author who does not hold to Christian worldview? It’s not a black and white situation, in my opinion. It depends on several factors such as the severity and type of problem (is it marriage and family issues, or is it a medical issue that requires further consultation)? Is it really 100% sin, or is the Biblical counselor’s view and interpretation of it as sin his or her opinion?
We know that psychology is a subject that should be viewed with more precaution than other fields. Common Grace allows us to learn and gain advantage from authors, scientists, educators, etc.who are not believers, What would life be like if we restricted our “usage” of things to only that that has been purported to be okay for Christians in the fields of medicine, science, architecture, engineering, etc.?
You recently had a mailbag question from a mom asking about her son’s issues. You wisely wrote that you did not advise whether or not medical treatment should be considered (my paraphrase). I would venture to say, some Biblical Counselors might disagree with your opinion.
I just caution young people who have not yet lived the years where God has grown us through trials, to consider that there is a lot to obtaining wisdom to be able to counsel effectively. It’s wonderful to have a heart for doctrinally sound Scripture. However, also be apprised that there has to sometimes be years of our own sanctification with trials and tribulations to really empathize with our brothers and sisters going through their own trials.
I support higher education, grad school, and seminary, all with their share of “warts.” I would probably support some online courses as long as they are doctrinally sound, and not offered to take the place of an education with credentials. Side note: One of the most Scriptural sermons I’ve heard recently was from a visiting pastor who had (years ago) gotten his undergrad degree from Berkeley!
I’m sorry to hear about your poor experience with biblical counselling. I will agree that there are definitely people out there who are doing biblical counselling incorrectly, legalistically, greedy for money, and harshly. This is not the kind of counselling the Bible promotes.
People who become ACBC certified are not required to have a degree of any kind. That is because ACBC certification is not for the purpose of training people to be pastors, psychologists, doctors, or such, but rather to equip lay people with the ability to biblically counsel one another, as Scripture calls us to (Galatians 6:1-2 is one example).
I agree that counselling should definitely come from pastors. This is definitely an area of work which some pastors neglect. I think a big part of the issue is that many pastors do not feel qualified to do such counselling. However, I believe seminaries are doing their best to better equip their pastors to do counselling (like the Master’s Seminary, for example). ACBC training also seeks to better equip pastors as well.
While elders and pastors should definitely be counselling people, I would argue that Scripture also calls lay people to counsel one another as well. Galatians 6:1-2 is not addressed solely to church leaders. Also consider Colossians 3:16, that we are to admonish one another and teach one another. Think of all the “one another” passages that encourage us to build one another up. For those reasons, I believe counselling is something to which we are all called to do.
I know that there are so called biblical counsellors out there who manipulate and use this ministry solely for financial greed, but I will attest that I do know many who do not do this. I know an entire biblical counselling organization that does not pay their counsellors and all funding goes to the upkeep of their ministry. I’m sorry that you have dealt with poor biblical counselling in the past, but I do promise you that there are people out there with good intentions who counsel for the sake of helping people.
What I love about ACBC certification is that they do their best to make sure they proper equip their people to counsel biblically and lovingly. Many pastors are ill-equipped to counsel and they end up doing much damage unintentionally. ACBC however teaches to counsel with care and kindness and sympathy.
I hope this helps! Sorry for the lengthy reply. If I missed anything or didn’t quite address your questions, just let me know. You can email me or reply to my comment.
So good! We do need to address and be held accountable for sin in community, but we also need to learn how to respond to conviction about our sin by turning to the Bible ourselves and protecting ourselves from further temptation with the armor of God and sword of the Spirit!
I absolutely love this! Thank you for writing it. People need this in their lives, and I believe it can really change lives for the better.
This is an excellent blog! Loved it. Thank you for sharing.