Books That Shaped My Faith: “How People Change” by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp

ChangeCounseling was not part of my original vision for pastoral ministry. As a young man preparing for seminary I had set my sights solely on the practice of preaching. Things began to change as I found myself in more and more counseling situations, especially throughout seminary. The book How People Change, didn’t convince me to focus on counseling, I was already moving in that direction by the time I read the work. But this volume gave me a tremendous gift in a philosophy of counseling.

Tim Lane and Paul David Tripp have given Biblical Counseling as a whole a methodological textbook in this work. They provide us with the theological foundation, the practical guidance, and the insightful case studies we need to be better counselors. The book is developed around five “gospel distinctives” which give it its shape and format: the extent and gravity of our sin, the centrality of the heart, the present benefits of Christ, God’s call to growth and change, and a lifestyle of repentance and faith. The real benefit of the book, however, is its use of the “tree model” as a methodological grid for thinking about the practice of Biblical Counseling.

I had sat in on a few cases as a pastoral student in college, and then had assisted my own friends and church members as a seminary student, but there was something about reading their philosophy of counseling as delineated in the “tree model” that uniquely clarified things for me. By using comparing the counselee to a tree my eyes were opened up to the various influencing factors, root desires, and contextual matters that shape a counselee. As I read the book the process of counseling started to crystallize in my mind. While change is unique for every individual and no two cases are the same, I began to see that there were some common unifying features of counseling. It was as if Biblical Counseling started to make sense to me.

Right out of seminary I began to get more and more involved in counseling cases. I had great mentors who influenced and aided me. I recall one early case. I became very frustrated very quickly. I sat and observed as my mentor counseled a woman whose life seemed an absolute mess and who seemed simply to be neglecting her responsibility for the mess. I couldn’t understand why my mentor didn’t just confront her. Why not just call her out and tell her to “shape up.” The more I watched and observed however I began to see his approach made sense. The problems I was looking at were surface level issues. The roots of this particular tree went deeper than those problems. He was digging up the soil slowly, helping her to see what the real root of the problem was. He was following this same model that Lane and Tripp outline in How People Change. This philosophy, which admittedly isn’t original to Lane and Tripp, was a helpful one, and once again counseling made sense to me.

One of the most significant benefits of this book is the plethora of examples and case studies that the authors give us. We learn how to apply the principles in very tangible ways as the authors walk us through individual, couple, and church stories. The stories are common examples (struggling marriages, depression, anxiety, arrogance, etc.). They reflect the kinds of counseling cases that all will encounter, and in that regard they give us real, tangible, and immediate assistance in thinking through those types of situations.

The authors never prescribe a flat approach to counseling. So even in their use of examples they aren’t prescribing a one-size-fits-all kind of model. They are recognizing, however, the commonalities in experience and the Biblical truth that applies to every one of us, regardless of where we find ourselves in a struggle. How People Change, then, is practical without being simplistic.

Tim Lane and Paul Tripp have written a fantastic book and it’s one that I continue to use today. I don’t know of many texts that I regularly consult. Certainly John Frame’s works garner my regular visits, but this counseling tool is not just one I recommend, it’s one I frequent. We teach through the book at least once a year now at Cornerstone in our training classes, but I also regularly revisit whole chapters to remind myself. When a case goes wrong I consult it for encouragement. When I fail as a counselor I engage it for re-education. When a counselee gets stuck I check it for some guidance. The book is a standard tool in my belt and I am immensely grateful for it. The tree model in particular has become a major lens shaping how I approach counseling. For that reason I am immensely grateful for How People Change.

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