I almost never counsel people over the phone. I get lots of calls during the week asking for some insight, help, or advice. I am often happy to help people, but I am reluctant to get into long drawn out counseling situations over the phone. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the primary reasons is that such conversations are rarely focused. They meander from one topic to another. Effective counseling must be focused, and this requires establishing clear goals in counseling. Establishing clear goals in counseling is vital to fruitful ministry.
Without clear goals your counseling sessions will be largely fruitless. I am grateful that God can use even our weaknesses to bring about change in the life of a person. He can utilize even our unfocused and random conversations with people to reorient and bless them. In general, however, this is not the way effective counseling works, and unfocused sessions are irresponsible on our part. These sessions will be fruitless because without clear goals we have no clue where we are going and to what we are trying to direct our counselee. This leads to frustration for everyone involved and eventually discouragement.
Establishing clear goals needs to follow a general progression. We begin with collecting as much relevant data as we can. Proverbs 18:13 reminds us that “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” To establish an appropriate goal we need to seek to understand the person and their situation. We also need to analyze and conceptualize this data. It must be interpreted. So we seek to identify general categories and patterns that an individual and their behavior fall under. We are then in a better place to ascertain the Biblical answers and resolutions to these problems. Here we are establishing a clear goal. We are pointing people to a real destination on their path to change. We are orienting them towards God’s desires for their life. We are keeping them on the proper road and helping them to avoid all the potential rabbit trails that would distract them from actual progress. Once we understand the problem and the Biblical solution we can point people towards a proper target.
We want to see a person grow spiritually through their struggles and overcome their sins. This requires us to direct them not simply from something, but to something. The Biblical model of change involves both “putting off” and “putting on” (Eph. 4:22-24). We are not simply interested in helping an angry person put off fits of rage, but we are interested in them putting on humility. We do not simply want a porn addict to stop lusting, we want him to “consider others as more important than himself.” An anxious person does not simply need to cease worrying, they need to be thankful. Without a goal not only will we frustrate ourselves and our counselees, but we will inevitably settle for less than holistic recovery.
Establishing clear goals is the difference between fruitful and aimless counseling. This doesn’t mean every case with clear goals will resolve beautifully, smoothly, quickly, or even at all. It does mean, however, that we can direct people towards real change as opposed to directionless meandering. Establish clear goals in your counseling.