Narrative has the potential to put conceptual issues into real-life contexts in a meaningful way. It’s easy in training to grasp concepts and then to think that you know how to perfectly help someone in a counseling situation. In reality, real-life counseling is rarely linear in nature, and is often complicated by a host of related factors. Training, then, should include more use of narrative and case studies to help people learn how to walk through a counseling situation. In Cutting: A Healing Response Jeremy Lelek gives readers a behind the scenes look at one particular person’s struggle with self-harm, and the process of counseling that individual. The use of narrative is helpful in clarifying the actual practice of counseling, but the booklet as a whole lacked the detailed exploration of basic principles that help frame that counseling narrative. Narrative must aid in the understanding of conceptual issues, not overshadow it.
Dr. Jeremy Lelek is president of the Association of Biblical Counselors, and of Metroplex Counseling in Dallas. He is one of the best voices in the current climate of Biblical counseling because he brings some much-needed nuance to the very definition of Biblical counseling. Cutting is just one volume in the ABC series The Gospel for Real Life, which seeks to apply the “timeless hope of Christ tot he unique struggles of modern believers.” Through the use of one young woman’s story, this volume seeks to point readers to Christ as the means of “hope, security, and healing” for their troubles.
Lelek uses the story of “Justine,” a twenty-one year old nursing student, as the lens through which to explore both the complexity of self-harm and the process of counseling. There’s much to appreciate about this use of narrative. On the one hand it provides readers with a tangible look at the complexity of the problem. Self-harm is the surface level symptom of a much deeper heart issue, a struggle that has a massive back story of hurt. Readers are reminder that people are complex and therefore navigating their problems requires getting as much of the whole picture of their life as we can. Readers are also guiding on ways to help sufferers navigate their past, manage their symptoms, and look to Christ. This story is a helpful lens through which to explore the conceptual issues, but only if you already know about some of those conceptual issues.
One of the challenges of focusing on narrative in writing a booklet is that it can serve as purely anecdotal information. This is how one case of self-harm worked out. It doesn’t actually tell me as much about the nature of the problem as a whole. There’s not a lot of detail about the definition of self-harm, the common motivations behind the behavior, nor the basic concepts to be addressed in counseling or the skills needed to help a person rests temptation. We get a good look at one case, but one case is simply one case. Narrative is useful, and a powerful illustration of the principles. But, without a more comprehensive exploration of the conceptual issues the narrative is just a story. A counseling training tool needs more.
Jeremy Lelek is a great writer and a competent counselor. Cutting: A Healing Response is a good book, it’s just an incomplete tool for those wanting to learn how to navigate this particular struggle in a counseling session. If read in conjunction with more detailed works this could provide a helpful look at the actual counseling situation.