A Review of “Counsel for Couples” by Jonathan Holmes

Marriage counseling has to be one of the most difficult types. Seeking to help two sinners with two different assessments of the problems, to different ideas about the solutions makes navigating sessions incredibly complex. It is also the most common type of counseling that pastors will likely encounter, so we need all the help we can get. Thankfully Jonathan Holmes has written the most insightful and practical tool for marriage counseling I have ever seen. While plenty of books on marriage have been written, and even some guides to marriage counseling exist for pastors, Counsel for Couples is the most practical guide to counseling couples through understanding specific issues, starting counseling, and identifying the main factors to address. This may be the most important book on marriage counseling that the Biblical Counseling community has yet produced!

The book is broken down into three parts. Part one addresses the “Basics of Counseling Couples.” Here readers will encounter the foundational issues involved in marital counseling. Chapter one starts broadly by giving pastors a foundation for seeing themselves as counselors. From this apologetic, Holmes moves on to help pastors learn how to assess heart issues, and provide a theological basis for forgiveness and love. He also gives practical directions on “Starting, Ending, and Referring” and guides readers through how to structure initial sessions. The practical tips here are invaluable to the novice counselor, but they will also serve as good reminders to the more seasoned leader. Why Holmes cannot unpack all that is helpful to know in these chapters his footnotes include a wealth of resources to consult for further education.

Part two shifts focus to the real resources of this book: Specific Issues You Will Face in Marriage Counseling. In the ten chapters of this portion of the book, readers will be introduced to specific, common, and serious trouble. Readers will learn how to navigate problems like adultery, abuse, communication, parenting crises, and miscarriage/infant loss – to name a few. Each chapter will walk readers through an introduction to the problem, suggested starting points in counseling, proposed topics and themes to address, and as well provide readers with suggested Scriptures to highlight in counseling. In reading this secant of the book I found countless helps, insights, and correctives to my own counseling. Jonathan builds off of Scriptural principles without offering up simplistic explanations or solutions. He utilizes insights from modern psychology where appropriate – his use of John Gottman was especially helpful for me. He also provides sample dialogues, counsel testimonials, and additional insights from other counselors in the field. While no chapter provides a comprehensive treatment of the struggles, this book will serve as an amazing resource to springboard your counseling and understanding of these common marital problems.

Part three rounds out the book with a word of encouragement and caution to the counselor. Holmes, a counselor himself, knows the discouraging and overwhelming feelings that counselors can develop as they dive into deep waters of marital intervention. As his parting word, then, he gives readers “10 Things to Remember in Marriage Counseling.” This is a helpful guide to avoiding the sort of burnout or compassion fatigue that is all to common in the helping-people profession.

I loved this book. I recall that my first counseling case ever was a marriage case. Both the husband and the wife had committed adultery and I instantly felt out of my depth. Both were unbelievers and so I focused a lot on the gospel, but I needed specific practical help about how to navigate their infidelity and broken relationship. This is the type of book I desperately needed back then. Jonathan Holmes has provided all counselors with an amazing resource to begin their marriage counseling work. It will give you specific practical tips, alongside important theological foundations. I know of no other book like this in the Biblical counseling community. It should be, and surely will be, required reading for all those who go into counseling training for years to come!

One of the common frustrations I have with other resources is that they are often simplistic and/or too basic. Many marriage counseling resources (books, articles, seminars, etc.) spend the bulk of their time rehashing the familiar theology of Ephesians 5. There is deep rich theology here that should inform our understanding of marriage, and therefore our understanding of marriage counseling. The problem, however, is that most Biblical Counselors are already familiar with this content. We need help in the specific problematic areas of counseling couples. We need guidance on navigating communication problems, or suggested goals for cases of adultery. We need theology that guides us through understanding abusive relationships. Jonathan has broken through the common model and provided a more robust resource for counselors. Without leaving off the foundational doctrines of Ephesians 5 he has added to the picture with more issue-specific guidance. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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