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Solution-Focused Pastoral CounselingAn effective short-term approach for getting people back on track
By Charles Allen Kollar
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Charles Allen Kollar
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIndividual Paradigms: A Question of Focus
The mind is a lot like an umbrella — it works best when it is open. Anonymous
If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed. Ancient Chinese proverb
I have often wondered what it is that prevents us from seeing and acting on new ideas. It is important to understand this because it could be the same thing that hinders a counselee from seeing new options, outcomes, and solutions. Something clouds our vision when we are in the midst of a crisis or problem-saturated life situation. We assume that the future is only an extension of the past. Yet when it comes to problems, one assumption is readily agreed upon: if we keep doing what we have always been doing, we will keep getting what we have always been getting.
Still, we all have self-imposed rules and regulations that establish our personal ways of dealing with life. We learn how to be successful within these parameters — which we could call our individual paradigms. In this sense, these paradigms filter all incoming information, sorting out whatever does not fit. Jesus commented on humanity's inability to see beyond these paradigms when he taught about the kingdom of God. What he said was unlike anything his listeners had ever heard before. It did not fit their rules and regulations. To many of them it was as if they were entirely deaf. Of such Jesus said, "If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear" (Mark 4:23 TNIV).
Because of our fixed ways of thinking, we often miss out on discovering future possibilities. Unexpected information is ignored or twisted to fit old notions. We may become blind to creative solutions. Our paradigms have the power to keep us from hearing and seeing what could happen. This results in some personal limitations that could have devastating consequences.
When he was a child, my son Nathan did a school report on Galileo. I think I learned as much as he did through his presentation. I was reminded of the religious and civic leaders that Galileo had to contend with. They were unable to see or hear his observations regarding the earth's orbiting the sun. These observations simply did not fit their personal paradigms. Everyone "knew" that the sun revolved around the earth! Although seeing, they did not see. Hearing, they did not hear. Of course, history has revealed their shortsightedness. We would never be as blind and deaf as they, or would we? We would, and we often are — usually without realizing it.
Consider the lesson the Swiss watch manufacturers learned. At one time, Swiss watches were the standard of excellence throughout the world, with nearly 80 percent of all watches sold being made by Swiss watch makers. Today the Swiss make fewer then 10 percent, and thousands of expert crafts people lost their jobs. How did this happen?
In one sense, they were blinded by the extraordinary achievement of their old paradigm. Even a prosperous past can blind us to future possibilities. It was actually a Swiss technician who created the quartz watch. He had managed to reach beyond the paradigm that watches must have gears and springs. His superiors, however, still limited by their paradigm, declared, "Whoever heard of such a thing? Watches must have gears and springs!" They were so sure of their convictions that they did not bother to protect their ownership of the technician's design. The quartz watch was later displayed at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Representatives from two young companies were very much interested in it. One was from Seiko and the other from Texas Instruments. The rest is history.
As counselors within the local church, have we fallen into a similar paradigm regarding counseling? It seems that one thing counselors agree on is the need to understand and deal with the problem. It has been said that to define a problem is to begin to solve it. We want to explore the problem and perhaps discover how the counselee is thinking, feeling, or behaving. There must be a reason. Why is it happening? What is maintaining it?
Therefore, whatever counseling model or theory a counselor may use, the counseling process often remains centered on the problem. This could be considered a problem-focused paradigm. Keep in mind, the counselee is also focused on whatever problem is causing him to seek help. Is it possible that we, as pastoral counselors, are doing the same? Without realizing it, could we be reinforcing the problem simply by making it our primary focus? Is there a better way?
For years Disney engineers have used a concept called imagineering to assist them in creating their theme parks. In this sense, they combine engineering with imagination and are governed by a process in which they seek to generate ideas with no limitations. They take the most creative idea they can come up with, develop it in every detail, and delineate the steps required to bring it to reality. The Disney Imagineers consider this the beginning of their design process and operate under the notion that if it can be dreamed, it can be built (Marling 1997). It seems to me that imagineering is a paradigm buster. When we visualize the outcome first, we become solution focused rather than problem focused. The outcome dictates the process rather than the process dictating the outcome.
This book is about "imagineering" with those who come to us for counseling. It is about developing principles for getting them unstuck and back on track in their lives, marriages, and families. It is about shifting paradigms regarding how counseling is done — both in the mind of the counselor and of the counselee.
Can counseling be enjoyable and spontaneous? Can we envision, with the counselee, a future without the problems dominating — and chart a course in that direction? Is it possible that the traditional paradigm that counseling must focus on problems is not necessarily the most effective way to assist those who come to us for help? With this in mind, let's consider a solutions approach, beginning the process of developing the guidelines and skills for creative goal formation in the counseling interview.
Chapter TwoChristian Faith: A Story of Change
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17
I've learned that the most creative ideas come from beginners — not the experts. H. Jackson Brown Jr.
The apostle Paul announced a totally unanticipated new beginning. He declared to the church in Corinth that everyone who trusts in Christ for salvation becomes a new creation, which reflected a profound change. In Christ, the believer's hope is restored and personal control is reestablished. All this happens in spite of the problems the new believer is facing. And often when Paul offers a solution to a problem, it doesn't seem to have any direct connection to the problem at all. Instead, the solution amounts to an entirely new way of perceiving life — an extraordinary shift of paradigms.
As both a pastor and a professional counselor, I have discovered a struggle between knowing that the power of God can change lives quickly and recognizing the need for Christians to seek counseling. This dichotomy also exists throughout this book. It is intentional and, I believe, unavoidable. It represents the internal contradictions that exist side by side in my own philosophy of ministry. On the one hand, as a pastor, I have come to depend on and assume the creative activity of the Spirit of God. Thus, my understanding of counseling also assumes this creative activity. New life in Christ is to be prompted and encouraged. Pastoral counseling desires to strategically move the counselee forward into his new life.
And yet, as a professional counselor, I am also a part of the world of mental health, a system that maintains its own hierarchy and tenets of faith, and that initially focused on the small percentage of the population afflicted with physical dysfunctions of the brain. However, many well-intentioned practitioners have overgeneralized, applying this same concept of mental disease to the mass of people who struggle with emotional problems. The church would be wise to avoid this overgeneralization. At the top of the hierarchy are the psychiatrists — medical doctors who are highly skilled psychopharmacologists. Their priority is the utilization of psychotropic or mind-altering medications. Next are the clinical psychologists who, having their doctorates in psychology, are experts in this field. Then come the therapists, who are licensed and highly trained academically — at least at a graduate level, and often at a doctoral level as well. All of these professionals may represent dozens of therapeutic approaches. Some are eclectic, and others may focus more on social ser vices. Finally, underlying this hierarchy is the pharmaceutical industry, which has millions of dollars invested in the world of mental health.
Here is where the division lies in my own philosophy of ministry today. The pastoral side is crying out, "Slow down!" Are we, like Esau, selling our inheritance for a bowl of stew? Why do I ask this? Because pastors are not represented anywhere in the hierarchy of the world of mental health. We are often relegated to a subordinate position beneath therapists, useful as referral agents. Religion is often dismissed to the domain of personal faith alone. The hierarchy in the mental health system has the stamp of scientific approval on it, so the pastor should not venture into an arena where he is not qualified to minister. Yet the therapist side of me has seen individuals so overwhelmed by mental confusion that most pastors would be out of their depth in knowing what to do — especially when, in dealing with such persons, they try to make use of the small amount of psychological training they may have had.
Can the church maintain a friendly working relationship with the world of mental health and yet reject any implied notion of subordination? If not, we risk placing the power and grace of God into a subordinate role as well. Can we assume the leadership role of counseling in the local church? If not, there is another "world" ready to take leadership in this field. If we are to refer a counselee into that world, then let us refer him to Christians who are aware of the capabilities of the Spirit of God within the counselee and the recognized limitations of psychological theory. Christian counselors who choose to function professionally in the world of mental health also believe in new life through Christ. Many of my colleagues consider their calling in the mental health community a ministry, and they have dedicated their time and efforts to it.
It seems to me, however, that pastors often see themselves as capable only of assisting a person with salvation and engaging him in training and discipleship. After all, serious problems must be entrusted to an expert. How have we become convinced of this?
Many pastors have had a few courses in psychology and sociology, and these have opened to them a whole new perspective on human development. But in each course, the message has come through loud and clear: this is a discipline that you must become expert in if you expect to utilize it successfully. In a sense this is true — if you simply meddle in psychology, you can do more harm than good. Most ministers realize that they are far from expert in this field. Usually the few courses we take on counseling are very practical in nature, for example, how to counsel parishioners with minor problems and when to refer them to expert counseling. Indeed, we are told that the best thing we can do for a counselee is to know how to refer and to whom.
Of course, it is true that a pastor is an inadequate counselor if he must be an expert in the world of mental health to be effective. But must a pastoral counselor be an expert in the field of psychology? The apostle Paul wrote that God is already at work in the counselee (2 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:13). He is a letter from Christ, written with the Spirit of the living God, not on a tablet of stone but on a tablet of a human heart (2 Cor. 3:3). Perhaps the counselor's task is to look for this writing from the Spirit of God that is within the counselee's life, rather than concentrating on present or past problems. This is what ministers are expert at doing.
Paul wrote to another church saying, "I have become [a] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.... We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ" (Col. 1:25, 28). This perfection is not only positional, but actual. The word "perfect" here refers to being complete in all that pertains to personal growth, mental health, and moral character. It is the life of God in the counselee, placed there by the Word and the Spirit, that is making the Christian "perfect."
When a minister reads a book on counseling, he often feels like a fish out of water. How is he going to find the time to use these theories properly? Many feel the frustration of having little to build on because their foundation for teaching and training is through faith, Scripture, and the church. A pastor's strength is the Word of God and an understanding of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, not psychological theory.
I have wondered if pastors, through the educational process, have come to believe that their pastoral training is inferior to psychological training. Again, ministers are not considered real players within the hierarchy of the mental health community. Many have experienced a tragic loss of confidence in their authority and ability to counsel. This loss of confidence has often been reinforced by psychiatric centers whose marketing strategy is to convince ministers and other Christian leaders to send their parishioners to them for professional psychological help.
However, through personal experience and through relationships with other professional counselors, I have discovered that psychological methods and therapeutic approaches are not always very effective. Often they are not much more than guesswork and sometimes actually reinforce the client's problems. The primary diagnostic tool of the professional counseling community, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV; American Psychiatric Association) is used for the diagnosis of mental disorders. But more than that, it gives structure to an entire way of perceiving reality. It is offered as a guideline for understanding a counselee.
As a Christian, it was my encounter with Jesus, my belief that he was speaking the truth and was totally worthy of my trust, that transformed my life. It was this same truth that altered my perception of reality. And it was this altered perception that gave me the ability to see through difficult problems and take hold of solutions that God's Spirit revealed as actualities already accomplished. I find it ironic that a secular counseling theory (Brief Counseling) and a model (Solution-Focused Counseling) have swept through the world of mental health — with many professional therapists now spurning psychological beliefs that counselors in the Christian community are still embracing.
These therapists are returning to a commonsense approach to counseling that is suspicious of all diagnostic labels or mental disorder classifications. Their intent now is to focus on the positive strengths of their clients rather than on their weaknesses and problems.
Agreement with God's Intention
The prophet Amos wrote, "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (Amos 3:3). The counselor and the counselee must be in agreement with God's intention if the counselee is to make any progress. In going to a professional counselor, a parishioner is often removed from many of his primary sources of strength: a caring and loving church counselor; a healthy and supportive community of fellow believers; and, most important, the transforming power of the Word of God. Some counselors believe that it is helpful to remove the parishioner from the church setting. I disagree with this in light of the scriptural insistence that the believer is to grow within the community of the local church, where there is accountability to others and for others, along with acceptance. Paul implied as much when he wrote, "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Eph. 4:15).
Excerpted from Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling by Charles Allen Kollar Copyright © 2011 by Charles Allen Kollar. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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