BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the second of a several-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on Updates on the Biblical Counseling Movement. We’ve asked several leaders of major biblical counseling organizations to share with you—our readers—what is happening in their ministries. In our first post in this series, Dr. Bob Kellemen, the BCC’s Executive Director, shared The State of the Biblical Counseling Coalition which you can read here. Today, Dr. Jim Newheiser of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (IBCD) shares about their unique training focus.
Competent to Counsel
The biblical counseling movement in its origins was founded upon Romans 15:14 which declares that every believer is “competent to counsel.” Much of the training which has developed has, however, been out of the reach of ordinary Christians. Christian colleges have offered excellent Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree programs in Biblical Counseling offering students who have the gifts, the time, and the financial resources the opportunity to study under some of the leading thinkers in our field.
ACBC (The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, formerly NANC) has offered levels of certification in Biblical Counseling which are less demanding than the college programs, but are still quite rigorous. IBCD, located near San Diego California, has had the privilege of being an ACBC training center for over thirty years. We have rejoiced to see many people ACBC-certified through our instruction and oversight.
We, however, like many other ACBC training centers, have also observed that only a small percentage of those who begin the process of certification by taking a training course actually complete ACBC certification. We do not think that this is a bad thing. We are glad that the standards for ACBC certification are high. We regard this standard to be important and our practice is to use ACBC-certified counselors in our center.
What we think has been lacking is a level of certification for those who want to engage in biblical care and discipleship in the local church, but aren’t ready (yet?) for ACBC certification. Thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) have been through excellent training from various centers, are committed to biblical counseling, and are using what they learned in their personal ministry in their local churches, yet these have no certification to show for their training.
Over the past two years, we have been offering three levels of certificates in “Care and Discipleship.” The teaching portion is identical to that required by ACBC, but it is broken down into two levels/tracks with the third level fulfilling the counseling observation requirements. Each level requires the student to do some reading, take a short test (which is similar to the ACBC exam, but much shorter), and to meet with a church leader to discuss what has been learned and how it can be applied in the local church.
These certificates help students by acknowledging their progress and encouraging them to be involved in one another care as they continue to grow in these skills. The certifications also help church leaders assess who is interested in more intentional counseling ministry and they provide a clear roadmap to help them receive this training. Our hope is that these will also serve as stepping stones for many to achieve ACBC certification.
We offer levels 1 and 2 through live instruction in June, through DVDs and through audios which can be downloaded for free on our website. We also have workbooks available for each level, along with a leaders’ guide for use in groups. Those wishing to pursue certification have to pay a fee to cover the cost of grading the exam, processing the application, and issuing the certificate.
Learning by Observing Biblical Counseling: Live and By DVD
Many people have read books and/or attended conferences about biblical counseling, but few have actually seen actual biblical counseling take place. ACBC wisely requires that those seeking certification observe ten hours of counseling by an ACBC-certified counselor either live or via DVD before going on to the final stage of doing counseling under observation of an experienced mentor (Fellow). An analogy would be that a person studying medicine first learns about the practice of medicine, then he/she observes doctors in action, then he/she takes care of patients with an experienced physician watching.[i]
There are few places where a student of counseling can sit in on live cases. The main reason that IBCD counsels people in our community is so that our students can have the experience of seeing biblical counseling in action. Some have traveled from afar to participate in our observation classes.
IBCD has also recently released a series of professionally filmed and edited DVDs with four counseling cases of three session each, along with an accompanying student’s handbook. We hope that our DVDs will provide a model of compassionate counseling which is centered on the gospel while not neglecting the biblical imperatives.
A student who watches these DVDs will not see perfect counseling. Nor should she/he expect to be blown away by the incredible knowledge of the counselors. These sessions were unscripted, using “counselees” who were playing a role, but were sometimes candidly exposing their own past and present heart struggles. The counselors, too, were responding to the situation at hand and are shown mistakes and all. Our hope is that these DVDs will not only provide an example of what biblical counseling looks like, but also will encourage many that they too can help their brothers and sisters using God’s powerful and all-sufficient Word.
We are grateful to God for all of the excellent training and resources many in our movement are producing. Our hope for the future is that in addition to the training of hundreds and even thousands of church leaders, that many more believers will be equipped for biblical care and discipleship within their local churches.
[i] We don’t want to minimize the fact that it takes far more training to become a doctor than to be ACBC certified!.