On Wednesdays, I like to return to the 1960s. I fill my leather briefcase with client files, pack up my lunch, hop in my car, and make house calls. Yes, I biblically counsel people in their homes. Instead of making them come to me, I go to them.
In the days when biblical counseling seems to be isolated to office suites, church buildings, or even loud coffee shops, I have found many advantages to the old-fashion home visit approach. It’s obviously not for everybody. It clearly comes with drawbacks. For some clients, it’s downright weird. But for many others, it’s a breath of fresh air and a gift from God. And so I do it.
The Advantages of Home Visits
I’ll start with the pros. Why do biblical counseling house calls work for some counselees?
- It’s convenient for the client. Clients lose no time in traffic. They don’t need to primp. They don’t need to even change out of their sweat pants. The doctor (er…counselor) comes to them.
- It’s comfortable. For many counselees, the home is a safe and familiar space in which they feel…well…at home. They can take their off their shoes (and occasionally their socks), pour a cup of tea, and plop down on the couch for a session. For some, the greatest comfort comes in knowing that nobody in the church will see them…GASP!…in counseling.
- An opportunity to serve. Clients will often clean their homes for me. They’ll serve me coffee, water, and extra pillows at the start of a session. I’ve even been sent home with a Tupperware container filled with freshly baked pastries. Not coincidentally, this opportunity to serve me serves them—not an uncommon theme in the Kingdom of God.
- I get to see their world. In biblical counseling, context is key. What is their home environment like? In what setting are the majority of their arguments taking place? Are there toxic elements to their living situation? Sometimes, a counselor can only know the reality of the “heat” by experiencing it firsthand.
- They get to see that I care. The sacrifice of driving out to a person’s home is one more opportunity to model the sacrificial and incarnational love of Christ to a hurting individual or family. Simple as that.
- Kids dig it. Let’s face it, most of our counseling offices are not kid-friendly. They’re cold, tiny, and filled with leather-bound books. A child counselee would much rather talk in his or her basement where they are surrounded by Legos, dolls, and stuffed animals.
The Disadvantages of Home Visits
Of course, there are potential drawbacks to the house call approach. Here are just a few:
- The local church disconnect. As a biblical counselor, my passion is to bring Christ to counseling and counseling to the local church. Obviously, a client’s family room is not his or her local church. In fact, home visits can exacerbate feelings of isolation from the rest of the church body if the client is not pushed to supplement counseling with small groups, service opportunities, Sunday worship, and other opportunities to grow in community.
- An opportunity for distraction. Some counselees simply need to get out of their homes for counseling. Their living rooms remind them of the chores they need to accomplish and the tasks they need to complete around the house. Put another way, the familiarity of the home prevents them from focusing. They need a new setting in which to shape a new path in life.
- The cost-inefficient commute. Not only do home visits force a counselor to spend money on gas and tolls, but the counselor also loses time in the car that could be spent seeing other clients. Back-to-back appointments are impossible because no two clients live in the same house unless they are in the same family. It’s simply easier and more cost efficient to sit in the office and have clients come to you.
- Ethical risk. The isolating nature of a home visit creates an opportunity for ethical and moral failures that simply couldn’t take place in a monitored office setting. If you do home visits, I encourage you to establish some means of accountability—just in case.
How to Do It Well
Here are just a few techniques that I’ve used to make house calls more successful:
- Strategically schedule. Lump your visits together based on day/time/location. Assume that you won’t get out of the client’s home on time—they will want to show you their wedding album.
- Use the home to build rapport. Ask your clients about their family photos, household decorations, gardening techniques, architectural idiosyncrasies, and whatever else is important to them in their home. Trust me, they will like it. And your relationship will strengthen.
- Minimize child distractions. As odd as this might sound, sometimes it is wise for a client to hire a baby sitter during a home visit. Although God is obviously capable of overcoming any obstacle in transforming a person’s heart, the eardrum-piercing cry of a child might be His greatest challenge.
- Don’t let your method be casual. Don’t let the casual environment of a client’s living room take away from the seriousness of the counseling that is taking place. As counselors, we are dealing with the fine china of hurting peoples’ lives, no matter where the session is taking place.
- Redeem your commute. Use your travel time to listen to sermons, study audio lectures, sing worship songs, pray, and prepare your heart and mind for the upcoming session(s).
When all is said and done, home visits are obviously not for everybody. For some counseling scenarios, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and the approach is remarkably successful. In other cases, house calls simply don’t work. Be strategic if you are considering this method. I wouldn’t build an entire practice on it. But one day each week—Wednesdays to be precise—it works for me. Are you willing to try it?
Join the Conversation
What do you see as the pros and cons of making biblical counseling house calls?