Goal #1: To Warmly Welcome My Counselee
I want him (or her) to know from the outset that I care about him, and I want him to experience that care throughout the entire session. This means saying welcoming words and showing welcoming actions. It begins with how I greet the person: a firm handshake, eye contact, good manners, guiding to a chair, etc.
The gospel, of course, drives me. As one who has been accepted by Jesus, I want to extend to this person that same accepting grace (Rom. 15:7). First impressions matter. In session one I want to display the relational graces found in passages like 1 Corinthians 13:4–7; Galatians 5:22–23; and Colossians 3:12–15. Providing a welcoming atmosphere increases the likelihood of the Spirit working in and through our counseling relationship.
Goal #2: To Know My Counselee
I want to understand not only his presenting problem(s) but also his life story and his relationship to the Lord. While I cannot know him thoroughly in the first session, I want to gain enough significant information about him to be able to give him appropriate initial direction.
I seek to do this by listening to him actively and attentively. I incline my body and my ears forward, and paying attention to each word. Also I listen caringly and compassionately (like our Lord Jesus in Matthew 9:36), recognizing my counselee faces a difficult problem and wants my help.
Along with godly listening, I ask wise, open-ended questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how?) to allow him maximum opportunity to share important information. I also realize that it is not enough to merely understand him. It’s important I convey to him and confirm with him that I understand him so that he feels understood by me. I want my counselee to leave the session believing he has been listened to well by his new counselor.
Goal #3: To Give My Counselee Christ-Centered Hope
Most people who seek counseling lack hope. Their self-efforts and previous counseling efforts have failed. Instead, I want my counselee to confidently embrace Jesus Christ . And I also want him to believe that through His Word, His Spirit, and His church (including me), Jesus can help him.
I give hope by giving him Scripture. I typically don’t yet know in session one what overall, specific, biblical truths the person will need. But that does not mean I cannot bring him something from God’s Word that highlights in general terms the Lord’s promise of love, wisdom, and power to help him. Passages like Matthew 11:28, John 1:14, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Peter 1:3, Hebrews 4:16, and various psalms can powerfully inject invaluable initial hope.
I also give hope by assuring him of my commitment to help him grasp and apply God’s Word and to walk with him through the entire counseling process. He is not alone. Moreover, I assure him of my own hope in the Lord’s desire to help him. While he may lack sufficient hope, in Christ I have more than enough hope for both of us!
Goal #4: To Propose a Counseling Plan for My Counselee
I want the person to be confident that I have a plan and that I can wisely lead him out of his present confusion into to a Christ-centered perspective.
Near the end of the first session, based on my knowledge of the person and his problem, I want to discuss some directions we can take. I do so with his input since I need his buy-in for us to work together. In some cases, there are several different problems and different directions the counseling could go. I can usually flex and defer to his preferences, since I know that all roads lead ultimately to the heart and to Jesus our Savior.
My plan will be initial and tentative, subject to (and welcoming) fine-tuning improvements as the sessions progress. The agenda will include homework growth assignments. I will give him, send to him, or recommend to him helpful print or electronic resources. If time permits, I begin to focus on the problems and plant some biblical seeds in preparation for session two.
Goal #5: To Encourage My Counselee to Commit to Counseling
I want to invite the person to commit to the counseling process—to work on the growth assignments and meet with me regularly. Of course, I am already committed to counseling him—I don’t start a case that I do not believe I can complete. I give him the option of scheduling our next session now or getting back to me after. Either way, I encourage him to make use of any resources I might give and complete any homework I might assign. And I pray for him as I close the first session.
Question for Reflection
I repeatedly find that when I meet these five goals—welcome, know, hope, plan, commit—in session one, the counseling begins on a solid foundation. In your experience as a counselor (or counselee), which of these five goals is the most important for a successful session one?
Robert D. Jones (D.Theol., D.Min.) serves as an associate professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Seminary, a council board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, a fellow in the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and an author of over twenty published books, minibooks, chapters, and articles on biblical counseling and pastoral care. He and his wife, Lauren, have been married more than 34 years and live in Louisville, KY.