A first session in biblical counseling can be intimidating. Even the best Certified Biblical Counselors can experience some nervousness when meeting with a person for the first time. In some ways, we should; we are being allowed into a very intimate and hurting part of another person’s life. This should come with a dose of apprehension and humility. Yet, we can proceed with confidence in Christ and use God’s Word to guide us. If the counselor is wise, slow to speak, and does not give an answer before she or he hears, we can have a vibrant counseling ministry. Here are some key elements I include in my first session, no matter the age or presenting issue.
Opening the session.
In opening an initial counseling session, regardless of the presenting issue, I strive to (1) explain who I am and how I plan to serve the counselee; (2) explain what biblical counseling means and the hopeful outcome for them; and (3) the expectation of them in the process.
By setting the expectations of the biblical counseling they will experience, I can avoid legal pitfalls that could cause the counselee to confuse the counseling with Colorado State certified counseling (Ref. “MacArthur and Mcneely case, California”). I also want to be honest with my counselee about what I am and am not going to do as a counselor (Eph. 4:25). I will promise them that I will listen to them, and I will also promise to do my very best to communicate what God’s Word says about whatever they tell me. If I fail to do either, I invite them to ask me, correct me, or gain clarity.
Build a relationship.
As I clarify my expectations for them, I will ask them to be honest (Pr. 18:13), teachable (Pr. 1-9), timely, and fulfill their homework between sessions. I want them to see their involvement as essential for their own growth. By building a loving relationship in their life (Prov. 27.9), I can develop a meaningful relationship with them in order to minister God’s Word in their life (1 Thes. 2:7-9). Without a meaningful relationship with the counselee, I may not have the opportunity to journey with them for very long. In this opening session, and throughout the following sessions, I will strive to build biblical hope in their life. I want to give them the assurance that God is working for good in our lives for His glory and our growth (Ps. 42-43).
Gather relevant data.
In the first session, I will work hard to ask appropriate questions and carefully listen to the counselee to understand what has occurred in their life. I will ask them to share their testimony related to their faith in Jesus Christ. I will request information about key events in their life. I will strive to determine their receptivity to the Word of God. I will make good use of the data gathering sheet that they will complete before the session. I am keenly aware that I cannot give good counsel if I do not assess the facts of the counselee’s situation. I must gain understanding before imparting wisdom (Prov. 18:13, 17). This will help me steward the opportunity to counsel.
Evaluate the presenting problem biblically.
People coming to counseling are looking for hope. If I am able to identify their problem(s) biblically and impart wisdom through a loving relationship, they will be more likely to engage in the process and return to future counseling. After or during our conversation, and with the information from the data gathering sheet, I will organize what they have told me into biblical categories. While listening to their story and events, I will determine behaviors, thoughts, and desires related to their distinct issues. By separating the problem(s) into proper categories, I will have the opportunity to show the robustness of God’s Word and explain how God speaks to each aspect of their life (Jas. 4:1-4). This is how I am able to establish goals for future sessions.
Provide biblical instruction and insight.
The goal of my counseling will be to instill an understanding of God’s Word in the counselee’s mind (Rom. 12:1-2) and heart so that they can be stimulated to faith and live in obedience to God in all areas of their life (Ps. 19:7-11). In order for me to give them wisdom on how to live in a manner pleasing to Lord, I must build on the categories that are previously determined in data-gathering and then present the solutions to them through a biblical paradigm. If my solutions are not coming from the Bible, and I am not including the Bible in my counseling, then I am not providing true biblical counseling.
Assign relevant homework.
I will give assignments at the end of each counseling session that will help apply what we have discussed in the session. It will be work that will encourage the counselee to put to action the Word of God in their daily life. I believe that the moments of life must be lived out with God in order for there to be lasting change. A simple 60-minute session is not enough to change a person. God must be a part of their daily life; the work done between sessions will drive towards this end of a closer and continual walk with Jesus Christ (Jas. 1:22-23).
Schedule the next session.
Assuming that this session was fruitful and all elements of counseling standards were maintained, I will ask the counselee to schedule another session. This provides a future date for accountability and imparts hope as they can rest assured we will speak again.
 Adams, Jay, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2010, 228-229.