People correctly assume that finding the truth will solve a problem.
Take the therapeutic or counselling process for instance. A person/client comes to find out what’s causing the problem in his or her life. The counsellor or therapist then seeks to ferret out truth amidst all the layers of symptoms and events that have occurred in his or her lifetime.
Sorting out the details of life leading to the truth of the problem often takes much work. The truth – the root cause(s) of the problem – often does not want to reveal itself without a struggle. Another potent ingredient must precede truth before it can be released to the light.
That potent ingredient is Grace. Before truth is ultimately revealed, grace must precede it. The Bible shows this order clearly in John 1: 14 & 17 where Father God is described as “full of grace and truth” and also of Jesus who brought “grace and truth”.
Why this sequence? Because if there is no grace, truth is hard to accept and digest. Raw truth by itself can be often bitter and painful. But grace prepares the way for truth to be more easily accepted especially in an area of life where there is much pain and shame.
So what is Grace? Most people define it as the unmerited favour of God on us. But there is another powerful dual definition of grace that we are not aware of – “divine empowerment”. So grace not only puts us in a favoured position of mercy and non condemnation; it actually empowers us to do the right thing.
How does this work out in Counselling?
In any session, the counsellor or therapist imparts three aspects of grace necessary for counselling to be successful.
One, there is unconditional positive regard for the client. This means the client is to be held in greatest respect with no condemnation or judgment. The actions and attitudes may be wrong and sinful but the person is seen separate from them. In other words, we judge the sin, not the sinner. The person in therapy is made in the image of God and has to be treated with utter respect, regardless of wrongdoing, ignorance and foolishness. This display of grace frees the person to share and disclose the problem without fear, embarrassment or shame. The counsellor internalizes Romans 3: 23 and knows this truth deep within himself. Thus he sees his client and himself as fellow sinners at the foot of the Cross.
Two, there is empathy for the client. As much as the problem may be ‘terrible’, the counsellor shows an understanding of the brokenness and fallen nature of humanity, again based on Romans 3:23. While the counsellor may not have experienced the same problem or pain as the client, he nevertheless can empathise with the common brokenness and sinful nature of us all. Without this empathy, only sympathy is expressed – and sympathy does not effectively help the client nor the counselling process.
Three, there is congruence of the counsellor. It means he must be genuine. He is ‘real’ and does not put on a mask of condescension or take the position of a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. He connects with the client and is willing to be himself, to be comfortable with his reactions and responses to the client, within the safe confines of the counselling room. There is a real connection of trust built between the counsellor and client.
In these three aspects, we see grace being demonstrated in a counselling session. Then – and only then – can truth come forth more easily as both counsellor and client explore what has truly caused the presenting problem. For then, there is a safe environment to process it to its root cause(s).
The client then can more readily accept the truth and take responsibility for the problem. Grace has paved the way for recovery and healing. Unmerited favour shown to the client gives empowerment, leading to recovery and healing. ”And you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:23)
We see this in Jesus’ dealing with the woman caught in adultery. “…Has no one condemned you? …Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11) Christ showed her grace before He spoke truth to her.
We see therefore the wisdom of God in the word sequence of John 1:14 & 17. Grace comes first before truth. This is how this grace is shown in the three aspects of an effective counselling session. It is grace that truly empowers, leading ultimately to recovery and healing.
Carl Rogers, the founder of Person Centred therapy (Rogerian), was brought in a Christian home in the American Mid-West. He brought a new outlook that quietly but powerfully revolutionalised the field of therapeutic counselling. The biblical concept of grace in his approach is now used by most if not all counsellors and psychotherapists.