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Friday, May 5, 2017

"Lay Counseling, Revised and Updated) (Siang-Yang Tan and Eric Scalise)

TITLE: Lay Counseling, Revised and Updated: Equipping Christians for a Helping Ministry
AUTHOR: Siang-Yang Tan and Eric Scalise
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (320 pages).

Many like to help but few are adequately trained to help, especially in the area of lay counseling. Most people prefer to leave it to the experts, the professionals, or the trained. Unfortunately, there are many situations in which it is difficult or impossible to get any of the above. It could be due to personal inhibitions or logistical barriers to get the expert. It could also be financial inability or time factors. Some might be willing but lack the training. Others might be trained but lack the opportunity to practice. Many counseling matters do not necessarily require professional help. Just a basic understanding of counseling and initial diagnosis can help channel needy people to the appropriate authorities. In the context of a Christian community, this book sees these cases as a great opportunity to equip the laity. Already a classic since it was published back in 1991, this book is now revised and updated for a new generation.

Like a primer for lay counseling,  the authors begin at the call for all; that being called to be an encourager also implies some levels of counseling and caregiving. Counseling is a big part of pastoral care. However, just the words 'pastoral care' may put off people who are non-clergy. We mught want to simply say 'helping ministry' which is essentially where both Tan and Scalise come from. Experienced counselors and certified psychologists, the authors have a deep desire to move people from superficial levels of help to a deeper more meaningful level. This does not require individuals to have graduate degrees in mental health or some special clergy training. Instead, it gives an introductory appreciation about the basics of counseling and provides tools for the layperson to use. Some of the features in this book include:

  • Understanding what is Lay Counseling
  • How to select individuals for equipping in this ministry?
  • What are the training methods and tools?
  • How to evaluate Christian counselors?
  • What are the ethical matters to be aware of?
  • What about the legal and multicultural principles to know?
  • What are the counseling resources available?

According to famous psychologist, Dr Gary Collins, counseling is simply "a caring relationship in which one person tries to help another deal more effectively with the stresses of life." Largely due to shortage of professionals and trained medical staff, there need to be a way to address the growing demand-supply gap. This book attempts to fill in part of this need by providing a primer on lay counseling. It is hoped that this book will be an effective contribution to the healing ministry in a world that is hurt and in need of care and hope. This is well illustrated with a shocking list of problems in our world from alcoholism to drug addiction; divorces to suicides; domestic violence to depression; crimes, abuses, and many social ills. People of all ages are affected. As Christians themselves, the authors are convinced and are convicted that true Christianity is about bringing the healing power of the gospel to the masses. The biblical model is based on the foundation of Christ in Matthew 7:24-27. All are called to minister and to care. The difference lies in the ways. There is a chapter that talks about the way psychology and Christian theology can both help humans. This is in spite of the anti-biblical origins of psychology. By blending together insights from Christians like Gary Collins, Larry Crabb, Jay Adams, William Backus, Everett Worthington, plus a host of other secular approaches, the authors reject approaches inconsistent with the biblical view. The blended model revolves around three core principles: Understanding Basic Humanity; Learning Basic Counseling; and Applying Principles for Effective Counseling. There is an extensive treatment of literature survey that also compares and contrasts the pros and cons of various approaches.

In each chapter, the basic presuppositions are first proposed. The needs are described, often with illustrations, followed by a theoretical overview. There is a conscious effort to infuse faith and spirituality tightly into the book. Perhaps, this is because the book is primarily addressed to a Christian audience. Having said that, it is also because of the authors' firm conviction and belief and only God can heal, and we as His people are to steward the gifts and talents we have to contribute to the healing of the world. God is the healer and we are called to be faithful agents. Knowing that medical science are limited, they believe that faith makes a huge difference. They even cite reputed journals and scholarship pertaining to the benefits of faith when used in conjunction with modern medical advancements. There are also areas in which the arm of pharmaceuticals and medical reach are short: depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide, just to name a few.

I am amazed at how the authors are able to pack so much information into one book. There are models to learn; scientific observations and practical implications to know about; as well as the consistent connection between science and faith. Three things impress me about this book. First, it is the extensive knowledge and experience the authors have. Not only are they professors and teachers in an academic environment, they consistently apply what they learn in the world outside the ivory tower of learning. They are well-read and extremely clear in their understanding of the basic need of people. This takes years of working and knowing people, which is exactly what the authors had. The list of citations are incredibly extensive. Both are certified clinical psychologists and have ministered to people across all ages and professions. Second, the authors are unashamed to declare their Christian faith. In our world, secularism seems to the the de-facto expectation of many schools, workplaces, and public spheres. It is also hostile to anything pertaining to Christianity. The bottom line is the conviction that only God is the True Healer. No matter how much we know or how skillful we are, we are but mere mortals dependent on God. Sure, there are things that we may not have answers to. Just like the Old Testament character Job. Man may try to be clever about justification and fairness in the world. Yet, our mental capacities are more limited than we think. Maintaining a humble disposition is key to effective pastoral care. Third, this book has a really good description of tools and training materials for the lay persons. Written primarily to churches and Christian communities, the authors prepare bridges to connect theory to practice in a very clear way. They give many different models of lay counseling knowing that the more models presented, the wider the net cast. If the models appear too technical, the examples provide how these models are used. There is no running away from theory. They even provide extensive training plans and curriculum! At some point, the many different models and programs listed can be rather intimidating. Should trainers go for more than one of the professional certifications such as the Myers-Briggs; the standardized tests; the clinical programs; etc? Perhaps, simply providing the resources to use does not mean we go for all of them. We start by knowing that such programs exist. If we feel called to go beyond our basic level of understanding, at least we know where to move further. After all, this book is a primer, not an advanced manual.

All in all, I think this is a much needed resource that we need more of. While counseling may not be for everybody, everybody need counseling at one point or another. With this book, we start to appreciate counseling a little more and avoid delegating all kinds of counseling to the experts. After all, even Moses himself was counseled to delegate many duties to others. I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the helping ministry. One does not need to go through the entire book in order to be effective. This book is so packed with good stuff that any one chapter could launch us to engage more with understanding the need for counseling, the fallen nature of humanity, and the living hope in Jesus through faith and spirituality.

Dr Siang-Yang Tan is an ordained senior pastor of First Evangelical Church in Glendale, California. He has written extensively on both scientific-medical journals as well as books on theology and pastoral care. He is also Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. This book's first edition is largely credited for his popularity.

Dr Eric Scalise has been actively involved in lay counseling for the past thirty years. He has also developed many training programs for equipping lay counselors.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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