The Role of Counselling & Support Groups
Part of Exodus’ message is that God has a plan for change. There is great variety in the change process of God; He does not lead everyone through a standardized formula for change. This article discusses the place that counselling and support groups have in God’s plan for change.
Let’s begin by considering some things about growth and recovery that apply to everyone. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, not one person has grown straight and true according to God’s design. We all experience three things:
How do we grow straight and recover from these? Most Christians agree that people need God in order to grow straight and recover. But it can get complicated and messed up when Christians confuse what is God’s part and what is our part.
God’s part includes all the redemptive areas. Salvation, sanctification, deliverance, healing and spiritual adoption are all "God territory.” God is the only one who can save us, sanctify us, deliver us from evil and spiritually adopt us into His family.
But the work of maturity is another matter. While God is instrumental in guiding and blessing our growth into maturity, it is our job, bestowed on us a long time ago in the Garden of Eden, to mature. Maturity is not a spiritual gift nor is it a by-product of salvation. It is something we have to work at. Immaturity is addressed as a problem in 1 Cor 3:1-3 and Heb 5:11-14. Eph 4:11-15 says that says we are to grow up in every way into Him… to become mature. Our work will not save us but it will express that we are new creations. It is our work to grow and reach maturity together with all the saints.
Another thing that we often misunderstand is that people need people to recover. Referring again to Eph 4:11-15, the gifts of Jesus are the people in His body that will bring us to maturity. God has designed growth and recovery to come through people. Wounded people heal in relationships. Growth, repair, maturity and faith development are all intimately tied to relationships. People need people to achieve wholeness in a fractured world. You’ve heard the phrase ‘Hurt people, hurt people.’ It is also true that ‘Healed people, heal people.’
Lastly, wholeness is not achieved quickly. God is not the Great Magician but the Great Physician. People usually seek the quickest was out of pain – this is understandable. Pain, after all, demands immediate attention. But when we ask God to bring healing into our wounds, we find God uses a slower process. God does his work in us, even while we are in pain. But it is not simply His work; it is our work too.
For more about growth and recovery, we recommend Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You, by James Friesen et al, published by Shepherd’s House.
Now, lets turn to the role of counsellors. There is a role for counsellors because of the damage caused to all people by the fall of Adam and Eve, and the consequent sin and brokenness of all people and all societies. God goes so far as to call the Holy Spirit our Counsellor; and every Christian needs the Holy Spirit in their lives . Generally, the godly counsellor, participates with God in helping others put their lives right again – the day-to-day expression of our salvation. They help us face and embrace the pain in our lives so that we can grow: learning lessons, gaining strength, becoming mature.
Counsellors help wounded people identify the missing things in their lives that brought damage to them by their absence. Counsellors help with the traumatising effects of these missing things. And they guide people in developing the loving relationships with other people – loving relationships that provide the presence of those things so that healing can take place.
Counsellors also help wounded people deal with the bad things that have happened to them such as the physical or sexual abuse that has happened to some of those who experience same-sex attractions. The counsellor helps safely uncover the bad events of the past, the person’s reactions to them and feelings about them, and helps the struggler seek God’s healing for these wounds.
Earlier we said that God has designed growth and recovery to happen through relationships with people. People need people to recover. Wounded people heal in relationships. Maturity, recovery and belonging work together. They cannot be understood or work as God intended apart from one another.
A support group provides a place where men and women who want to leave homosexuality can:
Given that God’s plan for change involves counsellors and support group to help us recover, mature and belong, most Exodus member ministries provide counselling and support groups to people who come to them for help. Many of the people in Exodus and its member ministries have themselves received the help of counsellors and support groups. And so personal experience reinforces the truth of Scripture about the place for these kinds of help.
Two more thoughts before closing… First, Counselling and support groups are not the only forms of help that people need. They also need the encouragement and friendship of family and friends. They need to fellowship and discipleship of a church. Other Exodus articles have dealt with the role of Christians and churches in helping and encouraging people seeking freedom from homosexuality and change in their sexual attractions.
Second, change is not a formula. Sometimes it is necessary to promote stronger relationships in a family and community before trauma recovery can proceed. Other times trauma recovery needs to take place before strong relationships can be established. Sometimes there is a need to be more maturity before trauma recovery can be effective. Other times, trauma resolution needs to be achieved before growth into maturity can be unstuck. God leads the process of change. Change works when you follow.
In closing, we want to encourage you to move forward in the work of becoming mature. This includes dealing with the traumas that have left you wounded, the sins that adds things to our lives that should not be there and takes away things that should be there, and your misdirected growth. Make use of the help that a good counsellor can provide. Become part of a support group. Receive encouragement from godly friends and follow God as He leads you to become the person He designed you to be. Press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you. Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Resources (a partial list)
Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You, by James Friesen
Homosexuality, a New Christian Ethic by Elizabeth Moberly
Desires in Conflict by Joe Dallas
Growth Into ManHood: Resuming the Journey by Alan Medinger
Lessons Learned video series 1 and 2 by Sy Rogers
Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud
How People Change by Paul Tripp & Timothy Lane
A number of ministries have developed plans for support groups. See the Resource section for information.