Structure of Life Counseling
A Christian Worldview
Constructed by Alysa VanderWeerd
The Structure of Life approach to counseling is based on 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 MSG "We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity."
Jesus Christ is Truth- John 14:6. Jesus Christ is God- John 10:30, Who is Love- 1 John 4:8. The structure of life is shaped by Truth and Love.
It is characterized by employing two-frameworks:
- The strategy of taking every thought, emotion, and impulse captive to the obedience of Christ.
- The goal of building lives of obedience into maturity by correct communication, changes of habits and/or lifestyles, and continuous movement forward.
Our thoughts affect our emotions, which in turn affect our actions. It begins in the mind. The Bible tells us that Satan is the Father of Lies- John 8:44; Scripture has shown Satan to feed a lie to get the action or reaction he wanted- Genesis 3:4-5. When a person is believing a lie, they are blind to reality, viewing everything through that lens. This leads to different emotions such as: anxiety, depression, anger, sadness. These emotions then incur impulse actions, wrong actions often later regretted, and actions of permanence.
The Validity of the Bible
There are 66 books in the Bible, written over a span of approximately 1600 years by over 40 authors and there is not one contradiction. There are 2,500 prophecies in the Bible foretelling what is to come. 2,000 of those prophecies have already been fulfilled; there is no reason why the remaining 500 won't be. The Bible is our source of truth- Psalm 119:30. The Word of God is our Counselor- Psalm 119:24. The Holy Spirit is our Counselor- John 14:16-17. The Word of God is God breathed- 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."- Hebrews 4:12
People are hurting and thirsty. They are looking for something to fulfill their need. They are struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and addictions. Some will try anything to alleviate their pain so that they can function with their normal daily activities.
God corrects His people in Jeremiah 2:13 saying, "For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns--broken cisterns that can hold no water." People have forsaken God, the Source of their comfort; creating for themselves avenues that are not lasting. Our Source of comfort has provided a Structure of Life shaped by Christ; shaped by Truth and Love.
Jesus suffered and died on the cross, forgiving us of our sins and the sins of those who have hurt us, so that we could be set free- 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.
The Cause of Dysfunction
Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and addictions are often caused by dysfunctional thinking. Wrong thought patterns not checked. Some don't even recognize when they are thinking wrongly, as they have already moved in the direction of an emotional downturn with behaviors becoming erratic.
The nature of this therapy for this model concentrates on the client's thought patterns and how these thoughts are affecting their daily living. The beauty of this therapeutic structure is that it may be utilized as an internet-based form of therapy with little guidance from a specific counselor or counselors may use it one-on-one with their client. The therapeutic structure is adaptable for the client and their specific struggle.
This structure is geared towards Christians, with the Word of God as the source of authority. It is not promoting self-efficacy, but God dependency. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that Christians are able to control their dysfunctional thoughts. Everyone whether non-Christian or Christian struggle with wrong thought patterns- Romans 3:23. What one meditates on is ingrained in their head; if it is not true it leads a person down the wrong path. The counselor, then speaks truth in love, helping the client to see the nature of their unrealistic thinking.
This begins with correct communication. The client's dysfunctional thoughts began, possibly, due to incorrect communication or no communication at all. The counselor will communicate clearly to the client, questioning their thought patterns and directing them to the Word of God. Christians' thoughts need to be controlled by the Word of God- Psalm 119:11. The client focuses on first and foremost communicating with God, and then having correct communication with people. The counselor will point out areas where the incorrect form of communication lead to dysfunctional thought patterns.
The next step is changing habits and/or lifestyles. Incorporating daily reading of the Word of God and prayer; communicating with God is one habit change the counselor will encourage. The main source to help change a dysfunctional thought is by renewing your mind with Truth, as you study the Word of God- Romans 12:1-2. In discussion, the counselor and client will identify the patterns linked to the client's dysfunctional thoughts, identifying the habits and/or lifestyle that need to be changed.
The final step is continuous movement forward. Those struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and/or addictions often feel stuck; unable to move forward. The counselor comes alongside helping them identify the areas they feel stuck and with the various strategies and techniques tailored for the client, assist them in moving forward.
To help clients resume their normal activities of daily living by taking every thought, emotion, and impulse captive to the obedience of Christ. Romans 8:6 says, "If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace." Dysfunctional thoughts can destroy a person's day, or month, even years. They hold a person captive when Jesus Christ has already set them free.
An automatic thought is the first thought that enters a person's mind when they see or hear something. Their thought could be wrong or dysfunctional, based on something that is not true. A trigger thought is a reminder of something distressful; triggering an emotion.
Thoughts affect people's emotions from either anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, hostility, to happiness. These emotions trigger actions or reactions. Some impulse reactions are later regretted after one thought through their actions. The goal is to get the client to stop and to bring that thought to the obedience of Christ, testing that thought with Philippians 4:8: is it true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, something of good report, something of virtue, or praiseworthy. These are the things Christians are called to think upon.
Counselors will be praying for their client throughout; for it is the power of the Holy Spirit that will enable the client to overcome their distorted thinking.
"When you judge people you have no time to love them." - Mother Theresa
Labeling the Distorted Cognitions
Upon assessing the clients' distorted cognitions and reminding them that everybody struggles with distorted thinking. The counselor assists the client by giving them a tool to identify their distorted cognitions:
Do your distorted thoughts fall into one of these categories?
- All-or-nothing or polarized thinking. Looking at a situation in extremes.
- Overgeneralization. Drawing a conclusion that is not justified by the evidence.
- Mental filter. Focusing selectively on the negative details and not on the overall picture.
- Disqualifying the positive. Focusing only on the negative information.
- Jumping to conclusions. Drawing an unwarranted conclusion quickly without getting all of the information.
- Magnification/Minimization. Making too much of the negative, while devaluing the positive information.
- Emotional reasoning. Believing something to be true because it "feels" to be true, while not paying attention to contradictory evidence.
- "Should" and "must" statements. Having definite and inflexible ideas about the way you or others should behave and how life should be. "I should have done this..."
- Labeling and mislabeling. Attaching an extreme, broad, unjustifiable label to someone.
- Personalization. Assuming unwarranted responsibility for events or other's behaviors.
- Catastrophizing. Predicting a negative outcome without considering the possibilities.
- Mind reading. Attributing negative thoughts and reactions to others without checking if they are true. Thinking you know the thoughts of another person, without fact checking.
- Tunnel vision. Focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation.
Being able to identify one's distorted cognitions will help individuals dispute their own distorted thinking. Also, upon looking at this list people will recognize that everyone struggles with these issues and that it is possible to change dysfunctional thinking.
Ray Bell and Theological Cognitive Based Therapy
Interventions and Strategies
Here are different strategies that counselors can utilize upon considering what is best for their client; assisting their client in recognizing their dysfunctional thoughts:
- Prayer/Reading God's Word. Spending time praying and talking to God about what is distressing them, while reading the Bible to hear God speak about their situation.
- Journaling. Writing down the events that happened.
- Questioning the evidence. The clients are instructed to question how they came to a conclusion. The counselor may ask, "On what basis do you say this?" Or "Where is the evidence for your view or conclusion?" The evidence is examined by both counselor and client. If the client recognizes they do not have a justifiable fact to back up their thought or conclusion, they are encouraged to change their perspective. Is what they are thinking true?
- Scaling. The counselor will ask the client to rate their level of anxiety or depression from 0-10. The counselor will ask what trigger thought caused the anxiety or depression. Then together the counselor and client will look at reality in comparison to that trigger thought; upon looking at reality, the client will rate their level of anxiety and depression again.
- Thought stopping. Learning how to stop the automatic thoughts that lead to emotional distress. STOP: Stop, Take a moment, Observe, Proceed. Take that thought and check to see if lines up with Philippians 4:8, is the thought true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, something of good report, anything of virtue, or praiseworthy.
- Decatastrophizing. The counselor asks the client direct questions so that the client can recognize when they have blown an issue way out of proportion; making an extreme conclusion about a situation or outcome.
- Self-Instruction. "Don't listen to yourself; talk to yourself."-Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- Distraction. If a certain place, person, or situation causes someone to become anxious; the counselor will encourage the client to take that thought captive to the obedience of Christ and focus on something good, or practical. The initial sense of distraction is temporary, but it does allow the client a moment to relax.
- Redeeming thoughts. The client is encouraged to pray and ask God to redeem the trigger thoughts that evoke distressful emotions and actions; looking to see how God is currently answering that prayer.
- Memorizing Verses. Psalm 119:11 "Your Word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You." Encourage client to memorize verses so that when that trigger thought arises they can repeat the verse reminding themselves of truth.
- Activity scheduling. Activities that bring a sense of mastery or accomplishment, pleasure or enjoyment, and social connection. It is healthy for people to do something they are good at and something that is fun. For those struggling with motivation, having their counselor help them with scheduling activities is beneficial.
- Assigned Homework. The counselor will assign specific homework tailored to the client and their issue.
Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD
Pastor Rick Warren and a message to those contemplating suicide
Key Resources for Further Study:
Robert Enright's Model of Forgiveness Part 1:
Robert Enright's Model of Forgiveness Part 2:
Robert Enright's Model of Forgiveness Part 3:
Robert Enright's Model of Forgiveness Part 4:
Siang-Yang Tan's Beyond Resilience: Post Traumatic Growth, and Self-Care: https://youtu.be/KdU6chMMQNc
Pastor James MacDonald's message "Getting Unstuck from Depression": https://youtu.be/VWBZz-y-3FI
Aaron Kheriaty on Depression: https://youtu.be/fTwy8WzNdFY
William Struthers on Your brain and addiction: https://youtu.be/hYK-MYNhj4Y
Sian-Yan Tan's article, "Secular versus Christian inpatient cognitive behavioral therapy programs: Impact on depression and spiritual well-being" https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/223672455?pq-origsite=summon&accountid=12085
Siang-Yan Tan and John Ortberg's book, Coping with Depression
John Piper's book, When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God and Joy
John Piper's book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book, Spiritual Depression
Cooke, Susanne. Discussion Board for Liberty University. Accessed August 11, 2017. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&forum_id=_1386895_1&nav=discussion_board_entry&conf_id=_653223_1&course_id=_368562_1&message_id=_25660154_1#msg__25660154_1Id.
Garzon, F. (2005). Interventions that apply Scripture in psychotherapy. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 33(2), 113-121.
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn (1965). Spiritual Depression. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI.
Ohlschlager, G. (2013). Praying the Scriptures within cognitive/behavioral/systems therapy. [Ebook] In D. Appleby & G. Ohlschlager’s Transformative Encounters: The Intervention of God in Counseling and Pastoral Care. Pp. 227-259. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Academic Press. ISBN: 978-0-8308-8212-0
Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L. (2014). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: Systems, strategies, 4th Edition. Pearson Education: Boston. 539 pages. ISBN: 9780132851701
Tan, S-Y (2011). Counseling and psychotherapy: A Christian perspective. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids, MI. 494 pages. ISBN-13: 9780801029660
Video access: Ray Bell Theological Cognitive Based Therapy. https://youtu.be/iZZ-JU0C1wE
Video accessed: Rick Warren message to those contemplating suicide. https://youtu.be/fSvKVWs6zGc
Structure of Life Counseling Created by Alysa VanderWeerd Doctorate in Education Community Care and Counseling: Family & Marriage Liberty University, 2017