Review of Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture, by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert, editors, Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2012, xv + 308pp., hdbk, $32.99.
This book is a much needed fillip to those of us who try falteringly to help hurting people by pointing them back to Christ and His Word. There are many resources now available to the biblical counselor to guide him or her in their attempts to become better and more effective at what they do, but I know of no resource of case studies to compare with this one. Although the book deals with “Crisis” cases, the principles given out are applicable to every situation.
The book has an introduction, eleven chapters, and conclusion. Each chapter is written by a seasoned biblical counselor. All the contributors consent in pointing to the solutions residing in the Bible and the Christ of the Bible. Much stress is laid upon the giving and sustaining of hope to counselees, and many of the authors say that, unlike the aloofness recommended in secular therapy, the biblical counselor cannot do their ministry aright if they do not openly sympathize with the counselee, or on occasion even share their own struggles to obey God.
The Introduction by Heath Lambert provides a strong foundation in the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture. I was very pleased that this subject was not consigned to a short preface but got full treatment at the head of the case studies (many of the authors subsequently reiterate this central theme). Lambert also takes the opportunity to outline the book’s purpose and use.
The first writer up is Laura Hendriksen, writing about a particularly distressing case involving sustained parental abuse. “Mariana” was the product of her grandfather’s rape of her mother. She was rejected by her mother and given to her father as a sex object when she was only seven years old (26). Not only did she have to endure the continual sexual abuse of the father, but her troubles were compounded by the mother who hated her and abused her emotionally and physically. One can hardly imagine what it would be like to live with such ongoing wickedness from early childhood into young adulthood. How does Dr. Hendriksen describe her encounters with Mariana? Well, there is no simplistic and sentimental treatment to be found.
Indeed, one of the refreshing things about this book is the way the writers admonish the reader of the need to treat each case with the seriousness it deserves. Hendriksen recalls the failure and harmful effects of psychologists’ advice (27f.), including unreliable attempts to evoke “lost” memories (31), and the well-meaning but ill-informed help from friends. Her prolonged counseling eventually, by God’s grace, enabled Mariana to overcome the devices and victim-mentality she had developed (and in some cases been encouraged to develop), and which were destroying her and her marriage.
The importance of sound doctrine, of reminding the counselee of what is true about Christ and what is true about them, comes through again and again in this chapter (e.g. 32, 36, 38, 44). It is almost worth the price of the book alone.
Steve Viars writes the next chapter on “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” When he drives his car “Brian” will not turn left. Viars relates competent biblical counseling to thorough data-gathering (69), and whole-person ministry (70). He says, “I often start with what is occurring emotionally because that is where people in crisis are living” (71). That is a wise observation. Emotions are not guides to truth, but they are a place to start and move back towards the problem from. Through listening intently Viars discovered that Brian’s bizarre behavior was a kind of self-inflicted punishment to atone for the sin of lust. Not that Brian understood his behavior that way; Viars had to make the connection. Once the sin was uncovered, steps toward repentance could be taken (74, 82). (more…)