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LAY COUNSELING: EQUIPPING CHRISTIANS FOR A HELPING MINISTRY: REVISED & UPDATED. Siang-Yang Tan & Eric T. Scalise, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, Pp. 318., ISBN 9780310524274. $19.99. Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton (Evangel University Springfield, MO)

Following a presentation on Christian Counseling, Siang-Yang Tan and I began talking about effective practices. We discussed research and what makes a difference in Christian counseling outcomes. We've both been involved in helping congregants learn to help others. It turns out, he recently revised his classic lay counseling book and shared a copy. It is easy to recommend the book to JPC readers because the authors have integrated faith with evidence based practices to present practical guidelines to Christians who want to start a lay counseling ministry.

The purpose of Lay Counseling is ambitious--providing "a comprehensive foundation for understanding biblical caregiving (p.15)." Initially, the authors present Gary Collins' definition of Christian Counseling, which is "a caring relationship in which one person tries to help another deal more effectively with the stresses of life (p.15)." What we find in Lay Counseling are strategies for selecting, training, supervising, and evaluating lay Christian counselors and guidelines for establishing lay counseling programs. I will summarize the 12 chapters and resources in this review.

Chapter 1 establishes the need for lay counseling. In addition to documenting counseling needs by citing mental health statistics, the authors identify specific reasons for Christian counseling. For example, Christians may not open up to secular clinicians and their pastors have insufficient time for extended one-to-one counseling. Chapter 2 establishes lay counseling as a biblical calling in which Christians with various gifts minister to others and bear another's burdens. Several biblical references demonstrate how lay counseling is linked to the commandment to love others.

A biblical model for effective lay counseling is the focus of Chapter 3. Following a brief overview of integration approaches, the authors identify their approach as "a blend of insights." They draw on the ideas put forth by several Christian leaders: Jay Adams, Gary Collins, Larry Crabb, H. Norman Wright, and William Backus. But they also acknowledge contributions from widely known theorists such as Robert Carkuff, Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, and Arnold Lazarus. The rest of the chapter details fourteen principles of effective counseling, which reflect their blended integrated approach nicely summarized in Table 1.

Reflecting careful scholarship, the authors review the literature on lay counseling involving Christians and non-Christians (Chapter 4). Unfortunately, although there is evidence supporting the effectiveness of lay counseling, there is only one controlled outcome study supporting the effectiveness of Christian lay counseling (Toh & Tan, 1997). In addition, the authors observe that the Christian lay counseling models have not been evaluated for either their biblical foundation or their consistency with Christian tradition and theology.

Chapter 5 offers practical suggestions for creating a lay counseling ministry. There are three general models. Leaders could encourage the care and support found in such formats as book-study and fellowship groups (Informal-Spontaneous Model), an organized ministry that includes training and supervision but cares for people in a variety of settings instead of a clinic or counseling office (Informal-Organized Model), or a center led by licensed professionals within a church or community (Formal-Organized Model). The latter model contains the traditional elements of a clinic such as scheduled appointments, counseling offices, and supervision by licensed staff. In addition to offering suggestions on choosing a model, readers will find a helpful list of 10 guidelines for establishing a counseling center.

How to select lay counselors is the topic of Chapter 6. After a brief review of a few approaches, the authors offer a concrete example of an in-depth screening process consisting of three phases: A 9-item application form, A 10-item question set for use in a group interview format, and required completion of a training program. What should be included in a training program is the subject of Chapter 7. Here readers find a reasonably detailed review of extant programs documenting the contents of various sessions. For example, Tan's program is organized into three parts covering specific topics presented on a part-time basis over a one-year period. In Scalise's program, trainees attend 15-sessions and meet once a week for three hours.

The authors did not find much in the literature regarding supervision of lay Christian counselors. After drawing on the secular research literature, the authors present an integrated model of supervision that offers a biblical perspective (Chapter 8). The chapter concludes with an excerpt from a supervision session. Assessment of lay counseling is the subject of Chapter 9. The authors provide examples of specific measures for assessment of counseling skills and counseling outcomes--some of these would be applicable to services provided by licensed clinicians. Chapter 10 begins with findings from a survey of 15 churches regarding lay counseling ministries. Unfortunately, the 1986 data are a bit dated. Later in the chapter, the authors describe several existing church and community-based models.

What can go wrong? The authors provide guidance on ethics and liability issues in chapter 11. They begin with the three Cs of competence, consent, and confidentiality then look at several potential problems such as motivation, vulnerability, sexuality, and burnout. The authors note the availability of ethics codes associated with various professions then close the chapter with details of the code for Christian Counselors available from the American Association of Christian Counselors. The final chapter (12) addresses self-care with a long list of suggestions for managing stress through such strategies as healthy diet, sleep, delegation of tasks, and so forth. The authors have provided a range of helpful forms in the appendices. These documents include an application for those wanting to be a lay counselor, reference contact, client and counselor assessment of counseling, intake and history questionnaire, informed consent and care, and release of information.

Lay Counseling is the sort of book that clergy, Christian leaders, and clinicians will find helpful for several purposes. First, there is sufficient detail to help decide whether or not to proceed with an effort to establish a program in a local church or other Christian organization. Second, the range of information would be helpful to conduct a self-study of an existing program. For example, a selfstudy could use the listed characteristics of counselors, topics for training programs, specific evaluation questionnaires and outcome measures, lists of ethical principles, and use of appropriate forms. Third, as a follow-up to the previous recommendation, the guidelines and measures will be of value to those interested in conducting the needed longitudinal research. Lay counseling is a multifaceted ministry, which has the potential to help millions of people; however, there is limited evidence supporting the effectiveness of the various Christian lay counseling approaches, critical components of training lay counselors, or helpful lay counselor interventions for congregants with various concerns or conditions.


Toh, Y-M., & Tan, S. Y. (1997). The effectiveness of church-based lay counselors: A controlled outcome study. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 16, 260-267.

Rodney L . Bassett, Editor
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Author:Bassett, Rodney L.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Date:Mar 22, 2019

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