Over the past few years, we have been blessed with an incredible volume of resources related to biblical counseling. From primers for amateur counselors to in-depth examinations of specific issues, we are now well-served with resources meant to address a host of common issues. New to the field is Jonathan Holmes’s Counsel for Couples: A Biblical and Practical Guide for Marriage Counseling.
Holmes is the pastor of counseling at Parkside Church in Ohio and brings a wealth of both practical and academic knowledge to this book, which he has written primarily to serve as a resource for pastors, counselors, and lay leaders—those who are so often called upon to help guide people through issues related to marriage. However, he also believes it can be helpful for husbands and wives themselves as they navigate difficulties or even crises that may arise in their relationship. It is, then, a popular-level work meant to be suitable for just about any reader. “I want to leave you with a solid, biblical theology and methodology to help you navigate through the world of marriage counseling. My conviction is this: God’s Word is sufficient and powerful enough to address the deepest of marital issues and robust enough to assess the everyday issues you will encounter in marriage counseling.”
The first six chapters lay out the basics of biblical counseling in general and marriage counseling in particular. According to Holmes, the heart of counseling is rather simple: It is “one of the many ways we can take the truths of God’s Word and speak them in love in the context of a personal relationship with the goal of growing in godliness.” It is, then, speaking truth in love in the context of real life, and especially real-life trials and difficulties. In this way every pastor is a counselor, though there is also a great need for trained and qualified specialists. In these early chapters, he introduces the concept of the heart as heart of our issues, then provides wisdom on how to arrange a productive counseling relationship, how to structure sessions, when and how to counsel people toward forgiveness, and so on. Helpfully, he discusses when a counseling relationship should be broken off and when an amateur counselor should refer people to professionals. It is a short but useful overview of the purpose and methodology of biblical counseling.
The remainder of the book, chapters seven through 16, looks at common issues pastors and counselors will encounter in their counseling ministry: adultery, pornography, abuse, an unsaved spouse, lack of communication, difficult children, miscarriage and infertility, in-laws, and sexual frustration or dysfunction. In each case he provides an introduction to the issue and offers help on guiding couples toward healing. He points out some of the ways counselors may inadvertently bring harm instead of help. He shares the basics of what the Bible has to say about the particular issue. And he does all this in a short format, since any of these issues could easily be a book unto themselves. Most chapters finish with a couple briefly describing their story of how counseling helped their relationship and with “Counselor Fieldnotes” where another biblical counselor offers a few practical pointers. He is also sure to point readers to plenty of additional trusted resources.
Overall, I found Counsel for Couples a helpful book. While I am sure many counselors will add it to their libraries, I expect it will also prove its value to pastors or lay leaders who are expected to offer counsel to couples in crisis but who most often lack formal training. A friend who has read it offered this praise: “Personally, having served as a pastor for a decade, I thought it would have been really useful to me, especially as a new pastor fresh out of seminary. I was flying blind most of the time in those situations, and we ended up referring a lot, which I always felt was an abdication of my role.” I’d like to think it will help amateur counselors carry out their role with greater skill while also coaching them to refer to professionals with greater confidence. It seems like the kind of book a pastor will want to read once, then keep handy so, before a couple arrives for a session, he can quickly review the appropriate chapter(s). I expect I will keep it around for exactly that purpose.