Journey to Biblical Counseling: An Interview with Elyse Fitzpatrick

Welcome to the fifth installment of Counseling One Another’s feature Journey to Biblical Counseling. Here, I interview various pastors, teachers, trainers, authors, and leaders in the biblical counseling movement. What led them to biblical counseling? What were some of the influences the Lord used in their journey? How do they now define biblical counseling? These are just a few of the questions they are answering for us.elyse

Our special guest today is Elyse Fitzpatrick. Elyse has been counseling women since 1989 and holds an MA in Biblical Counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary, certification from the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF), and is a member of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (ACBC). She is the author of 15 books on counseling topics and is a frequent retreat and conference speaker. Along with her husband of nearly 40 years, Phil, she lives in San Diego, is a part of Valley Center Community Church, and loves to play with her 6 grandchildren.

What is your current involvement in Biblical Counseling?  

Due to my writing/speaking schedule, I am not doing as much one-to-one counseling right now. However, I am part of a small group in our church and we do some counseling there. Our church has a number of biblical counselors and I am part of that group; we meet together monthly and discuss cases.

In 50 words, or less, how do you define Biblical Counseling?

Biblical counseling is the act of one believer coming alongside another to bring the truths of both the indicatives and imperatives of Scripture to bear on their heart and life for their edification, the strengthening of their faith, and the glory of God.

How does your definition of biblical counseling, today, differ from your thinking 5 or 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, I didn’t see the importance of the indicatives of the Scripture, that is, teaching folks what Christ had already done for them. I thought it was my job to pinpoint the ways they were failing and then teach them the correct imperatives that they needed to obey. My counseling was heavily weighted on the put-off/put-on side and I didn’t think much about helping people remember their identity in Christ and what he had already done for them.

What people, circumstances, and influences did the Holy Spirit use to move you from your former thoughts to your current convictions?

There were a number of people who influenced me including pastors, authors, and friends. I would say that the beginning Tim Keller’s study on Galatians began to open my eyes.

What do you see as the relationship of Biblical Counseling to the local church?  

I haven’t changed my thought on that at all. In fact, I’ve grown more convinced that the local church should be the place where Christians get help. Of course, that’s not usually the case. Each church should have a group of counselors who are ready to help other members of the church as part of its ongoing ministry. I strongly resist any counseling that is done outside of the context of body life and especially on the Internet—for all sorts of reasons—but mostly because counseling isn’t a magic wand that we waive over people to make them better. It is worked out in the fabric of everyday life as we interact and love each other in the family of God.

Is Biblical Counseling for every believer? Why or why not?  

I am not sure I understand this question, but will do my best. Yes, every believer should be able to find help in the Bible. There are some problems that would require greater skill or the help of a physician, but generally speaking, the Bible is given to us so that we can know how to live in the light of what He’s done. Therefore, every believer is involved in this biblical one-anothering to some extent.

If you had the power to immediately change one thing in the “Biblical Counseling Movement,” what would it be?  

I think that historically we’ve been known as a feisty group of people. I would hope that our reputation is changing and that in the future we would still be known as people who trust in Scripture, but who also are gentle and patient. I think we’ve gotten the reputation of being “behavioristic” (although I don’t think we ever were) and I hope that is changing too.

If someone wanted to be equipped to better serve the Lord through the ministry of counseling, what do you suggest should be their first few steps?

They should do some initial reading. For instance, Paul Tripp’s and Tim Lane’s How People Change is an excellent place to start. My own book Counsel from the Cross will help them see how the gospel is integrated into counseling. From there, they can check on the different places one might be trained both on location and online. But if they begin to read through the wonderful body of work that’s been completed in the last 10-15 years, they will be able to see how the Bible intersects with daily life. Of course, the newest addition to this body of work is Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, a collaborative work by the Biblical Counseling Coalition. It would also serve as a good introduction.

Thank you, Elyse, for sharing with us your journey to biblical counseling.

Previous Journey to BC interviews include Bob Kellemen, David Powlison, Howard Eyrich, and Deepak Reju. Read them here.

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