SFPC is a compelling approach to counseling that gains its power from some rather simple, well-known principles–

solution-focused counseling - kollar

… the power of positive thinking and the power of suggestion.

Without wanting to be dismissive, I think much of what Kollar does is to simply “operationalize” those principles with a counseling model and some associated practical techniques for asking the right questions. Admittedly, he teaches people to count their blessings, but he does so in a way that keeps them from dismissing that too-familiar idea as simply cliche.

In meantime, Kollar offers wide-ranging insights that church counselors should find helpful regardless of approach. Kollar is right, for example, in being concerned about the “rent seeking”1 nature of the secular mental health industry, where economic incentives favor the need for more and more mental health services rather than the health of clients. So he is right in being cautious about referring Christians into that industry– an industry concerned, not with the healing of the biblical mind, but with the “healing” of the secular mind– a mind so intrinsically unsound from a biblical perspective that it’s restoration to “soundness” is inherently problematic– hence the fundamental awkwardness of referring Christians to secular counselors where definitions of failure and success often run counter to Christian values.2

Kollar is right in suggesting that complex problems don’t necessarily require complex solutions. He is right in challenging the scientific basis for the “disease” categories listed in the APA’s DSM-4.3 He is right in insisting on the profound implications of approaching counseling from the standpoint of solutions rather than problems. And he is right on letting the outcome (health) dictate the process (solution-oriented).

For Kollar, the “deficiency language” of problem-centered approaches is the root of all evil. For counselees, it fosters negative self-perceptions, preoccupation with self, self-fulfilling prophecies, reliance on drugs, frustration, resistance and blindness to solutions, and misplaced trust in experts. Hard data exist to support the relative lack of success for the mental health profession. Experts on mental disorders can easily guide counselees toward solutions that have nothing to do with the reasons counselees seek counseling. The mental health industry tends to transform problems into mental diseases and then give those diseases weight via psychological labeling. Counselees eventually come defend such labeling as part of their identity.

For counselors, “deficiency language” fosters marketing abuses, conflicts of interest, misdiagnoses, an exaggerated sense of competence, over-prescription of drugs, needless investigations into past experiences,4 preoccupation with defining the problem rather than the solution, reliance on the expertise of the counselor rather than the counselee, and blindness to solutions. Counselors tend to find what they have been trained to spot; i.e., problems or deficiencies.5 Instead of fixing problems, problem-oriented counselors often simply sensitize counselees to imputed problems, thereby deepening the sense of deficiency within counselees. Deficiency language neglects the resources counselees bring to counseling sessions– the very things most correlated with success and least-correlated with a problem-centered approach.

Differences between pastoral and secular counseling are wide-ranging. Pastoral counseling focuses on the cognitive side of counseling– secular counseling focuses on the affective. The cognitive approach has weight, however, in that the connection of emotional dysfunctions with diseases of the brain has not been established. Rather emotions are best seen as signs that counselees are off track. Secular counseling provides “homework” in the pursuit of counselor-defined solutions. SFPC focuses on tasks in the pursuit of counselee-defined solutions. The secular psychotherapeutic concept of resistance has more to do with power and control within counseling relationships than with the unwillingness of counselees to change. In SFPC, resistance is sidestepped in that counselors and counselees “co-create” solutions.

Practical advice abounds in SFPC. Concentrate on what’s working and do more of it. Identify what’s not working and do less. In counseling, clearly defining the problem is not necessary. Many problems cannot be clearly defined, but that does not mean they cannot be solved. Counselees are the experts on what needs to be changed. They are often simply stuck in their perception of things and need help in changing their perceptions. They need a vision of how life would be like without the problem. How that change will occur is more important than when it will occur. Emphasis on feelings vice doing needs to be turned upside down– it takes less effort for people to “act” themselves toward a feeling that to “feel” themselves toward an action. Pastors often make bad counselors because they are accustomed to prescribing thoughts and behaviors instead of practicing attentive listening. Counselees may be adept at using deficiency language and inept at seeing exceptions to their deficiencies, so knowing what to ignore and what to attend to in counseling are important aptitudes for counselors. Everyone needs a second chance without the risk of being entangled in the mental health industry.

SFPC is an excellent book. Although it neglects the necessary, tragic, and redemptive significances of suffering, its focus is well-aimed because most of the misery within Western culture is, after all, self-inflicted.

— historeo.com

historeo.comhistoreo 2

1 These are my words, not Kollar’s. “Rent-seeking” means the pursuit of gain through a non-beneficial relationship in contrast to “profit seeking” where the gain is through beneficial relationships. The mental health industry is frequently accused of rent-seeking in offering services that, in turn, increase the need for such services.

2 An almost comical example is the “medicalization” of misbehaving children under “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Also note the devastating critique of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as an ideologically driven association by APA past-president Nicholas A. Cummings at http://www.drthrockmorton.com/APAneworleans.pdf.

3 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, by the American Psychiatric Association.

4 The only reason to look into the past of a counselee is to help him get back on track.

5 Kollar notes an experiment by Rosenhan, Stanford professor of psychology and law, who experimented with psychiatric hospitals by presenting them with healthy people who were hearing voices. Each was diagnosed as schizophrenic despite having normal mental states.

From the back cover, Charles Allen Kollar is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He served as a United States Navy chaplain for ten years and is currently the director of On-Trac Ministries. He holds the D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary and the M.Div. from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

Solution-Focused Pastoral Counseling (SFPC) is divided into two parts: theory and practice. Part 1 has eight chapters. Chapter 1 addresses the way paradigms reinforce old ways of thinking and prevent new ways of looking at things, not just for counselees, but for counselors as well. Chapter 2 deals with the relationship between pastoral counseling and the secular mental health industry. Chapter 3 highlights the prominence of “deficiency language” in secular counseling and in most Christian counseling. Chapter 4 is concerned with the way presuppositions shape counseling toward a problem-focused approach. Chapter 5 explains the real consequences of perceptions and misperceptions. Chapter 6 challenges secular notions of identity formation with an explicitly Christian alternative. Chapter 7 identifies nine guiding assumptions for SFPC. Chapter 8 offers seven guidelines for ethical counseling.

Part 2 combines an explanation of Kollar’s counseling model with examples of its application. Chapter 9 focuses on the counseling interview. Chapter 10 explores the role of attentive listening. Chapter 11 overviews the “track options” a counseling interview could possibly take. Chapter 12 addresses the task of “vision clarification.” Chapters 13 and 14 give examples of the “how to’s” and the “whys” of “supportive feedback” and “consolidating change.” Chapter 15 applies SFPC to a typical case. Chapter 16 offers some final considerations.

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