In Christian counseling, I have found that three elements stand out as essential components for effective resolution for both presenting and underlying issues: Confession, Conflict, and Reconciliation. During the course of my training, I quickly identified these three to be mainstays of not only what occurs during the course of a counseling session, but also helpful guideposts of how well the process of counseling is proceeding. It is the counselor’s responsibility to help manage these three aspects of the session so that our clients will benefit from the manner in which they can come to grips with them in their lives.
When we hear the word “confession,” we often think about the legal definition, which is an admission of guilt over some perceived wrong-doing. However, the word has a much deeper meaning, especially in the theological sense. To confess theologically is to state clearly what you believe. We see this in the practice of sharing a unison “prayer of confession,” such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed in many churches. Presbyterian and Reformed churches are often called creedal churches because they all submit themselves first and foremost to Scripture, but secondarily to one or more confessions, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The first question in the Shorter Catechism is: What is the chief end of man? The answer is: The chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy Him forever. From this confessional element, Presbyterians and Reformed Christians affirm what we believe about God.
Confession in counseling is when the clients state what they believe about the presenting issues or even the underlying elements that are causing internal or external conflict in their lives. Oftentimes, our “confession” can be mis-stated, mis-understood, or just plain wrong. We may perceive things one way, when in fact, reality is something else. This doesn’t mean that clients are necessarily delusional, just mistaken in their awareness of truth. I recall a situation when one of my clients believed that his parents were behaving in one way for a specific reason, which caused him to respond in bitterness for most of his adult life. My advice to him was to share with his parents what he believed, only to discover that he had been completely mistaken. That day marked a turning point in his relationship with his parents.
Helping our clients to manage and reflect on their “confessions” in order to ensure they match as closely as possible to reality is an important part of what we do. Oftentimes, when faced with an alternative belief, many individuals subconsciously say to themselves, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.” Part of our role is to help our clients move their perception closer to reality whenever new facts and information come into play, despite their strongly held confessions.
As mentioned earlier, clients’ ability to “confess” what they believe to be true, will reveal both their internal and external sources of conflict. Once again, conflict can often be associated with chaos and even violence. However, I believe that all relationships are defined by conflict, especially since we are finite, limited, sinful human beings. We are by nature selfish and self-focused. As Christians, the power of the Holy Spirit has mediated much of these tendencies, yet at the same time, since we all sin and fall short of God’s glory on a regular, if not daily basis, we must recognize that we often walk in the flesh, even as we are attempting to walk in the spirit. Hence, our flesh nature comes into conflict with the flesh nature of others that we come into contact with. The social compact or C.S. Lewis’ Moral Imperative ensure that most of us behave in somewhat of a civil manner around and among people we are acquainted with. However, the closer we are to another individual, the more familiar we become, and often the more selfish we reveal ourselves to be. It is therefore not surprising to realize that when our clients come to us, they are more often than not in conflict with those closest to them. They might be disagreeable individuals, but we all more often than not put on agreeable masks in society, but take them off when we get home. Strangely enough, for those who try to keep these masks on at home, there is often internal conflict and turmoil that results.
Just as in the case of helping our clients manage their confessions to be as closely aligned with reality, we can also help them to recognize that the conflicts in their lives can be managed faithfully through reliance on Christ. We are told that “all things can be reconciled through Christ, who gives us strength.”
Reconciliation is the recognition that what is confessed and what is causing the conflict both need to be reevaluated. Our belief system can easily be skewed by our tendency to take the easiest path in terms of what we think, state, and feel. Only once we are willing to open ourselves to all aspects of reevaluation and reassessment can we be open to the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to us. This truth is that so often we allow internal and external conflict to hamper the peace that surpasses all understanding, which is forgiveness, understanding, love, culminating in reconciliation, as the natural outgrowth of reflective and introspective awareness through confession and conflict.