Ever wonder what makes for a competent counselor? Is it what the counselor knows? What model the counselor follows? What supervised practice the counselor has had? Yes. Each one of these factors is part of what makes for a competent counselor. But we too often focus on knowledge and strategies and forget the character of the counselor. So, here are seven characteristics we hope to instill in the character of those who graduate from Biblical Seminary. By themselves, these seven won’t make for a competent counselor. But, without them, you may have an experienced but dangerous counselor.

1. Spiritual maturity. Not only must the counselor know the bible, its story line, etc., they must also have understood and experienced the Gospel. Spiritual mature counselors evidence a public and private trajectory towards holiness and humility. They no longer quibble about insignificant differences among believers. In the words of one of my theology colleagues, they must know the difference between dogma and doctrine and opinion.

2. Self-awareness/insight. One can be spiritual mature, but not particularly insightful about the self. The competent counselor has a grasp of their own narrative (and how the Gospel story is changing it) and how it impacts past and present relationships. The competent counselor understands strengths and weaknesses and is not defensive.

3. Capable of building trusting relationships. Nothing much good comes from counsel provided by standoffish and stand-above kinds of counselors. The competent counselor is able to build trusting relationships by being interested in individuals (more so than in outcomes), able to walk in another’s shoes, cross cultural lines, and able to empower others more than tell others what to do.

4. Flexibility in response styles. The competent counselor understands the need to use a variety of conversational responses depending on the needs of the client. Sometimes we ask questions. Other times we are silent. Competent counselor responses include reflections, summaries, focusing, confronting, joining, problem-solving, and sometimes self-disclosing. Counselors who only use one or two of these styles may not be able to work well with clients who find those particular styles problematic. The competent counselor is intentional in her or his response choices.

5. Assessment and hypothesis skills. The competent counselor is able to move from a counselee’s problems and descriptions to a wider view of the person/situation and back again. This counselor is able to pull multiple pieces of data into a cohesive understanding of the situation. At the same time the counselor forms and tests possible hypotheses to clarify motivations, attitudes, and capacities. For example, is the child’s impulsive behavior merely rebellious or is it ADD or anxiety based?

6. Observation skills. The competent counselor not only understands people, their needs, solutions, and has the capacity to use multiple response styles, but also is observant regarding their own impact on the counselee. They observe subtle reactions from clients and seek to moderate their counseling style and/or gently explore the meaning of the reaction. Without these skills, the counselor blithely works toward a goal without knowing if the counselee is really following.

7. Ability to care for self. Finally, the competent counselor recognizes personal limits, boundaries and actively seeks to sustain a life of personal care. Far too many counselors bypass care for one’s own spiritual well-being under the guise of sacrificial giving. Just because one is spiritually mature one day does not mean such maturity is permanent. Neglecting spiritual renewal will diminish other counselor competencies over time.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.


+4 # Jonathan Sovocool 2011-12-14 22:02
As a recent graduate of Biblical's counseling program and an active worker in the mental health field, I find this list to be accurate and helpful. I'll limit my comments to the 2nd point regarding Self-awareness/insight. During my 2 years in the program, I remember discovering a number of flaws about myself that I never knew existed. I began to see how sin had subtlety laced itself into my behavior and thoughts. These realizations immediately humbled me and reminded me of my continual battle with sin. As a counselor, these insights on several occasions have even saved me from moments of self-righteousness as I dealt with the short-comings of my counselees.
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+3 # Philip Monroe 2011-12-16 15:10
Jon, thanks for dropping by. Hope you are well. It is easy to think prideful thoughts about some of our clients when their issues seem far from our own. Staying alert to our own sins protects us from damaging our clients with our pride.
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+1 # Gayan 2014-05-29 01:22
For student like me, thank you. This was helped me lot.
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+2 # Veronica 2014-11-23 23:33
God is AWESOME through him I found this page. There were many to pick from when I typed in "what makes a competent counselor?" I am a third semester student in my city community college. My major is Addictive Disorder Studies. I will be a certified alcohol and other drugs educator. My focus is to counsel our troubled youth. Where ever God puts me. I will assist in helping them launch into a healthy and spiritual life. Thank you again for this website and I look forward to seeing other posts in the future.
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+1 # mageminja 2015-04-16 05:39
well written
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