To diagnose a problem, first define the nature of the patient.

Every Sunday Philip was there to hear the series on spiritual depression, but afterward he was still depressed.

He told the pastor he had lost interest in everything and withdrawn more and more from people. He was also overeating and watching more television, though these things were giving him little pleasure, serving merely to distract him temporarily from his boredom.

His pastor first assumed that Philip’s depression rose from an underlying spiritual problem. Philip assumed that too, but after a number of conversations, both agreed they were wrong. Evidently the causes were not as simple as they had first assumed. This was the heart of the pastor’s problem: how to understand Philip and help him.

Philip’s pastor is not unique. Most Christians are involved with people they wish they could understand better and help, and that can make informal helping frustrating. We long to be better equipped for what we do, but are unsure where to look.

Of course, the first thing a nonprofessional counselor needs to know is how to detect cases he has no right to tackle. A later article will handle this, but it need not discourage nonprofessional counselors. They can provide a great deal of help. In fact, often they can help people who would never consult a professional counselor. So if you are not professionally trained, take heart: your task is necessary and important. But as nonprofessional counselors, we can do even better with a little help.

We can improve our informal skills in helping people by getting acquainted with the formal helping processes counselors use. Immediately, however, we face the problem of where to begin. A recent study found over 250 current approaches to ...

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