by James Rudy Gray
The writer of Ecclesiastes has given us some wise counsel about books. In Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 he writes, "The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body."
Today, our society is more into reading computer screens, magazines, and short pieces of written material than books. However, the reading of good books is a tremendous source of help to those whom we counsel.
Bibliotherapy is, in its simplest definition, the use of books to help people solve problems or make adjustments in living. Books can be effectively used in the counseling process. I often assign books for clients to read as homework. When they have read the book or books, we focus on what they read and what it means. The insights gained by the client are then used in the ongoing counseling sessions.
Bibliotherapy is not a replacement for Christ-centered counseling. It must not become a way of dodging the sometimes difficult work of walking through problems with people. It can, however, be a powerful resource for help.
Recently I recommended the book, The Anxiety Cure by Dr. Archibald Hart, a very valuable resource. The person who read it was both encouraged and helped, and I was surprised by how much better she was able to cope with life after reading it.
There are volumes of self-help books on shelves today. As counselors, we must be careful to know the material we are recommending to others. Our reading assignments must have a place in the overall counseling strategy. We must not simply turn people to self-help books and call it counseling. We must follow through and use the material in the books to generate hope, growth, and health for our counselees.
We can employ secular books to help in our counseling, but we should do so cautiously. When we use Christian or secular books to supplement and augment our counseling, we must also be directing people to the source book for evaluating all other books: the Bible.
Encouraging our clients to read and study the Bible systematically is usually good advice. The only exception may be when a person has gone off the deep end on some particular point from their focused study of a fragment of the truth. In such cases, other books may help them to expand their awareness of the broader scope of truth.
A book I have found very helpful with people suffering from "toxic faith" has been Telling Yourself the Truth (Chapian and Backus). There are many solid Christian counseling books, tapes, and videos that can be employed in the process of helping. It is a good practice to have a stock of various books available for loan to clients. While most of the books will be returned, you can count on some books never making their way back to the shelf in your office. Having duplicate copies of your loaner books is essential. It is also good to recommend books for clients to purchase for themselves, so they will be able to refer to helpful sections again and again.
Biblotherapy is a good practice for Christian counselors. We believe the Bible and it is our base of authority. We want people to study and read God's truth. We also want them to study and read the writings of others who can help them apply God's truth to their specific struggles and situations.
As Christian counselors, we are tools in God's sanctifying process with His people. His word is primary in that work. In John 17:17, Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth." God's Word has no equal. No other book or collection of writing can compare to the Word of God. We dare not neglect the Scriptures but neither should we neglect other useful books that compliment the message of Scripture.
James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.
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