20 June 2013 by James Hoh CM –
Note: Dr Ng Kok Mun who is the Plenary and Workshop speaker on A Strengths-Based Counseling Approaches. He gave a brief explanation at the 3rd National Association of Christian Counselors Malaysia (NACC), quoting Barnabas, son of encouragement, in the Book of Acts, as an example.
Based on the strengths-based approaches and grounded on brief therapy framework, attendees of the seminar learnt a 4-step model which community and ministry leaders can use to provide brief psychological intervention.
The model values spiritual resources as vital to a person's or a family's functioning. Attendees learnt the basic characteristics of strengths-based approaches and relevant counseling techniques.
The model is useful for handling mild psychological distress and relationship issues as well as empowering individuals to tap into their strengths and resources.
Dr. Ng, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, shared his thoughts which are both interesting and refreshing. The following is the gist of his talk.
Today eight out of 10 things we hear are usually negative, particularly in the Asian environment. Life sometimes can be very disheartening and even oppressive, especially when we learn about abuses and rejections of children based on gender, faith and religion.
Very often, people come to us because they need help and encouragement. Therefore, churches should be a therapeutic place, a place of healing just like a hospital. Churches should be places that even non-Christians could turn to when they need help.
However, some churches today have adopted a corporate and performance-oriented culture. Sadly, there are Christians who can’t even be themselves in these churches; many put on a spiritual-mask to come into the church even when they have problems.
They are protecting themselves from shame and embarrassment because they know they won’t be accepted by church friends if their problems were exposed. As such, they are struggling to even accept themselves. “Putting on the identity of Christ” is just too far a reality for them.
Making it worse is that in our Asian culture, asking for help is a sign of weaknesses for many because they didn't want to lose face. It is very important for us as counselors to pick up the signs and offer encouragement. We must help them to see that seeking help is indeed a strength because by doing so, the person is committed to reaching out for help and resources.
As counselors, we must understand what it means to be rejected and the value of being accepted. When we knowing how those who are in need feel, we can help them more easily.
At the same time, we must remember our position in Christ as being the 'salt and light' in this world. This is the most basic practice and when we do it well, we will be agents of healing to the society.
Strength-based approach of counseling is a secular practice today. But it is not new to us, Christians as it is similar to what Barnabas did in the Book of Acts.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)
The biblical scriptures, particularly on how God loves us and gave His Son to die for us, must become a reality to us before we could help and encourage others who are in need.
One good example would be the passage about the woman who met Jesus at the well: Jesus corrected the woman and encouraged her:
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
John 4: 7-10, 13
The problem of inter-cultural division marked by prejudice against other races pose many oppressive problems, not to mention problems of intra-cultural division caused by polarizing socio-economic status and political status .
We need to live out the true Christian lives according to the Bible in order to help others. The Bible would not be a reality to help them if it was not a reality to us in the first place. Just like what James 2:15-17 says:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
In Dallas, there is a certain sub-culture church, which requires all their attendees to have proper ‘church clothes’. But how about the poor people who could not afford proper clothing? They would be segregated.
Hence, if the church only accepts a selected segment of people, how could they tell other's about the relevancy of what James said in the Bible above?
In Malaysia, dressing in church during the 1980’s was very different from how we dress today. What if the attendees come in shorts and sandals, do we still accept them into the church?
Therefore, strength-based approach counselors would see and focus on their strengths and seek ways to encourage these people. As counselors, how we see the Hope in God is utmost important.
In the first place, without hope we would not be able to live at all, let alone giving hope to others. Strength-based Christians must let people who are in need see the Hope they have in Jesus Christ rather than their problems.
Who we see ourselves in Christ can affect the way we help others. Strength-based counselors spend time identifying the strengths of people and use the Scriptures to encourage them instead of focusing on their problems. This model is useful for handling mild psychological distress, relationship issues, and empowering individuals to tap into their strengths and resources.
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