by Ann Maree Goudzwaard
A particularly fruitful exercise in the practice of biblical counseling is data gathering. The Personal Data Inventory helps counselors discover basic information about the counselee and the nature of their problem. Counselors can refer back to the PDI from time to time in order to glean a fuller understanding of their counselee’s problems. However, one of the best data tools available to a counselor in the process of counseling is the circumstance journal. This is not a free-flowing stream of consciousness kind of journal to catalogue feelings. Rather, the circumstance journal is an account of a situation that leads the counselee to further investigate their typical responses. I find that the experiences counselees encounter between our visits provide valuable information. This data can help lead us toward the process of change.
The idea isn’t mine. Plenty of seasoned biblical counselors have a version that works best for them. My process looks something like this:
Instruct the counselee to record a couple of sentences about a circumstance in which they became upset, angry, cried, argued, or became defensive. This is not an all-inclusive list of “upsets” that may occur in their world. However, their responses at these moments can be red flags alerting us to the ways God may be working change in their lives.
In light of the circumstance, ask the counselee to answer this series of questions: [i]
- What were you thinking?
- What were you feeling?
- How did you act?
- What did you want?
Have the counselee write out the works of the flesh found in Galatians 5:19-21. Ask the counselee to prayerfully consider which works of the flesh were evident in their response to the circumstances.
Ask the counselee to then prayerfully seek the Lord’s forgiveness for their fleshly responses.
Ask the counselee to write out the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. Have them prayerfully consider an opposite “fruit action” response. For example; if they responded with jealousy, they can consider a specific, loving act such as offering to pray for the other person or serve them with a particular need. If they responded with divisiveness, they can exhibit peace by seeking forgiveness.
We sin in very specific ways. The circumstance journal helps to identify the particular sins in our responses, the precise works of the flesh to put off, how to renew the mind with truth, and the genuine fruit of repentance to put on.
At first, counselees find this practice tedious. My intention is not to teach them to be morbidly introspective. However, in order to grow in Christlikeness, we must all be students of ourselves. I want to help people get in the practice of naturally evaluating how they interpret life and how they respond on the path that God ordains. The circumstance journal encourages this practice.