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  • Stephen Greggo

Organic Assessment for Christian Counselors

Assessment begins by listening to a life story and hearing the yearning of the heart. Christians who counsel can apply measurement technology to guide holistic growth and honor biblical wisdom. [1] Let us begin by using an organic lens to reimagine assessment for counseling.


Farming stories are a favorite way of Jesus to convey heavenly lessons. Parables stay in our memories and stimulate creative offshoots. [2] These legends from everyday experience share profound lessons. Through parables, Jesus calls forth receptive discipleship, faithfulness, godly virtues, loyalty, fairness, and service to the one who is King over all creation. Here is an earthy lesson to cultivate the use of measurement thoroughly into counseling ministry. Consider this parabolized tale of an organic farmer.


Around our country home lies a modest hillside field. It once lay fallow as a rejected and neglected pasture that even the local cows had abandoned. When invited to take a look, farmer Rob could see disguised potential. With a vision of bountiful harvest, this son of the soil yanked brush, pulled saplings, hauled rocks, and eventually tilled the hardened ground. Farmer Rob is committed to organic techniques. The crop rotates from clover to barley to black beans and, for this season, a multigrain mixture. As farmer Rob drives his vintage green combine in slow loops to clip the seed tops, my curiosity is captured by a studious spectator. Farmer Rob’s dad is field side pouring over a laptop. As I approach, he refuses to move his eyes from the screen. In his plain, no-nonsense manner, he gives a commonsense explanation to this outlander.


“We’re collecting data to build a yield map.”


“What’s a yield map?” I queried.


“A sensor in the combine chute tracks the seed volume coming off each exact area in the field. Next year, we’ll fertilize the cold spots to get the most from the soil.” He held out an impressive map-like picture with color contours. It is difficult to square the rattling noise of the antique combine with such sophisticated technology.


“Isn’t manure cheap? Why not cover the whole field” I quipped?


“Sure, if you’ll take poop from uncertified stock that’s eaten any old fodder tainted with who knows what. Only genuine organic material goes down on this field. We drive our big rig out to the coast to pick up a tank load of fish byproducts. That seafood stuff is pricy. Organic diggers may not be able to compete with the big boys, but we get the most from each and every acre.”


An image hit me. Last week, I had witnessed a tractor-trailer load of chemicals being spread on the massive fields just a quarter mile down the road. In a flash, a new understanding erupted. Organic farming is smart farming. It has specific goals, measurable results, attainable outcomes, a realistic appraisal to manage finite resources, and time-bound practices that do not push problems down the road. Each detail is considered as every parcel is nourished. Farmer Rob may hang on season by season, but his gaze is on the field’s sustainability over the long term.

“Organic farming is agriculture that makes healthy food, healthy soils, healthy plants, and healthy environments a priority, along with crop productivity.” [3] Organic techniques never give in to maximum productivity at any price.

Let’s move from harvesting fields to hearing human hearts. Assessment in counseling—like its biblical counterpart, discernment—is an ongoing routine with an organic perspective to encourage movement in God’s people toward what is truly best. The clients we serve, not unlike the forsaken field, sit before us with disguised potential. Their hearts cry out from the experience of loneliness, isolation, and depletion of vital nutrients. Their souls may be weakened from exposure to clever, but tainted, beliefs. In collaboration with the Holy Spirit, our vision is to see fresh ways that they can live their heavenly identity as their feet walk on earth (Matthew 6:10).


When we hear a client’s story, we ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to assess hidden resources, recognize strengths, and accept their ordained originality. Once counseling gets underway, investing in targeted assessment can inform the counselor/client dyad to build a fruit of the spirit “yield” map (Galatians 5:22-23). What is weakening or generating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control? Life conditions and toxic relationships may choke the outpouring of the Spirit’s recreative effort. Let’s take a lesson from my farmer friends and be smart about our unique emphasis for therapeutic conversation.


Christian counseling is like organic farming, for it is people helping that makes holistic living, loving families, flourishing individuals, and kingdom stewardship its top priority as it promotes productivity in the fruit of the Spirit. Counseling with a pastoral purpose will chart a course for growth by merging the best technology of the profession with goals that foster abundant living and deeper discipleship. Smart counselors make the most of measurement instruments to show how and where our care is effective in realizing outcomes.


Challenge yourself to implement the following four strategies.


First, apply selective therapeutic assessment. Before bringing an instrument into a session, conduct a systematic review to consider its redemptive validity—the effectiveness of an assessment to provide insight into living out the teachings of Scripture. Intentional assessment choices assist us in getting to know our clients and their struggles. Symptom screeners break down big problems into smaller pieces. Personality measures reveal characteristics that show up in the counseling partnership and may help identify goals that will mature Christian virtues.

Second, treasure sustainability. Counselors creatively scale change to show clients how they are progressing gradually but steadily. The purpose is to motivate gratitude for the journey ahead. Alliance trackers make features of the helping partnership accessible and transparent. [4] Early recognition that improvement has stalled does not spell defeat; it opens an opportunity to adjust course.

Third, keep measurement simple. There is a wide range of brief and cost-effective rapid assessment measures available today. From the emerging diagnostic actions that accompany DSM-5 to well-researched scales that give insight into spiritual attitudes and practices, a prepared clinician can take an objective reading without breaking a sweat or the bank. [5]

Finally, submit all our discernment efforts to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Counselors use data-based results to show clients how to take deliberate steps by God’s grace to honor Him in ordinary ways.


Farmers steward land as artists who work with dirt. Christian counselors are artisans of the heart. Our specialization requires examining words and behavior to discern the intricate ties between what is evident on the surface and what lies within. We collect details regarding events, actions, and relationships to piece together a plausible explanation for the occurrences that arise from deeper, more intimate layers. Further, as counseling conversations unfold, artisans of the heart consistently monitor two key parameters: the therapeutic partnership and treatment progress. Artisans of the heart develop the skill to allow the helping relationship to inspire hope, offer hospitality, and ultimately support the cultivation of Christian character.


This blog appeared in the AACC Christian Counseling Connection newsletter (Vol. 23, Iss. 3).


Endnotes

[1] Greggo, S.P. (2019). Assessment for counseling in Christian perspective (ACCP). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. https://www.stephenpgreggo.com/.

[2] Consider these examples: the sower (Matthew 13:1-23); the weeds and the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30); the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32); laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16); and tenant famers (Matthew 21:33-45). See Mike Glenn, “Why Jesus talked so much about agriculture?” https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/january/why-jesustalked-

so-much-about-agriculture.html.

[3] Organic Farming Research Foundation (https://ofrf.org/). Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about organic farming.

[4] The Counseling Partnership Alliance Check (CPAC) is a succinct and simple measure to mutually monitor the effectiveness of the helping partnership. See Appendix 3 in Assessment for Counseling in Christian Perspective.

[5] For the DSM-5 emerging measures, see https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm/educational-resources/assessment-measures. For procedures and measures to assess spirituality, see “Gauging Religious Affection” (Chapter 13) in Assessment for Counseling in Christian Perspective.

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