Have you ever wondered how involved a counselor should be in the life of a counselee? Have you ever thought, “It is fine to meet once a week, but I shouldn’t become more involved”? Do you ask yourself, “Am I being too nosy to ask my counselee to report on specific details of her life?” Perhaps you wonder, “What if my counselee resists accountability? Should I force the issue?” The Bible encourages us to implement accountability as a means to love one another.
The Bible Encourages Two Types of Accountability
First, accountability can have a positive tone.
In The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Christian was encouraged by his companions named Faithful and Hopeful as they traveled toward the Celestial City. As a counselor, you can be a similar companion as you “encourage the fainthearted” and “help the weak” (1 Thess. 5:14). Hebrews 10:24 directs us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” We are to encourage one another with greater intensity as we realize that the Day of the Lord is swiftly approaching.
Accountability is one aspect of our meeting together, as Hebrews 10:25 implies: “Not neglecting to meet together…but encouraging one another.” How could we join with one another in worship without the encouragement we find in conversation and fellowship? The encouragement a biblical counselor offers could include advice on incorporating spiritual disciplines into assigned homework.
Second, accountability can function as a protection against sin.
In Hebrews 3:13, we are told to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The implication here is that we need each other because we are vulnerable to becoming increasingly influenced by sin. It is helpful to remember the importance of your role when a counselee interrupts your day with an accountability report. If you are still wondering if you are getting over-involved, you can think about the next verse, Hebrews 3:14a, “For we have come to share in Christ.” Our unity with Christ is reflected in our daily care for one another.
The church in Galatia needed to practice accountability. Some were struggling to live by the fruit of the Spirit. They were told to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Those who were spiritual were to help those who needed restoration (Gal. 6:1). The brethren were to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). This verse has helped me many times when an unexpected need for spiritual help comes by text or email. I tell myself that it is a privilege to bear the burden of a sister in Christ. Sometimes she needs to hear the assurance that my desire to fulfill the second greatest commandment welcomes her request. She may not have any other person willing or able to be an accountability partner.
Biblical Counseling Fosters Accountability
Biblical counselors build accountability into each session. Assigning and following up on homework is the means we use to get into the details of our counselees’ lives. I often tell my counselees that I function similar to a doctor who asks pointed questions in order to get a clear picture of overall physical health. Sometimes general answers aren’t sufficient. This explanation helps a counselee who may wonder why our relationship has suddenly become more intimate than any of her casual friendships. This deeper friendship may be a new experience for a counselee, but it is the fulfillment of the Lord’s call to love one another.
For example, I not only want to know if my counselee reads the Bible, but also how often and the specifics of the reading plan. I not only want to know if she attends church but how often and the specifics of her involvement at church. I not only want to know if she has Christian friends but how often she gets together with these friends and the specifics of how her friends are a positive influence.
Counselors assign homework specific to the counselee’s sin struggles. One counselee may confess an undue preoccupation with video or computer games. This becomes an item to report at each meeting. The homework could include a screenshot of weekly screen time spent on her smartphone. A counselee who confesses frequent outbursts of anger could keep an anger journal to be shared at the next meeting. A counselee who has anorexia could report on specific daily meals and exercise. A counselee who confesses frequenting places that are a source of temptation could agree to an app that reports location. Covenant Eyes or a similar program can be installed to provide accountability about computer use. This specific accountability can help your counselee until she has developed God-honoring habits.
The goal of counseling is to make disciples to the praise and glory of the Lord. Sometimes this is accomplished by reminding our counselees of the truths they know but need to implement. As Peter writes, “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have” (2 Pet. 1:12). We are in a position to provide accountability to the counselee who needs help in establishing new habits.
We can also function as an accountability partner who receives reports of success or failure. Just the realization that a counselor will ask specific questions about sinful patterns can be enough to help a counselee follow the Lord. The dread of giving bad news is a powerful incentive. Positively, a friend who truly loves will encourage her counselee in “love and good deeds.”
We bear fruit in every good work as we get involved in the lives of others. This can even include the minute aspects of the lives of those who invite us to help them.
Questions for Reflection
- How will you change your homework assignments to foster greater accountability?
- The biblical counselor is not able to become an accountability partner for many counselees at once. How will you encourage your counselee to become accountable to a family member, friend, or spiritual leader in their church?
- Do you see a need in your own life for accountability? With whom can you develop such a relationship, either to encourage spiritual disciplines or to avoid sinful habits?