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A Glimpse into the Laboratory: Counseling in Community

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

The most frequently asked question about Redemption Groups is “when is the next Immersion“. We’re working to develop a network of leaders and churches to host Immersions much more often to allow regular opportunities. In fact, there’s one coming up in St. Louis, MO in January 2012, and very likely another in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle or Portland) in March 2012—more details forthcoming. To hear announcements for those opportunities, be sure to sign up for the e-mailing list on this site, and also the Immersion waiting list.

In the meantime, we’ve been developing additional ways to train leaders for Redemption Groups that we hope will create more opportunities for training, most notably the training course we call Counseling in Community, or more affectionately, CinC (pronounced “see in see”).

This course combines training in some of the basic biblical counseling skills outlined by Paul Tripp in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, with some of the heart-searching content in Redemption, all practiced in realtime in a “fishbowl” lab environment. The typical CinC course runs parallel to the weekly Redemption Group program. Each week, CinC students join Redemption Group participants for the Redemption main session. After the main session, when RG participants go to their groups, CinC students remain for some skill instruction from Instruments, followed by a lab exercise.

The lab, which is part three of each session, brings together and puts into action what students get from part one (Redemption main teaching)—we’ll call that the sermon—and part two (Instruments skill instruction). The sermon is intended to stir the student’s heart and set up a question that they’ll take into their lab exercise. The skill instruction component works through a series of skills from Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, like “enter the person’s world through entry gates“. From session to session, we address aspects of LOVE, KNOW, SPEAK and DO—the four major components of Tripp’s counseling model. (Sometimes, we’ve run a compact four-session series, in which case, we work on only four of the skills in Instruments, and replace full Redemption teachings with five to seven minute mini-sermons or devotionals, based either on bible passages that correspond to themes in Redemption, or other bible passages).

The lab looks like the following diagram.

 

In the lab, students sit in an arrangement like the diagram above. Participants in the yellow pod will discuss their response to the sermon, engaging in twenty to thirty minutes of group dialogue and counseling—like a slice of Redemption Group. Typically, one or two people in that span of time will end up on the “hot seat”, being pursued in counseling by one or more others.

While the yellow pod is engaged in this discussion in the inner circle, the green and blue pods seated in the outer circle observe the yellow pod’s interaction, paying close attention to general things like the pace of the conversation, the non-verbals and how well they work together, and more specifically, they watch for the entry gates (for example): What entry gates were opened? Which did they go through? How did they go through the gates? What effect did it have on the one being counseled when this or that entry gate was gone through? What effect did it have when some other entry gate was missed?

At some point, the Lab Facilitator pauses the inner circle’s conversation and transitions the lab into a time of debriefing. Everyone discusses what they observed, how it felt, and what they can learn from what went well and what could have gone better. Each session, the topic for the inner circle’s discussion changes to follow the sermon series, and new observation tasks are added to the outer circle as each skill from Instruments is introduced, and each pod rotates into the inner circle. Observations build over time.

These labs have been very fruitful in several ways. First, there is personal transformation as hearts are laid bare and the Spirit does his work in real time through the Word and the community. This is a real life discussion after all, fishbowl observers notwithstanding. Second, students’ eyes are opened to so much that is going on during these interactions by watching others counsel and being counseled, and by having their own counseling observed and receiving feedback. Third, they learn more how to listen and talk deeply with others, especially in group contexts.

This has helped us achieve a variety of outcomes, including the following:

  1. For those who’ve never gone through a Redemption Group, it has been eye-opening and paradigm-shifting like a Redemption Group, though not as intense or in-depth as a Redemption Group. This has let us introduce a lot more of our community to this kind of conversation, which in turn deepens their communities.
  2. It has helped us surface new candidates for Redemption Group leadership. People who may not have thought of themselves as counselors find themselves coming to life and using talents they didn’t know they had. (At the same time, there are those who imagine themselves to be counselors, but demonstrate a lack of readiness to counsel in these labs. By identifying this early in the lab environment, we can avoid spending time and energy on developing them as counselors until the time is right for their further development.)
  3. It has been a good skills training for existing volunteer counselors, including Redemption Group leaders.
  4. As we’ve developed lab facilitators, we came to see that the skills that are good for facilitating a lab are also good for supervising a Redemption Group and coaching its leaders. So running these labs has also helped us train group supervisors.
  5. It’s been much more scalable for introducing people to counseling in a community setting and recruiting new leaders, where previously the Redemption Groups themselves were our only viable means. A typical Redemption Group involves two leaders with six participants, a ratio of 1:3. A typical CinC lab involves two leaders with twenty-four participants, a ratio of 1:12, or four times as many participants as leaders.

There are trade-offs, of course. A CinC lab is no replacement for a full Redemption Group experience; lab participants don’t get to go as deeply into their own hearts: the time in the inner circle is shorter and each student may go into the inner circle a few times through the duration of the course. On the other hand, this lab format allows many more people to have an eye-opening experience: this is what deep conversation in community can sound like and feel like.

We think this training method is going to be a very nice complement to the Redemption Group Immersions, and with its greater scalability, we expect it to create more opportunities for more training to come.

Update: a sample syllabus for Counseling in Community™ is available here.