Have you ever met counselors to whom you want to say, “Counselor, counsel thyself”? I’ve met quite a few. Such counselors seem blissfully unaware of the multiple unaddressed and unresolved problems and issues in their own lives and yet are going around trying to be experts in helping others.
That’s why one of the first things we do in my Foundations of Biblical Counseling course is have students complete the DISC personality test. I usually invite one of my friends, Dr. Peter Newhouse of Winning at Home, to administer the test and interact with the students’ findings.
But why start a Biblical Counseling course with a personality test?
Because I believe that one of the keys to counseling others well is being able to counsel ourselves well. Self-counseling is the best training for other-counseling. I am convinced that the best counselors of others are those who have learned how to counsel themselves first of all. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said that the secret to the Christian life was to “learn how to preach to yourself.”
Even secular counselors such as Freud understood the necessity of this, apparently devoting the last hour of every day to “understanding himself.” Collins points out:
Freud believed that as a first step in becoming competent, the counselor must develop “insight into the … unconscious layers of his own soul.” To achieve this goal, he recommended that all counselors be analyzed by a trained therapist. While this suggestion has been rejected by most modern psychologists, it is generally agreed that self-understanding is a very desirable counselor characteristic…By knowing about ourselves, we are better able to evaluate and control our own behavior, and we can more fully appreciate the feelings and actions of our counselees. The counselor who has not faced up to the problems of his own life, his own methods of evasion and self deception, his own rationalizations will have little understanding of these devices as they are employed by others.
The best counselors understand themselves, their personalities, their hearts, their strengths, their weaknesses, their limitations, their vulnerabilities, etc., and are taking appropriate steps in response. While not infallible, personality tests can assist in this process because at the very least they help raise our awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, whether we are more introverted or extroverted, how we learn, what we value, how we come to decisions, etc. That in turn begins to breed self-knowledge and humility, vital components of any counseling ministry.
They also help us understand the complexity and variety of human nature, especially if we do this personality testing exercise in a group setting and listen to others’ findings and responses. One of the greatest problems I’ve noticed in young (and not-so-young) pastors and counselors is the tendency to think everyone is like oneself, and that what works for one person will work for everyone else. Personality tests reveal the incredible diversity of humanity, even in a class of reformed seminary students, and encourage a more prayerful discernment in listening to counselees’ stories and in responding wisely to their needs and problems.
The most effective counselors I’ve come across are those who are counseling themselves first and most.
 G. Collins, Effective Counseling (Carol Stream, Illinois; Creation House 1972), 17.