Category Archives: counseling

A Brief Review of “Safe People” by Cloud and Townsend

I just finished reading the book “Safe People” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (the same authors who wrote “Boundaries”) and thought I would share a brief review.

Safe People Book Cover

I confess the title led me to believe it was going to be about how to get rid of all the unsafe people in your life. And I think the authors titled it that way intentionally; even the tag line of the book gives that impression.

As I read the book, though, and the descriptions of unsafe people at the beginning, I realized that a few of those traits even describe me. 😳 I think that’s the authors’ point: the line between “safe” and “unsafe” people isn’t so black and white. Because we’re all sinners, any of us might be “unsafe” or fall into “unsafe” behavior patterns from time to time. You can fall into them without even realizing it.

After describing the characteristics of unsafe people in part 1, the authors go on to examine the reasons we may be drawn to unsafe people in part 2. I found this section very revealing as well, for I saw a number of the tendencies they described in that section in myself. The last chapter of part 2 asks why we isolate ourselves, which is one of the tendencies that makes us more vulnerable to unsafe relationships. That chapter hit me right between the eyes. I do tend to isolate myself. They said some people isolate because they’ve lost the ability to feel their hunger for relationships. Ouch. That describes me more than I wanted to admit.

The final section of the book, part 3, describes the characteristics of safe people, and why we need them in our lives. They bring home the point that if we tend to isolate ourselves this really isn’t what we need; it’s a self-protection mechanism (my words) but it keeps us from getting what we really need, which is relationships with safe people. The book then goes on to look at how we can find safe people, and how we can become safe people ourselves.

In the last chapter of the book the authors ask the question: So what about the unsafe relationships in your life? Do you need to get them completely out of your life, or should you instead try to repair and rebuild those relationships? I started the book just wanting to get the unsafe people out of my life, but the authors make a strong case that this is never the ideal. They talk about how God is so much about relationships and how God goes out of His way to pursue relationships with broken, hurtful people, and the authors admonish us to follow God’s example.

The authors recommend ways to try to repair unsafe relationships. The main thing they advocate is: instead of simply abandoning the unsafe person, we should take a stand for our needs and values in the relationship. They say that often the person who’s being mistreated in a relationship can bring change to the way the other person treats them by standing up for themselves. So the authors recommend that ending a relationship is a last resort and should only be chosen as the solution when every effort has been made to stand up for oneself and hold the other person accountable, and still there is no change. They also recommend trying this for some amount of time rather than giving up at the first sign that it’s not working. They talk about how longsuffering God is toward us and say that we should be longsuffering toward one another as well.

In conclusion, “Safe People” is not an easy read. If you read it prayerfully with an open mind and heart, it will prod you to look more at yourself than at the people in your life who are causing you problems. It has definitely given me a lot of food for thought and prayer.

Book Summary – “Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling” by Richard F. Hall

Hall, Richard F. Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling. Englewood, CO: Exchanged Life Ministries, 1998.

Hall, Richard F. Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling. Englewood, CO: Exchanged Life Ministries, 1998.

This is the third of three book summaries I had to write for a class on Discipleship Counseling I’m taking through my church.  The first summary can be found here, the second right here.  The third book we had to read has the captivating title Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling by Richard F. Hall.  It is somewhat of a brief textbook for the type of biblical counseling in which we’re being trained.

Explained briefly, the term “exchanged life” refers to the idea that when we place our trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, he takes our sin, death, and selfishness and in exchange gives us forgiveness, life, and a loving heart.  Hall says the exchanged life involves exchanging our self-centered approach to living for a new approach in which we live for Christ.

Here is my brief summary of the book.  I’ve included a few explanatory comments in [brackets].

  1. Each person is made up of three parts: the spiritual (i.e., spirit), the psychological (i.e., soul) and the physical (i.e., body).  An unsaved person operates out of the psychological part of themselves. For a Christian, the spiritual aspect is the essence of who they are.
  2.  [This “tri-partite” view of the person is based on the following Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ~ “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.   And Hebrews 4:12 ~ “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”]
  3. The primary cause of problems in people’s lives is living life out of their own resources rather than in dependence on God.  [This way of living is known in the Bible as “living by the flesh.”  The apostle Paul uses the term “flesh” in a unique way, not to refer to our physical bodies but rather to speak of that part of us that is drawn to sin and opposes God. Key passages in which Paul uses the term “flesh” this way are Romans 7:14-8:17 and Galatians 5:16-25.]  Sin and the flesh are the source of people’s problems.  Living out of the flesh is a self-centered approach to life and ultimately detrimental.
  4. There are certain qualification a person needs to meet in order to be an exchanged life counselor.  First and foremost, they must have a personal experience of salvation through Jesus Christ.  They also need to be totally surrendered to the Lordship of Christ.  The exchanged life counselor needs a good overall knowledge and understanding of Scripture, as well as training in communication skills.  Finally, he or she should meet the qualifications for Christian leadership outlined in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
  5. As with most counseling methods, exchanged life counseling begins with the client’s presenting problem–their stated reason for seeking counseling. The counselor then takes the client’s personal history.  This helps the counselor get to know the client. It also helps both counselor and client identify unhelpful patterns the client follows to deal with life.
  6. After the client’s problem is presented and a personal history is taken, the first step in the actual counseling process is a presentation of the salvation message if necessary, for this is the foundation of the entire method. The second step is to acquaint the client with their former identity “in Adam”–that is, the way they were as a fallen, sinful, and unredeemed person when they were born into this world. The third step is to help the client understand his or her new identity in Christ.  [The assumption is that we are all born “in Adam” but when we accept Christ we are born again, or “born from above” (see John 1:12-13 and John 3:1-21).  From that moment on we are no longer in Adam, but we are now in Christ.]
  7. The counseling method presented in the book has six steps: A) Assess the problem. B) Learn the client’s social history. C) The connection needs to be drawn between the presenting problem and the client’s past living patterns. D) The client is taught about his/her identification with Christ. E) The client is led to appropriate his or her identity in Christ. F) Further areas need to be dealt with that relate to the issue at hand.
  8. Exchanged life counseling techniques include: A) Preparation – through prayer, reviewing previous counseling sessions, and relaxation. B) Attentive communication skills, listening. C) Observation, concreteness, respect, and empathy. D) Confrontation, self-disclosure, and immediacy. E) Genuineness. F) Use of visual aids such as charts or diagrams which illustrate the truths being taught. G) Appropriate use of Scripture. H) Homework tailored to the client’s needs.
  9. The primary goal of exchanged life counseling is that the client come to understand and experience his or her identity in Christ and apply this understanding to life’s problems. Sub-goals to this primary goal include: A) Helping the client grow in Christ-like-ness. B) Helping the client grow to spiritual maturity. C) Seeing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) start to emerge in the client’s life. D) Helping the client experience freedom in Christ’s life.
  10. Exchanged life counseling is founded on certain theological concepts: A) The Bible as the infallible source of authority. B) The doctrine of man and sin. C) The doctrine of salvation. D) The doctrine of sanctification.

In conclusion, Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling serves as a good summary and explanation of what exchanged life counseling is all about. As such it serves as a good resource to consult over and over again.  My one criticism of the book is that it’s very conceptual and therefore mostly abstract.  The author doesn’t take time to illustrate the concepts.  It would be very helpful if the author would release a later edition in which illustrative material is added to flesh out the concepts.  However, the book does include a number of drawings which could be used in counseling sessions to help explain concepts to the client.  All in all the book is a good beginning resource for exchanged life counseling.