One of the tasks of the biblical counselor is to be equipped and prepared to minister the Scriptures to those allotted to his care. He must be a student of the Word. He must be diligent to study and know the meaning of the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Timothy 2:15) and he must know how to work the Scriptures into the lives of others—to teach, reprove, correct, and train (2 Timothy 3:16) the particular counselee with the particular circumstances of his life.
I suspect that most counselors are like me—we need help from others in that process. So I am constantly reading to equip myself with biblical and theological knowledge to care for the souls of others. And I regularly assign the books I read to my counselees so that they also benefit from the wisdom of others.
I have compiled a list of “go to” books for counseling. These are books that I will regularly use, and they are books that I ask my counselors-in-training to read before I “graduate” them as certified counselors. This is not a perfect list and it’s not a complete list. But it is a good starter list for any beginning counselor to use. Acquaint yourself with these books. Learn from them yourself. And then use them to care for the souls of others.
Generally, these are “big picture” kinds of books; I don’t have my favorite books on topics like marriage, communication, anger, or anxiety on this list. These are books that will help you to understand the broad heart issues that can often be applied to a variety of sinful attractions.
The Christian Counselor’s Manual, by Jay Adams. This is one of the “classic” works by Adams that returned counseling to the church. Adams is not my favorite writer, but he is essential for understanding the biblical counseling movement and I often return to his works, particularly this one, for help in both the process and particulars of counseling.
A Theology of Biblical Counseling, by Heath Lambert. Read this book. Often. Designed as something of an “update” of Adams’ similarly-titled work, Lambert is more readable and helpful. I have a copy on my shelf and on my Kindle and I use them both frequently. It sounds trite, but this is a “must read” for every biblical counselor.
How to Counsel Biblically, edited by John MacArthur. This anthology of articles (mostly from The Masters Seminary and University professors and graduates) fits chronologically between Adams and Lambert. It likewise is an indispensably helpful resource for beginning counselors.
The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, by Jeremy Pierre. Pierre insightfully helps counselors understand the nature of the heart, how it governs day-to-day decisions and activities, and how to help the heart change to honor Christ. Several years ago my wife bought this at a conference. As she was reading it she kept mumbling, “That’s so good,” and then telling me, “You have to read this.” I would nod in agreement—“Yea, I need to move it off my ‘to read’ pile.” Now I’ve read it. And then I bought the Kindle version so it would always be accessible to me. You have to buy this. Then move it off your “to read” pile and read and assimilate it into your own heart.
“Christ and your Problems,” by Jay Adams. This is Adams’ simple, but very helpful, explanation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 and its application to the problems we all encounter in life. This is one of my most-assigned pamphlets for my counselees to read.
“How to Handle Trouble,” by Jay Adams. In this pamphlet, Adams explains Philippians 1:12-26. It is a little longer than “Christ and Your Problems,” and will likely take most counselees 2-3 weeks to read, but it is worth the effort and will lay a solid basis for responding to difficulties.
Finally Free, by Heath Lambert. This is one of the finest books on
pornography sanctification that I’ve ever read. I’ve used this often with counselees struggling with temptations to sexual sin and pornography, but it really is a book about sanctification, with particular emphasis on pornography. The principles, though, could be used in fighting against any kind of sin.
Trusting God, by Jerry Bridges. This is not a biblical counseling book, at least by definition. But I suppose I have assigned this book for reading more than almost any other book when counseling. If someone is struggling with his understanding of God, or anxiety, or worry, or fear, this is a small book about the bigness of God. I have read it multiple times for ministry to my own soul and have found it consistently helpful in the lives of my counselees as well.
Putting Your Past in Its Place, by Steve Viars. Everyone has a past. And in our past, we have all sinned and we have all been sinned against. And when we have sinned and been sinned against, we sometimes have responded righteously and sometimes unrighteously. And those various responses to those various circumstances often produce painful heartache in our lives. Viars skillfully navigates all those situations with biblical skill, providing hope for both sufferers and those who have inflicted suffering on others.
If you were to ask me for this list two years from now, I suspect it will have changed. But this is a good starting point for both beginning and seasoned counselors to keep their counseling skills sharp.