Counseling From the Other Side: A Look Into the Mind of a Counselor Pt. 1 | Ep. 26
A SOULTALK conversation with 2 counselors who have been counseling for many years. We chat about what goes on inside a counselor as they work with people. What do you do when you don’t feel the Spirit’s guidance and don’t have any place to go? How has this profession impacted your personal lives?
Brian Fast : Dr. Brian L. Fast, PsyD, is a Licensed Psychologist in New York state, graduate of the University of California, San Diego and the Rosemead Graduate School at Biola University. He served as President and Clinical Director of CCAHope from 1986-2022 with specialized training and experience in short-term dynamic psychotherapy and an evangelical model of spiritual direction. He continues to serve part-time at CCAHope as a counselor and spiritual director. Special interests include marital counseling; growing men’s relational understanding and courage to husband and father well; and offering spiritual direction to individuals at all levels including pastors and ministry couples.
Tom Board: Tom Board graduated from the University of Illinois in Civil Engineering and became a Christian through the Navigator ministry there. In 1989 he received a MA in Biblical Counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He served the Navigators for 46 years as a staff trainer and counselor. Tom has been in private practice since 1990 in the Denver area. His personal life and his thinking about change occurring in the lives of people has been most influenced by the 21 years he and Jenny were privileged to be in an intentional spiritual group with Larry and Rachael Crabb.
Reading & Relating book club
Kep Crabb: Welcome, everyone, to Relational Spirituality, a Larger Story podcast where you belong, you become, and you can be known in the story that’s going on right now. I’m your host today, Kep Crabb. In this quarter, Relational Spirituality will be focused on the themes and the thoughts from the book, SoulTalk, a book written in 2003 and a book used by many counselors over the years as a roadmap to having rich, deep conversations that matter. If you don’t have a copy of SoulTalk now, go to largerstory.com and order one today.
As we dive into our discussion today, I’ve got some special people that are joining me.
I’ve got Rosanne Moore, who many of you know. She also hosts the podcast on Relational Spirituality. She’s a colleague of mine and she’s actually recovering from emergency appendectomy surgery from a few weeks ago. I’m grateful that she’s joining us today and has the strength. So thank you, Rosanne, for joining us today.
Our guests today are two guys who are both very special to me. Both are seasoned counselors who are now looking back on years of talking with people about their lives. I spent this past weekend with one of these gentlemen who is part of a small group that my wife and I are part of. We’ve been part of this group for the last year and a half, and this was the first time that we got to gather together. It was super fun. The Spirit was hovering over the weekend, as we say, and we’re just hoping that happens in our conversation today.
The other guest that’s going to be joining us today is also a close friend of my family’s. He’s a counselor and he’s been part of a small group with my folks for, Tom, has it been two decades? How long was that group?
Tom Board: Yeah, we started about 2001. So it was about 20 years, when Larry was still alive.
Kep Crabb: So the better part of two decades for sure. I just want to say to everyone watching today, these two guys don’t know each other. They’ve not met, but they’re really cut out of the same cloth and I’m super excited to have them both joining us today. So welcome Brian Fast and Tom Board to our discussion today. Guys, thanks for joining us.
Tom Board: You’re welcome. Glad to be here.
Brian Fast: Me too.
Kep Crabb: This is going to be fun. We have been super excited about having you two join us.
Let’s just start today with a couple of quick questions. The first question is: give us a little bit of your counseling background; how long you’ve been involved in counseling, where you started, where you are now, some of those kind of things, just some background on each of you. The second question to this is: how has Larry Crabb’s influence played into some of the counseling that you guys have been a part of for the last few years?
Tom, why don’t you go first?
Tom Board: Sure, glad to. It’s an interesting story. I started in college as a civil engineer and never practiced. I graduated as a civil engineer, but the Navigators, a Christian organization, asked me to come on staff, and I was on staff with them for 15 years, working with college students.
Through a series of events, my life fell apart. The joke in my family is I spent $10,000 on my marriage and just happened to get a counseling degree. I went to Grace Theological Seminary where I met Dan Allender and Larry Crabb, and I went there just to save my marriage and ended up being a counselor. It’s a strange beginning. Out of 54 students, I was the one of the few that had no intention of being a counselor, but those guys actually saw something in me and asked me to stay on. I moved out here to Colorado when they moved out. I’ve been counseling since about 1989. I would say for the first, 10 or 12 years, most of my counseling experience was based on what I had learned from Larry during the counseling program.
There’s a lot of fundamental things that were the same, but things changed with Larry in around the 2000 era, where he began to really ponder the Trinity and how that affects relationality and how you actually chat with people. It wasn’t like I was distant from understanding Larry’s thinking because it was all formative in there, but somewhere around the early 2000s, when I started meeting with him in a spiritual formation group, I went to an SSD. I began to really contemplate that the way I was sitting with people really needed to change and I was beginning to experience that. I could sit with somebody and out of my sheer competency – which, sadly, I have a lot of – I could depend on my competency and not the Spirit to sit with somebody and they would feel very ministered to.
But I really felt there was something missing as I was sitting with people. I think through Larry’s talks going through SSD, I began to notice that there might be a different way for me to sit with people and I made a commitment. I remember very clearly. I was at Glen Erie where I made a commitment. I’ve been a counselor for 10 or 12 years, I made a commitment. I’m going to try to go a different way with people. It was very difficult. I lost nine clients in the first month because the direction I was going was not the way that they thought counseling should look.
It has been a long journey over the last 20 years to begin to realize that I, from my heart, really want to go a different way. I would say that it’s had a major impact on both my comfortability as far as what I do and other times the confusion that I feel when I sit with people because frankly, if you’re really leaning on the Spirit, there are times you really have no clue what to say and for a competent guy, I hate that. I want to know something to say. I want to be able to go in some direction and to really surrender that and say, no, I can’t go that way, it’s really had a pretty big impact.
Rosanne Moore: That was the first question that came to my mind for an engineer.
I would think you’re pretty precise. You like things a certain way, or you would have approached life that way early on. It sounds like you’ve made a big shift in being willing to open your hands and not have to have things that way. Is that correct?
Tom Board: Yeah. The program blew me up. I was literally a mess for 12 months and I think that’s one of the reasons they liked me is that I was willing to be a mess. There was a reason why precision and non relating – if you had talked to any of the people that I was a staff trainer for the Navigators in the Midwest region, none of them would have come to me if they had deep issues because I just wouldn’t go there. What I didn’t know was that there’s a lot of story to my life that was locked inside that came out in those 12 months. That really exposed me to a depth to me that I had no idea I had. That really changed my whole life. It’s not that any of the past is gone. I could probably still do all that kind of ministry that I had done, but I found a deeper passion in me that left me on a different trajectory. That’s a great observation. It’s really true. My wife would say he was a man that I could hardly recognize after two years.
Brian Fast: In a good way.
Tom Board: In a good way. That’s right.
Rosanne Moore: Oh, I’m sure. She would know more than anybody. Okay. I don’t know where we want to go with this, Kep. I don’t want to take over, but that has me curious, but I don’t want to shut Brian out of the conversation either.
Brian Fast: I’m fine. I’m happy to connect this way, too.
Kep Crabb: No, this is fun. I want to introduce Brian, though.
Brian is part of our small group. He and his wife, Jean, were just with our group. We’ve got several couples and a widow in there, and the widow is blind, and she’s just the sweetest gal on the planet. Brian and Jean stayed with her this weekend. We all had a chance to get together and fellowship and eat a lot and talk a lot and talk a lot about some good things. Brian’s become a real special friend of mine. Brian, tell us a little bit about yourself. Maybe some of the Crabb influence on your counseling, perhaps.
Brian Fast: Yeah, sure. My original interest in psychology came with some observations my mother had of me that in junior high and high school, people would gravitate to me to have conversations. It was usually their problems, them bringing the conversation, initiating the conversation, and I would listen and they would leave feeling helped. I really didn’t notice that, but she noticed that and encouraged me to pursue psychology.
I went to a secular undergraduate school and really didn’t like psychology and decided I would like to get into maybe becoming a pastor. I went to a Bible school for a year and then very much felt called to apply to the Biola graduate school, which was Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology at Biola University. That was a pretty clinical purist sort of program. We learned to be psychotherapists. They would even look with a critical eye on you if you wanted to start a session in prayer, that wouldn’t be welcome, at least at the time.
Kep Crabb: Even at Biola?
Brian Fast: Yeah It’s not clean psychotherapy, it could influence the client in one way or another and introduce too much into the relationship from you, the therapist. I started that way and gradually over years viewed myself as on a journey from being a clinical psychotherapist to being a pastoral counselor. That’s the way I thought of myself.
When I started to read and hear your dad’s books and talks, I went to a pre conference that Larry did called “An Evangelical Approach to Spiritual Direction” at an American Association for Christian Counselors conference. I was really drawn to what he had to say, learned for the first time about SSDs and next steps and signed up right away.
Tom, I didn’t know that my marriage was a mess until I got to SSD and started to have some influence from the Spiritual director that worked with me, and then my life blew up. It was actually a great help to see how selfish and self centered I was and I continue to struggle with that as a man, as a person, and as a husband. It was the first real experience of my need for grace and being grateful for grace. I didn’t think I needed much forgiveness before then. I thought I was a pretty snazzy guy. My wife was lucky to have me. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m used to saying it now. It’s just quite a perspective shift.
One thing I’ll mention just about my graduate training, we were mandated to have a year of group psychotherapy and a year of individual psychotherapy. First we had the group, and then we had the individual. I think they got it backwards, in retrospect. Because of how Larry taught about the Trinity and community and SoulTalk and what we’re talking about now, I am convinced that maturity has to do with how we relate to other people, how we put God on display by the way we relate to one another in community.
I think it would have been great to have individual therapy to get to see what some of my issues were, and then, from a more mature place, start to relate and practice and experiment with relating differently in community. That’s what we’re doing in small group. Kep mentioned that we’re in the same small group. Tom, I think it’s really cool that you were in Larry’s small group, and I get to be in Larry’s son’s small group, and we’re practicing community together.
Kep Crabb: It’s so special.
Rosanne Moore: So I’m curious for both of you, how has learning to engage your own story – like Tom was talking about – and seeing God meet you in your story and shape you as you’ve been willing to do that, as you’ve been willing to engage your own heart and your own story, how has that changed?
Perhaps how you’re ministering to other people, how you’re counseling, how you’re relating to, you both talked about your marriages. How has that shaped you?
Tom Board: I’ll start off. I don’t mean to do that each time, but I’ll be glad to. I think, one of the things that Larry talks about in SoulTalk – again, it’s been so long since I read that, but I know that one of the elements that he puts words to is the idea of passion, what’s going on inside of you and the other one is thinking beneath.
I was talking to someone this morning. The reason that I feel so comfortable talking with people is I don’t feel distant from them and they’re messed up-ness. I know my fallen nature is very real and very active in getting in the way all the time of my listening to people and my pondering what the Spirit might be doing and until there’s some level of awareness and repentance on my part as far as what’s going on inside of me, I really can’t hear people very well. I can go through a day and I could have a session where I am super engaged with what’s going on inside of me and engage with them and I could have another session the same day where I’m just lost in my head. I’m thinking about lunch. I’m thinking about what I am going to do when I get home. I’m all over the place and I have to constantly be repenting just to stay focused on somebody. I think that really has had an impact on really understanding, what does it take to be present with somebody, to really be there for somebody else?
It is an internal journey to actually journey well with them. I think that’s one of the ways it’s really impacted me is just being a lot more conscious of what’s going on in me at the same time as listening to them.
Kep Crabb: When you were talking about SoulTalk, think beneath and think vision and think passion and think story, all of the themes from SoulTalk. How they play into how you guys talk with people in an office setting.
I know both of you personally. Why I think both of you are cut from the same cloth and what I said earlier is because I feel safe around both of you. Tom, you and I’ve had some deep discussions. Obviously, Brian and I have had several deep discussions in group together, but there’s something about you guys that gives you a feeling of safety. Dad really brought that to the table as well. I saw that with him all the time.
I think your whole notion, Tom, about being focused – I remember Dad, that big line as he’s talking with someone in the office and he’s thinking to himself, wow, this person really needs professional help. This is Larry Crabb, Mr. PhD, who I always called him the Roger Federer of the counseling world. The understanding and the humility that both of you guys come into this with is something that I think is really attractive and freeing and makes you feel open because you guys break all the rules of counseling.
It would seem. The Goodwill Hunting piece. You’re telling your story and you’re getting involved. Brian, you mentioned, I can’t pray with my client before I meet with them. That’s an interesting piece, but you’re probably at the point now where I want to pray with you.
Brian Fast: Yeah. I’m pretty sure Rosemead is different in their teaching now, but that’s where we started.
That whole idea of safety and how Larry modeled it and what he taught; one of my favorite ways that Larry would start a talk is – I don’t know if you guys remember him doing this, but the first time I heard him speak, getting up after opening in prayer, he said – is anyone else a mess like I am? He was looking for a show of hands, and I just felt safe with him. The way Tom was talking, he’s repenting to the Lord in the middle of a session if he gets distracted or something. I’m going to be safe with a man that’s doing that. I’ve been taught that same way.
I used to counsel out of my false self of wanting to have it together, to know what to say, to have the client leave thinking I’m a smart person or I’m a helpful person. Just managing an impression so I felt good. Now that’s something I have to repent of because that gets in the way of me being present to the Spirit and really caring for the person.
It’s freeing to be able to just admit that about myself and know I need grace for that. Know there is grace for that. Then that can get out of the way, now I’m ready to move with the Spirit toward another person for their good. It’s not a formula, but I’m much more comfortable sharing where I’ve sinned, where I’ve needed forgiveness, what my mistakes and selfishness are in my life with a client when it’s relevant, when the Spirit’s guiding in that direction. I think that’s part of what makes us safe.
Kep Crabb: I see both you guys and I hear your stories. What we wanted to talk about for the second half of our conversation is, how do you deal with things going on in your life as you’re getting ready to go into a counseling session?
I used to think my dad had the toughest job in the world. He had to go talk to people about their problems for eight hours and then come home and deal with me and my brother. I thought, wow, that is so tough. I felt bad for him, but his big thing to us was always even with New Way Ministries and certainly what we’re trying to do with Larger Story is you got to get it in before you get it out.
So when you’re struggling with your wives or you’ve got some relational tensions, how does that impact you guys as counselors?
Brian Fast: Yeah I would say early on I used to just deny it and just pretend everything was fine. I don’t think I did a very good job of self care, proper self care in terms of taking it to the Lord in community. Now, as we’ve already mentioned, I’m in a group with you. I have a great context. Deal with issues in what we call our homies group. The homies. I’m in a Saturday morning men’s group where I have an opportunity to do that as well. Our counseling group is about 10 counselors besides myself and we can be there for each other as well.
I think it’s just crazy to go through life, like it’s just me and Jesus, like my walk with God only involves just Him and me. I think that’s sin. I think it’s taught against in scripture. We’re supposed to assemble together and I don’t think it means just going into church and looking at the back of the head of the person in front of you. It’s turning face to face, having SoulTalk conversations like the book talks about and really having context where I can be real with other people about what’s going on in me and let them be Jesus to me and vice versa. That makes me a much more effective counselor when it comes to listening well to another person or couple. I’m going to counsel them to have that kind of a life themselves where they’re involved in at least one community of people where they can say anything and be known and accepted for who they are. It’s huge and I didn’t know that for many years.
Rosanne Moore: I think you put your finger on something important about church, often – at least here in the U.S. – we think of preaching services as going to church. We don’t think of relating with a community of people. Teaching can be a part of that, but it’s that relating to one another as a body that is really what the church is called to. That’s an important thing that gets missed a lot of times. I think it’s the reason a lot of people feel empty. They can be going to church, but it can feel empty because there’s no relating going on too often.
Brian Fast: Yes.
In Hebrews 10:24-25 we’re used to the first part of it. Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together. But right after it, it says, and think and consider, which means think really deep about how to provoke or stir one another up to love and good works. How we stir one another up to love and good works is not in a lecture format at traditional Sunday morning church. It’s in the circle of a small group and being real with each other in the presence of the Spirit, where we represent Him to one another.
Kep Crabb: That was one of Dad’s favorite passages and the focus of that is the stirring up .What do we do now as we stir up each other. Tom, I’m interested to know with you and Jenny, obviously you’re not in a small group with Mom and Dad anymore. If you are, I’d like to sit in on that one with you for a while.
What are you guys doing for community now? I know all of us, and I know all of our stories a little bit, we’ve all had challenges with church and some maybe more severe than others but nonetheless challenges.
As you were talking, Brian, about the groups, I’m in a men’s group with two other guys that are 75 years old. I’m the junior by 20 years and getting a chance to journey with these guys has been really interesting for me. Obviously, I have the group with you, and I get a chance to do this with Rosanne all the time and talk with people in a deep way.
Tom, what are you doing? What are you and Jenny doing now for community in respect to some of that kind of stuff?
Tom Board: To put it in a context of just how we think about it, it goes back to your other question: what goes on for us when I’m working at my office, I’m coming home to be with my kids, my family, whatever it was.
Probably one of the things that has struck me over the years is that I have an opportunity all day long to be in relationship with people that the Spirit brings into my path. The difficulty is that all day long and every day I’m in different places internally, and that’s one of the things that I’ve had to get very comfortable with.
I think Jenny and I – this is going to lead into answering your question Kep – is that when we’re around people, sometimes people – that could be my wife, my kids, my friends, clients – they could be needing a million dollars from me internally, and I have maybe 20 bucks in my pocket. That’s all I have. Having learned a bit in this journey, it’s been very painful to learn this thing because I’m like Brian. As I mentioned before, I like to be competent. So to feel the incompetency and inadequacy in myself is always a temptation to try to manage the space.
What I’ve tried to learn to do is learn how to give my $20; how to give whatever it is that I have freely to those that are in front of me and who I’m with. That has been a very freeing thing relationally for us. Jenny and I are in that place that it’s not just about being in a particular community, though. We do have relationships with people. We’re part of a church, but it’s more of a mindset that we have when we’re ever around anybody. To try to ask the question, what is it that I have to offer and what can I give? It’s more blessed to give than it is to receive that very deep thought.
I go for developing community, even in our spiritual formation group. It took about five or six years to get really comfortable that we weren’t measuring ourselves or being overly self conscious about what’s going on inside to really just give what we could give, and if it wasn’t going anywhere to relax with that and to get very comfortable with ourselves in a place where we’re trying to actually listen to what’s going on inside of us. That’s how I’d respond to it because I think it fits together as far as just the whole way we look at relating.
We’ve got about five or six couples and we’re not in a formation group where we just have five or six couples that we’re just close to. These are people that are around the country that we can just talk to at any time. And we do. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replicate what we had with Larry, that’s just not going to happen. He brought a certain sense to that, but I think each of us that are in the group we know that we have something to offer to the people that we relate with, so we just try to give that.
Church is a little different. We have a few people at church, the pastor and the executive pastor and some other people in the church, are journeyers, and so they are messy people, and we can relate at a messy level, which just opens all sorts of doors to really talking about our lives in really good ways. That’s been a real encouragement for us.
Brian Fast: I just have another thought about the link between work life and home life that you brought up, Rosanne, and how we manage. I just have a distinct impression of the Lord showing me that He wants me to be a better husband than I am a counselor.
I was once pretty nervous ahead of a session. Not that that’s an unusual or isolated event, sometimes I am nervous before sessions quite often, but just in particular, I was anxious that it went well, anxious that I got out of the way. I prayed, Lord, please help me to get out of the way. You’ve got it. If you’re not in charge of the session, nothing good is going to happen. I submit to you. I was on my knees actually, in my closed office, praying that way before I went down the hall to greet the client. When I put my hand on the doorknob to open my office door to go out to greet the client, as I started to open the door, the Lord impressed on my heart. Brian, why don’t you pray like that on your way home?
It was a question, actually, why don’t you pray like that on your way home? Because my false self is I want to show up as a good counselor, but I take it easy at home and assume everything’s going to be fine at home without that kind of energy and dependence on the Spirit.
The Lord really, in a good way, convicted me that He wants me to rely on Him as much or more for how I come through the door to greet Jean than how I go through the door to greet my clients.
Kep Crabb: Well, thanks for joining us today on Relational Spirituality. Please join us next week for part two of our conversation, Counseling from the Other Side: A Look Into the Mind of a Counselor. Remember, we can all play a part in His Larger Story.
Have a great week.