Dan Montgomery has written an informative guide to pastors and therapists, which continues to help counseling professionals to take an action-oriented approach to care. In his book, Dr. Montgomery manages to bring psychological depth to Christianity and empower therapists to engage in the faith-oriented practice. Originally published in 2006, Christian counseling that works includes twenty-five techniques to stimulate counselee growth. To demonstrate the techniques in action, the author provides insightful comments on their implementation in various cases. Socratic probing, behavioral rehearsal, metaphor construction, conditional alignment, congratulatory affirmation, and Grandma’s rule are among the many techniques discussed in the book. Dr. Montgomery focuses on the Self Compass growth tool targeted at clinical and pastoral counselors as an efficient framework to examine a patient’s personality dynamics. The author himself uses the Self Compass model to describe the traits of Christ. In addition, Christian counseling that works provides counselees with the strategies for evaluating their professional functioning. Dr. Montgomery aims to combine therapeutic psychology and the Lord in his work to integrate Christian beliefs into counseling. Therefore, he dissects psychological theories through the prism of values compatible with Christian orthodoxy.
The first chapter of the book is dedicated to a thorough analysis of the Compass Theory and the concepts associated with it. Dr. Montgomery successfully combines counseling with Christian orthodoxy in the design of the Compass model. The theoretical framework behind it was developed at the Institute of Personality Assessment in Berkeley. The factor analysis of personality traits conducted by Californian researchers demonstrated that the core of one’s personality is characterized by polarities. Dr. Montgomery and his colleagues, however, decided to expand upon the Institute findings and proposed a model, which would label such polarities as love/assertion as well as weakness/strength. The author takes the first letters of the Compass points and refers to them as LAWS. The Self Compass model is essentially a circle of personality divided into four quadrants that represent the dynamics guiding each person.
The notion most important to gain a deeper understanding of the Self Compass framework is that within the personality LAWS, no point is better than others. Love and assertion are equal, whereas strength is not necessarily better than weakness. Dr. Montgomery argues that “well-balanced individuals maintain free and rhythmic access to all four poles of the Self Compass” (Montgomery, 2018, p. 6). This is an extremely important point to make since therapists have to be aware of the symbiotic relationship between love/assertion and strength/weakness.
The pages dedicated to the description of the Self Compass poles do a great job at introducing the concepts to the readers while emphasizing the significance of balance in personality. For example, Dr. Montgomery notes that love often acts as the glue that connects people and fills their life with gentleness, kindness, and friendship. However, it is not only impossible to remain loving all the time but counter-productive as well. People sometimes require assertiveness to stand in opposition to others to ensure they do not lose themselves trying to please others. As for weakness and strength, Dr. Montgomery points out how crucial it is for a person to combine the two as a way to become a worthwhile human being. While weakness reflects vulnerability and confusion, strength stands for the human need for competency and recognition.
The author’s approach to weakness is admirable as he considers this pole the main source of humility and empathy. For Dr. Montgomery, a healthy personality combines the Self Compass points in a way that the development of one pole depends upon the strengthening of the other. The most fascinating part of the first chapter for a man of faith is the psychological approach Dr. Montgomery takes in describing Christ’s personality. Using the Compass Theory, the author manages to dissect the rhythmical expression of the LAWS in Jesus Christ. When it comes to the love compass point, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who has provided a loving service to those in need. On the other hand, Christ expressed assertiveness when he “debates the scribes of Pharisees, rebuked the disciples for their self-seeking and in-house squabbling, drove the money changers from the Temple, and took the risks required to express the values and fulfill his calling” (Montgomery, 2018, p. 7). As for the weakness/strength polarity, Christ has both accepted the humiliation of death on the cross as a criminal and had the strength to go through resurrection.
Compass Therapy gives a psycho-spiritual answer to counselees. They can use the Self Compass to develop a dynamic set of checks and balances to ensure wholeness while going through life. When a person uses the compass points freely, they can experience the benefits of the Compass model to its full extent. Thus, love forms the virtue of caring; assertion leads to courage; weakness fosters the virtue of humility, while strength yields esteem. In his book, Dr. Montgomery manages to explain the strategies to understand behavioral dysfunction as well as offer techniques to heal and transform it.
Singular compass pole
Jesus’ personality is the example of a healthy balance of the compass rhythms of love, assertion, weakness, and strengths. In the modern world, various compass points get blocked, which results in dysfunction. According to Dr. Montgomery (2018), counselees have to avoid fixation on a singular compass pole and try to combine them. The author reveals that the fixation on a single component of the LAWS results in unhealthy trends, including dependency, aggression, withdrawal, and control. Dependents place too much of their worth into the hands of others by seeking external approval validation. They focus on constantly giving, which usually leads to the lack of receiving. Aggressors are full of bitterness and hatred as they choose the path of assertiveness. This type of dysfunctional personality is often followed by physical violence and emotional abuse. Counselees become convinced of their helplessness when they fixate on weakness. This bread withdrawal, which translates into panic and self-pity. Those who are stuck on the strength compass point tend to struggle with the loss of control. These people are competitive, proud, and self-centered, which translates into their relationship with the Lord in a constant strive for moral perfection.
Compass Theory serves as the tool to deal with rigid personality trends. Dr. Montgomery (2018) notes that the Compass framework “seeks to redeem the self-defeating rigidities that are perpetuated by being stuck on various compass points” (p. 21). Therefore, the techniques proposed by the author aim to equip counselees with cognitive flexibility. They can become expressive around the range of the Compass by applying the strategies discussed in chapters 1-12.
The best approach that for handling counselees with dependency issues
The first two chapters of Christian counseling works served as an introduction to a set of techniques explained by Dr. Montgomery. These tools have a wide range of functions and are vital in the counseling process. The author adds that a well-executed technique can clarify thoughts and expectations, awaken the part of the personality that the counselee represses, portray relationships with the subconscious, and much more. The third chapter, in particular, deals with the approach best suited for handling counselees with dependency issues. Thus, Dr. Montgomery (2018) introduces the Kleenex technique, which allows counselee to express their inner struggles through the use of visible media (a tissue).
The author does a great job at supporting his explanations by providing a case to serve as an example to the theoretical content of the chapter. Dr. Montgomery describes the challenges he has faced while treating Mr. Lee – a man with the tendency to trap himself under the weight of false guilt. The Kleenex technique is utilized by therapists to guide counselees towards exploratory sharing, which is often emotionally significant and liberating. The main critique of chapter 3 is the lack of an in-depth examination of the technique in favor of going into a lot of detail in Mr. Lee’s case. Although Appendix 1 contains a more elaborate explanation, it would be better to include it in the chapter itself.
Techniques that targeted counselees favoring the aggressive trend
Chapter 4 is focused on the techniques targeted at counselees favoring the aggressive trend. Dr. Montgomery (2018) first introduces Socratic probing as a way of keeping the flow of the conversation with a counselee, while asking deep (and provocative) questions throughout. The author then describes Compass sketching as an effective strategy to familiarize counselees with their Compasses and how they function in particular scenarios. Such a technique contributes to the patient’s self-awareness and helps them to form a mental image of their behaviors. It is important to note that Dr. Montgomery (2018) excels at demonstrating the long-term effects of utilizing this technique, and, therefore, emphasizes the significance of continuous care.
The author then examines the counselor’s self-disclosure strategy, which implies that a therapist decides to share their own experiences if they are germane to the counselee’s story. The chapter should have included a concise guide to the incorporation of the technique. The explanation of self-disclosure was too brief to address the challenges that would most likely arise when using this strategy. The next technique the author includes in the chapter is a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, which aims to affirm the counselee’s dignity and worth. On the one hand, this technique helps the therapist to see their patient “through the lens of a non-possessive, non-intrusive concern” (Montgomery, 2018, p. 147). On the other hand, the author fails to mention how important it is for a pastor or a counselor to be genuine in their comments. A positive self-fulfilling prophecy can have the exact opposite effect if the counselee senses inauthenticity. Mirroring is another great technique described by the author. Through the use of this strategy, the therapist can show the counselee what they look and sound like, which contributes to their awareness of self. It is great that the author provides an example of applying to mirror, including possible responses.
Time shuttling and emotional modulation
The fifth chapter deals with time shuttling and emotional modulation. The first technique can be implemented through role-play of “a past event to stimulate the physiological record that stores it in memory” (Montgomery, 2018, p. 148). Time shuttling can help the counselee to battle their weakness by replacing old tendencies with new behavioral responses. Emotional modulation mentioned in chapter 5 is the strategy, which allows a therapist to manage the intensity of emotion displayed by the counselee. Dr. Montgomery excels at providing the readers with applicable approaches to either amplify the feeling of a counselee (in case they are blocked) or turn them down instead to achieve a healthy balance of the Compass. The only critique related to this chapter is the fact that the author does not address why it is important to stop counselors from emoting too much. A lot of young counseling professionals assume that getting feelings out is the goal of therapy. This is why Dr. Montgomery has to communicate the harm of excess emotions.
Dr. Montgomery describes another great technique to battle uncertainty and self-doubt associated with weakness in chapter 6. Behavioral rehearsal breaks down future events into behavioral modules to ensure counselees are concentrated on potential success. This strategy allows the patients to imagine a scenario in which they succeed by going over the steps they would need for that. The sixth chapter includes the discussion of interpretation as well. Interpretation can be described as providing counselees with new insights and perspectives to broaden their awareness of their relationships, motivations, or personality trends. It would be best for Dr. Montgomery to include a paragraph dedicated to the strategies, which would be effective if the counselee gets defensive. Therapists can also greatly enhance their practice by considering muscle tension vs. muscle relaxation during the sessions. Dr. Montgomery (2018) argues that it is the counselors’ responsibility to ensure counselees are aware of their muscle tension and learn the most effective muscle-melting techniques. The author provides further details into the formalities of utilizing the muscle-melting technique in Appendix 1.
The examination of the tools involved in Compass Therapy
Chapter 7 is dedicated to the examination of the tools involved in Compass Therapy, including the Self Compass, the Human Nature Compass, various therapeutic techniques, as well as the active trust in the Lord as the important part of the sessions. The seventh chapter focuses on “The Actualizing Ascent,” which is an overview of the counselee’s relationship with Christ. The eighth chapter deals with the process involved in the counseling process, which includes establishing rapport with the counselee, promoting emotional closure towards the end of the session, and various other steps. The main issue with both chapter 7 and 8 is their location in the book. They should have been included right after chapter 1 as the introductory material so as not to disrupt the flow of the book’s focus on the specific techniques throughout the following chapters.
Peer mentoring, projective analysis, abbreviated word association, normalization
The ninth chapter of the book deals with several techniques, including peer mentoring, projective analysis, abbreviated word association, normalization, as well as the Purple Rhinoceros technique. Peer mentoring implies an agreement between an outside party and a counselee. It is great that Dr. Montgomery mentions the importance of consent and the fact that a therapist needs to be aware of putting their client under too much pressure when it comes to suggesting peer mentoring. Dr. Montgomery then describes the projective analysis, which is an efficient strategy to examine and neutralize the counselee’s projections. The best way to approach this method is by facilitating “discussions where they explore how they are infusing a present perception with content from a past event or relationship” (Montgomery, 2018, p. 160). Abbreviated word association is another technique discussed in chapter 9. The counselor has to develop creative variations when using an association technique to facilitate productive dialogue with the counselee.
The author also mentions normalization in the context of chapter 9, a technique similar to self-disclosure in its function to make the counselee feel understood. A person might sometimes think that they are the only ones, who have experienced trauma, which is why a therapist must add their perspective. They have to show their patients that their past is most likely a part of the universal human experience. Dr. Montgomery (2018) emphasizes the importance of normalization to battle counselees’ cynicism and defensiveness.
As for the Purple Rhinoceros technique, counselors often use it when dealing with religious patients, who have a problem of fixation on certain ideas although the use of this strategy is surely not limited to people of faith. The focus of the technique is to make counselees relax by telling them not to think of the purple rhinoceros. The more they try not to imagine the animal, the more they fail. As a result, as soon as they let go and let their imagination roam free, the image of the rhinoceros disappears.
Chapter 10 describes metaphor construction as the 17th technique of the 25 mentioned in the book. This chapter is the least engaging since the examples provided to explain the technique are ineffective. However, the description of it in Appendix 1 manages to capture the reader through the use of a personal story about the author’s discovery of the concept. In addition, the examples of the metaphors in practice are much more interesting in the Appendix.
Physical symbolization, toweling twisting, and the lean-against-the-wall technique
Chapter 11, revolves around three different counseling techniques, including physical symbolization, toweling twisting, and the lean-against-the-wall technique. Dr. Montgomery (2018) manages to go into detail for all of the strategies and includes practical examples for each of them. Physical symbolization helps the therapist dissect the body’s signals, while still focusing on the verbal content of the session. Dr. Montgomery must mention how important it is to not only be aware of the counselee’s body language yourself but communicate to the patients how their bodies influence their communication. Toweling twisting also helps counselees communicate their feeling more efficiently. This technique allows therapists to aid their patients in taking control of their assertiveness when communicating with others. Again, the need for balance in the therapists’ interactions with counselees comes down to the Compass. The lean-against-the-wall technique is rather self-explanatory, but the author still manages to provide some insightful details about its incorporation into the counseling sessions. According to Dr. Montgomery (2108), when using the toweling twisting and the lean-against-the-wall techniques, it is crucial to be aware of the threat of possibly overstimulating the counselee and sending them in a temper tantrum.
The examination of conditional alignment, collaborative implantation, behavioral prediction, congratulatory affirmation
Chapter 12 includes the examination of conditional alignment, collaborative implantation, behavioral prediction, congratulatory affirmation, as well as the Grandma’s Rule. All of the techniques are explored in great detail by Dr. Montgomery although the author fails to explain the importance of the last technique in the chapter. Young counselors have to understand why this strategy is important, and not just how to utilize it, which is why a detailed examination of the Grandma’s rule functions would have been an excellent addition to the content of the chapter. The thirteenth chapter contains the concluding comments from the author. It also includes inspirational words from Dr. Montgomery to future (and practicing) therapists and pastors, which is a nice touch to the book.
Montgomery, Dan. (2018). Christian counseling that really works. Compass Works.