What issues should be covered in an introductory session with a counselee regardless of the counseling issue?
The first session is paramount to a healthy counseling relationship. It establishes a connection between the counselor and counselee. For instance, the counselee may actively discern if the counselor is congenial and willing to support them throughout the remaining sessions. Furthermore, it helps the counselor determine if the individual is earnest in changing their sinful behavior. Once trust and commitment is established, there are at least five issues which should be covered in an introductory session, regardless of the counseling issue.
Firstly, the counselor will want to focus his therapy upon Jesus Christ and His word from the very beginning. Colossians 1:28-29 tell us “Jesus is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” It’s better to be candid with your counselee about your method of counseling than for them to find out a couple sessions later it’s Christian-based instead of secular-based.
Secondly, it is imperative to give hope to the counselee. What exactly is hope? Hope means to trust in, wait for, or desire something or someone, and to expect benefit in the future. The Bible tells us hope leads to joy (Rom. 12:12), boldness (2 Cor. 3:12), and faith and love (Col. 1:4-5). No matter what the counseling issue is, everyone needs hope to get them through the day.
Thirdly, the counselor may want to discover what the main problem is. The process involved is not esoteric knowledge. It includes gathering data and having the counselee fill out a sheet answering basic questions, such as: Why are you seeking counseling? What is the main reason why you are here? Now, in the introductory session, you may not find the real reason until you probe deeper, ask pertinent questions, and most importantly, ask for wisdom and discernment from God (Jam. 1:5).
Fourthly, a counselor should establish homework to cultivate spiritual growth between sessions. Spending one hour a week with a counselee is beneficial, but it is woefully inadequate to produce permanent change. In my opinion, the counselee will be more successful at overcoming their problem only when they take responsibility and set goals for themselves. For instance, when you go to a Physical Therapist once a week, they may teach you stretches and other mechanical techniques, but unless you do those exercises at home every day, you won’t get better. The same concept is true for spiritual success.
Lastly, to have an effective first session, the counselor must determine whether the counselee is a Christian. If there is any doubt, the counselor will want to clearly present the gospel. If the person accepts the gospel (1 Cor. 15:4) as true, is willing to repent of their sins (Lk. 13:3), and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (Acts 16:31), then the foundation has been set. Their spirit will be willing to accept the Holy Spirit as their advocate and primary counselor (Jn. 14:26). However, if the individual refuses to accept Jesus as Savior and the Bible as trustworthy, it is impossible to continue the counseling. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18).” Without the foundation accepted, the whole house will fall. It’s the same for counseling.
In conclusion, I believe there are five main aspects that every Christian counselor should cover in their introductory session: to focus his therapy upon Jesus, to give hope to the counselee, to analyze the main problem, establish homework for spiritual growth, and to determine if the counselee is a born-again believer. If you follow these guidelines, your counseling sessions will have a greater chance of success.
 Jay Adams, Christian Counselors Manual, p. 228-229. I chose five of the ten aspects from Jay Adams that were most pertinent to the introductory session.