Chapter 8 – Graduation and Follow-up

Printable Resources:
Graduation checklist: [pdf]

The counselor has been counseling the counselee for twelve weeks. The counselor has witnessed many changes in his counselee but there are still many areas that have been revealed as needing change. When will counseling ever come to an end? When will the counselee ever be “fixed?”

The answer can be found in John’s first short epistle: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2; emphasis added). The truth of the matter is, the counselee has a long way to go in order to reach the goal of Christ-likeness, but so does the counselor. Glorification will never be completed in this life. We will one day be glorified with Christ (Phil. 3:20-21; Rom. 8:30). That is promised to Christ’s followers. In the meantime, the counselor must make a decision about what must be accomplished before graduating his counselee. Jay Adams states it like this:

There are … signs that indicate it is about time to terminate counseling. When I see one or more of them I become aware that, if I am reading the signs correctly, it will not be long before I should terminate sessions. What are some such signs?

I would sum up those signs something like this. When I see that the counselee has solved his major problems, has understood the major passages that were applied to it, has replaced sinful habits with major biblical practices, and has been able to generalize the major principles he has learned, I realize that either he has arrived or is about to arrive at the termination point … .[1]

Dr. Somerville at The Master’s College has instructed his biblical counseling interns to look for the following “Nine Steps to Graduation:”[2]

  1. Do the counselees understand the process of change and see how it applied to their issue?
  2. Are they being consistent in biblical change with regards to the initial area of need?
  3. Are they able to generalize biblical principles that apply to their initial issue and apply them to solve other struggles?
  4. Are they able to write their own assignments or set their own spiritual goals? (Do they understand and are they applying the ‘put off’ and the ‘put on’ through the renewing of the mind? Eph. 4:22-32)
  5. Do they have their own plan for ongoing Bible reading, meditation, collateral reading, accountability and service?
  6. Are they sharing what they have learned with others?
  7. Are they continuing in worship? (Heb. 10:25)
  8. Are they involving themselves in service? (Are they restored as an asset to the Kingdom, using their gifts for the glory of God? 1 Peter 4:10)
  9. Are they in ongoing accountability? (Heb 3:13; 10:25)[3]

Another veteran biblical counselor, Pastor Ben Marshall, has summarized what he looks for in preparing to graduate a counselee by a shorter list:

  1. Can they identify issues in Biblical terms?
  2. Can they counsel themselves when Biblical issues arise?
  3. Can they counsel other people from the Bible?
  4. Have other people made mention of any changes that they are seeing in the counselee?

Naturally, every case is different and it will be necessary for the counselor to prayerfully consider what is best for his counselee. The above lists can be used as a guide as the counselor regards what was the counselee’s initial presenting problem and how sufficiently that problem has been addressed. Because biblical counselors “are committed not only to help you overcome the current problem in your life but also to train you to live all your life in a manner that leads to increasing maturity in the Lord,”[4] the counselor must also weigh how prepared the counselee is to biblically face new problems as they arise. To assist in this process, the counselor can review case reports and session notes to recall how the counselee has dealt with new issues as they have arisen.

In order to assess how the counselee will respond in future situations, it is wise to ask the counselee to develop a three-month spiritual growth plan prior to graduation. This is an opportunity for the counselee to determine her own homework assignments. Throughout the course of counseling, she should have been able to witness what good homework looks like so that nearing the end of counseling, she can begin to reproduce similar assignments for herself. Figure 8.1 provides a checklist for “Developing a Three-Month Plan for Spiritual Growth.”

The counselor should begin to prepare his counselee for graduation from the beginning of counseling by not letting the counselee become dependent but instead gradually helping her to find some of her own answers to questions, eventually choosing her own relevant memory verses and consistently reviewing the process of change in latter sessions. Additionally, if the counselee was not connected within the church at the outset, encouraging that connection will provide the stability needed once she no longer has a weekly counselor. Talk of a terminating session should begin several weeks prior to the final session. Sometimes it is advantageous to meet with the counselee every two weeks instead of every week near the end of counseling. This gives opportunity for both the counselee and the counselor to assess how faithfully the counselee will “stay on track” without weekly accountability with the counselor.

Finally, a check-up session should be scheduled two or three months after the final session. This session will reveal how faithful to God the counselee has been when she no longer has the counselor to hold her accountable. In the check-up session, Adams recommends, “it would be good to look at any failures … and what [was done] about them.”[5] In some cases, such as in the case of a life-dominating sin (i.e., addiction), it may be wise for the counselee to check in monthly for a season.

As a formality, a “termination letter” or “graduation letter” can be sent to the counselee following the final session and prior to the follow-up session. In this letter, the counselor can remind the counselee of major principles and Scripture passages that have been instrumental in the change realized. A word of encouragement and hope can be included as well as a reminder of their scheduled follow-up session as the counselor exhibits the love of Christ toward his counselee. Figure 8.2 presents a sample termination/graduation letter.

Figure 8.3 provides a checklist that a counselor can use to guide the timing of the graduation of a counselee. Once most or all of the boxes in the “Exhibited by Counselee” section are checked and the first six boxes are checked in the “Completed by Counselor” section, chances are the counselee is ready to graduate.

Developing a Three Month Plan for Spiritual Growth[6]

In order to develop dependence on God, His Word and His Church the following questions have been devised to assist you in the writing of your own goals for ongoing spiritual growth.

Please come to the next session able to give a concrete answer to each of the following questions in order to write your own Three Month Plan for Spiritual Growth.

1. What will be my overall plan for reading the Bible?

  • Give sample ideas.

2. What book of the Bible can I read for one month?

  • What key passage can I study from that book (3-6 verses).
  • What verse or verses can I memorize and meditate on?
    • Consider doing a Discovering Wonderful Things study guide on this verse.

3. What is my plan and schedule for prayer? When, where, how long?

  • What needs to be on my prayer list?
    • Worship, praise and thanks to God
    • Confession of sin and sinfulness
    • People (self, family, relatives, friends, etc)
    • Church (leaders, teachers, ministries, etc.)
    • Evangelism

4. In what ways can I serve God and others in my local church?

    • What can I be doing?
    • What can I be giving?

5. How can I demonstrate love for God and others each day or week?

6. What additional reading can I plan for in order to grow in my knowledge of God?

  • What specific time will I set apart for reading?
  • What is my goal for reading?
  • Who can help me?
  • Who can hold me accountable for growth?

7. What sermons can I listen to?

8. How can I take in more spiritually uplifting music?

9. What Bible studies are available to me and which ones will I take part in?

10. What accountability group can I join?

November 1, 2013

Dear Gina,

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul,” Psalm 94:19.

This verse might sum up the work God began in you and continued throughout our 15 counseling sessions. You worked hard and you traveled unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory as you examined your own heart motives and put off behaviors such as anxiety, careless talk, impatience and neglect of Bible study in favor of trusting the sovereignty of God and choosing obedience. You have been learning to be led by God’s laws and promises rather than your own emotions.

You memorized several Scripture verses to help guide and empower you to godly living, and as I think you will agree, two key passages that God has used in your sanctification are 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. I want to encourage you to seek God’s guidance in helping others with what you have learned and are learning. You can be a reservoir, storing up the blessings of God or you can be a river of blessing, letting God’s blessing spill over into the lives of others. God wants you to choose the latter.

Gina, I remember how you expressed in our first session that you did not know what it means to “have a relationship” with your Creator and I think you can now personally testify to a rich and growing relationship with Him. In addition, you have now exceeded three months of daily communion with your Lord through daily Bible reading! Congratulations!

I want to remind you of your purpose to live every day for the glory of God. You belong to Him. Throughout each day let the praises of God pour forth:

Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet…with the lute and harp…with the timbrel and dance; with stringed instruments and flutes…with cymbals…Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150).

In closing, I want to tell you that I have been so blessed by walking with you through this season of life. I thank the Lord for the things I have learned from you and with you.

With much love from your sister in Christ,


Figure 8.2. Sample termination/graduation letter

Graduation Checklist: [pdf]


Graduation checklist for _______________________________


X Exhibited by Counselee:
Presenting problem (problem for which counseling was sought) is resolved and/or counselee is consistently responding biblically
Understands and can explain how the following Scriptures apply to her problems:


Sinful habits have been (or are consistently being) replaced with righteous behaviors
Understands the process of change and how it applies to her problems (Eph. 4:22-24)

(See #4 on the “Biblical Counseling Record and Lesson Plan”)

Can apply what has been learned to new problems as they arise
Has shared what is learned with others
Is able to help others biblically
Is consistently involved in corporate worship
Is serving regularly in the body of Christ
Has on-going accountability
Has developed a 3-month Spiritual Growth Plan (See fig. 8.1)
Others have witnessed change in counselee
Completed by Counselor:
Has explained and reviewed the process of change multiple times with counselee (See #4 on the “Biblical Counseling Record and Lesson Plan”)
Has given opportunity for counselee to assign her own homework
Has helped counselee to find answers to questions rather than answering them for her
Has begun to talk about graduation
Assigned the development of a 3-month spiritual growth plan (See fig. 8.1)
Is scheduling sessions 2 and 3 weeks apart
Conducted final session
A Check-up session is scheduled
A graduation letter has been sent
Conducted check-up session & determined no further sessions necessary
Case file is archived

[1] Jay Adams, Critical Stages of Biblical Counseling (Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2002), 209.

[2] Dr. Robert Somerville, “Nine Steps to Graduation” (lecture, The Master’s College, Santa Clarita, CA, July 2013).

[3] Dr. Robert Somerville, Case Report comments (Santa, Clarita, CA: The Master’s College, 2013).

[4] Biblical Counseling Foundation, Handbook, 165.

[5] Adams, Critical Stages, 223.

[6] Somerville, SCF, 63.