The Case Study

The Case Study

The case study is a real-life example of a counseling situation you may encounter. Many case studies are based on actual counseling cases from your professors’ experiences. Alternatively, the case study might be a “self-counseling” project, in which you are required to address to a particular need or struggle in your own life. Because of their eminently practical nature, case studies are well-suited to teaching you how to handle real counseling scenarios.  

Students Studying. Image by Chae D. Chong

A major part of the case study involves understanding the counselee well.

This means paying attention to life circumstances, thoughts, emotions and actions as well as underlying heart issues. 

  • How do the counselee’s feelings, words and actions reveal his or her attitude toward God? 
  • Why does the counselee have a particular attitude?  What issues of unbelief are operative and where is change needed? 

These and other questions should guide you as you probe into the inner workings of the person you are studying. It is very important for you to demonstrate specifically the connections between core attitudes and beliefs and their real-life manifestations. For example, it is not sufficient to write Jerome is depressed because he doesn’t believe that God loves him.  This may be true, but it is simplistic and does not demonstrate how unbelief works itself out as a pattern of hopelessness. A more thorough analysis might discern that

Jerome’s pattern of depression is rooted in feelings of loneliness, helplessness, anger and an overwhelming sense that God is far off. Facing difficult life decisions, Jerome worries constantly about making wrong choices. He is convinced that no one understands him and that he has always been “on his own.” He is silently angry about this loneliness is cynical toward assurances of God’s love and care. While he knows intellectually that God loves him, he can’t shake the feeling that God is distant, absent and unconcerned. Instead of actively relying on God for guidance, help and strength in the face of the uncertainties and dangers of life, Jerome anxiously tries to ensure his own well-being. When things are going well, he feels self-satisfied and experiences glimpses of hope for the future. But most of the time, he simply feels overwhelmed, angry and despondent.

This description indicates that, for Jerome, depression and unbelief have a particular “shape.” The use of specific words and phrases (such as “convinced that no one understands him” or “can’t shake the feeling that God is distant”) communicates Jerome’s situation much more clearly than do general expressions such as “is depressed” or “doesn’t believe.”  You should strive to present as clear, specific and vivid a picture of the counselee as possible, drawing connections between his or her feelings, actions and beliefs about God.  

A second goal of the case study is to provide a strategy for helping the counselee. This strategy should not be “one-size-fits-all” but rather be personally tailored to the situation with which you are dealing. For example, instead of saying "I will remind Jerome from passages of Scripture that God loves him," you must explain both why you will emphasize God’s love instead of his mercy or sovereignty and why you would take Jerome to a certain passage or story in Scripture instead of another. In order to develop a relevant and sensitive strategy, ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • Why are you recommending this approach? 
  • What changes do you hope to see in your counselee? 
  • How is your counseling strategy directly tailored to address the needs of this particular counselee? 
  • What are your specific short-term and long-term counseling goals and tactics? 
  • To what Scripture passages will you direct the counselee and why? 

These sorts of questions should guide your development of a specific, concrete and personally-tailored plan for helping the counselee look to Christ. By developing a clearly laid out and specific plan for walking the counselee through his or her struggles, you will practice the sort of planning necessary for real-life counseling ministry. 

Other "Practical Theology" topics:

Writing for Counseling Home

The Response Paper

Tips for Counseling Writing


Becoming a Theological Writer Home

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