Newsletter 605 – A Psychological Analysis of Encouragement?

Be a People HelperIn terms of sales, my most successful book has been a little volume titled How to Be a People Helper. I wrote it in a week (usually it takes many months or even years) after a series of talks that I gave to seminary students. The book has been translated into a number of languages and still is in print. For years my work centered on people-helping and teaching others to be counselors. But like every other field, counseling has changed over time and the people-helper book and cover artwork have become outdated. The publishing industry also has changed. So have potential readers of this book. So have I.

My interest in people-helping persists but today I’m more focused on people-building, focusing less on counseling and more on coaching and journeying with emerging students and leaders. Encouragement is at the core of this work, and the Bible even describes encouragement as a God-given spiritual gift that some people have in abundance (Romans 12:6, 8).

No such analysis appears in a article titled “The Psychology of Encouragement.” Published in The Counseling Psychologist (February, 2015), the author defines encouragement using psychological terminology: it’s “an expression of affirmation…to instill courage, perseverance, confidence, inspiration or hope within the context of addressing a challenging situation [challenged-focused encouragement], realizing potential, ”or reaching a goal [potential-focused encouragement]. The article describes how encouragement might be measured, related research findings, its diverse manifestations (individual and group encouragement, for example), and proposes something called a Tripartite Encouragement Model that can be used in counseling and in other settings like teaching, family therapy, leadership or coaching.

Analyzes like this can be useful, but might we over-scrutinize something that is such a common way for expressing support? Over-analyzed or not, probably encouragement needs to be a more prominent part of our people-helping and people-building practices.

As a footnote, I apologize for not yet responding to those of you who commented on the previous two newsletters. Thanks for your responses. And can I encourage you to respond again and leave a comment about this post and your experiences with encouragement?


  1. Nothing exemplifies Christ to my three sons, ages 5, 7, and 10, more than when I gift them with my words of encouragement. I make a point of pointing out their every good move and other-centered act rather than focusing on their sins. It’s so easy to nit-pick about their mistakes, but instead I try to be intentional in finding their goodness by figuring out what they’re doing right. In being a person-builder by providing them with words of encouragement, I believe I am affirming who they are as God’s most treasured creations, reminding them that good or bad, they are always invited to remain in relationship with God. And with me.


  2. Your focus on the biblical dimension of encouragement is, well, encouraging. I often sense the use of my gifts/skills are a means for the Holy Spirit to encourage those who are enduring my preaching or listening to my talking head in a workshop, My goal: to use those gifts to put courage (faith?) into those I serve. Courage in!


  3. Scott and Phil, You guys have been encouragers to me!

    Several years ago I took a practicum course on executive coaching. One of my clients was a leader in his company but he was struggling with morale. He described his leadership style but it had never occurred to him that his employees needed encouragement as much or more than correction. Then I asked what he liked about his own boss and the importance of encouragement dawned on him. I could not believe he had been so insensitive. Phil, your encouragement to your church members and Scott’s encouragement for his sons can mean so much. But then you already know this. Thanks for being good models of this.


  4. I have experienced a shift in ministry from people helping to people building. People helping involved consultating, counseling, and some mentoring. The shift to people building is expressed in a learning partnership. A significant element of this learning partnership is encouragement. When coaching or mentoring, the participant expands his or her learning when encouraged!


  5. Tim, I suspect you agree that people-helping is extremely important I admire, applaud, and am grateful for the people I know who are impassioned and effective counselors. We need them. But there is a need, as well for coaches who work with a different type of people. All can benefit from encouragement (including the counselors and coaches) but I have concluded that I am better at people building (encouragement is only a part of this) than at people helping. Clearly that describes you as well.


  6. I reflected over my experiences the last 55 years and encouragement is still the basic staple of my ministry teaching. I encourage laymen as well as professionals to look at what God has done in a persons life and start with that.

    Working with traumatized persons my conclusion is: they need so much encouragement. There is only one draw back: one has to be very careful how to give it. I thought of my chemistry classes where we learned to titreren: slowly letting one chemical substance to come in contact with in other substance OR a violent reaction would take place. Encouragement can be such a help, if wisely adjusted to the discouraged person! Thanks for reminding me!


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