“Understand that counseling is a calling, which means we are one of God’s agents. Don’t think of it as a job. You’re on assignment from the Lord.”
– Michelle Woody, assistant professor of Biblical Counseling
Michelle Woody has had a whirlwind first semester as an assistant professor in the Biblical Counseling department.
Professor Woody, who graduated from DTS with her MA in Biblical Counseling in 2010, moved from Los Angeles to Dallas two short weeks before classes started in August. Since then, she has logged weekly trips to Houston to teach Group Counseling and Social & Cultural Foundations—all while putting the finishing touches on her doctoral dissertation from the University of Southern California.
It’s the kind of schedule that would challenge even veteran faculty members, but Prof. Woody considers herself blessed to be teaching students in the same classrooms she sat in just a few years ago.
From Student to Teacher
While her cross-country move to Dallas wasn’t easy, Prof. Woody affirmed that the hardest part of returning to the Seminary as a faculty member is to call her former professors—now colleagues—by their first names.
“How can Dr. Jones go from ‘Dr. Jones’ to ‘French’? It’s Dr. Jones!” she said with a laugh.
As a student in the MA/BC program, she says she didn’t entertain aspirations of teaching at DTS. (“It never crossed my mind.”) But midway through her doctoral program, the Lord prompted her to reach out to the Seminary’s Biblical Counseling department, and ultimately led her back to DTS and to her office on the second floor of the Hendricks Center.
It’s fitting that she now holds office hours down the hall from the room where she used to meet with a favorite professor.
“I had used Prof. Hendricks’s books for years as a Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader before I got here,” she said. “To sit in his class and to even be a grader for him—I can’t even fathom that God loves me that much.”
Elephants in the Room
Now that she’s the one standing at the front of the classroom, Prof. Woody is eager to see how God will use her in the lives of counseling students. Her eyes light up when she talks about engaging her classes on tough issues.
“I believe we need to more openly discuss some of the challenges that people are facing in society and that our students will encounter in their counseling practices. We’ve got to address the elephants in the room,” she said emphatically. “Discuss the trending counseling topics and say, ‘What are you going to do in that situation? What has God given you to talk about in this area?’”
Working on Wall Street (she holds an MBA from Atlanta University) and raising three children in a pop-culture world has given her a keen understanding of the daily struggles Christian families face. At her daughter’s urging, she recently watched a video of the 2014 MTV VMA Awards, and…
“I’m still traumatized,” she said of the provocative performances. “But this is society. This is the new normal. This is what adolescents are facing.”
“We have to push back. We have to know what God’s word says, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. You don’t have to do what society says.”
She has a special heart for the most troubled teens. Her doctoral dissertation is on successful instructional practices at juvenile detention centers, an interest that grew in part out of her MA/BC practicum at a Dallas home for at-risk boys.
“My passion is to change the paradigm of education for at-risk adolescents and their families,” she said. “During my practicum, I learned that you can’t just counsel the student. It’s their whole family system.”
Leading in the Wilderness
Given the dark and painful stories she has encountered in her own work, Prof. Woody thinks it’s essential to prepare students for the trials they will face as counselors. Her advice is simple: Keep your heart and mind focused on the Lord.
She uses the example of Moses, who persevered despite seeing so many of his brothers and sisters die before they reached the Promised Land.
“Forty years of death,” Prof. Woody observed. “How many funerals must he have been conducting every day?”
She tells her students, “Understand that counseling is a calling, which means we are one of God’s agents. Don’t think of it as a job. You’re on assignment from the Lord.”
After a busy first year on assignment as a DTS faculty member, Prof. Woody has a particularly sweet celebration to look forward to in the spring: she’ll be graduating from USC with her EdD at the same time her older daughter, Lindsey, graduates from USC with her master's and her favorite teenager, daughter Kelsey, graduates from high school.