In practice, Pastoral Counseling offers clients an intersection of theological foundations, philosophical moral grounding, and evidence-based clinical skill applications. To envision how this intersection comes to life in a pastoral counseling session, a brief, fictional case study may be helpful. Imagine a young, 20-year-old male college student comes to the office of a pastoral counselor. Within the first meeting, the pastoral counselor is already aware that their time together with the student is likely limited.
In my first post I mentioned that a deeper exploration of what a pastoral counseling session might entail would require a separate post. Well now is the time for a deeper exploration of what pastoral counseling looks like in practice. For those who did not read the first post a brief excerpt provides a good summary.
Being in grad school, having a calling to become a counselor, and being a practicing Christian Catholic, all these aspects kind of do drive me to be a Pastoral counselor. So far I know two things that Pastoral Counseling is not; it is not spiritual guidance and it is not counseling for the clergy only. Pastoral counselors are interested in people having mental health and spiritual health, like I mentioned in my previous writing, we also care for your soul.
In my last post, I explored the idea of Pastoral Counseling. The main focus of that post was the qualities and purpose of Pastoral Counseling, while placing an emphasis on the qualities (portrayed by Christ) that should be displayed by the counselor. In this blog post, I want to express some more practical skills and techniques that one should have, if working from this position of ministry.
Struggling with feelings of depression? Anxiety? How about low self-esteem or anger management issues? In spite of all this, what about other spiritual struggles such as mistrust in a God-given purpose for your life, or a lack of belief in God’s love and forgiveness? Mental health issues are usually seen as requiring a different kind of help than the form of assistance required for one’s spiritual dilemmas. Although seeking help from a counselor and a spiritual director is always an option, pastoral counselors are clinically and spiritually equipped to professionally aid both sorts of issues in a person’s life.
According to Benner, strategic pastoral counseling should be time-limited, holistic, structured, involve assigned homework between sessions, is church based, spiritually focused and explicitly Christian. Some of these aspects overlap with clinical strategies; for example in achieving brief time-limited counseling a pastoral counselor may draw upon the practical skills and clinical techniques of basic listening, being directive, viewing the therapeutic relationship as a partnership and focusing on one specific issue or “goal”.
Pastoral counseling is the journeying with another human to the goal of wellness and flourishing human existence. So what does this journey look like practically?
First off, pastoral counseling clearly involves a foundation of good counseling. The pastoral counselor must be competent in theories and techniques of the helping profession.
I am a philosophy major. My workspace, wherever it is this time (my favorite is a bench on campus on a cool day), generally resembles a nuclear test site. Papers are strewn about and books are piled up, as I feverishly flip through their pages. I pound away at my keyboard, devising arguments for and against contemporary and classical philosophers, perhaps carefully cutting-and-pasting symbols from the “symbolic logic” page on Wikipedia, in the name of aesthetics and professionalism.
Going to clinical sites at some of the highest ranked hospitals in the country (located nearby in Pittsburgh), participating in our simulation lab with classmates, and being challenged by professors who have been in the field for decades has made all the difference in my education.