“For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them; if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
– Romans 12:4-8
In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that each individual has been given particular talents and graces which combine to create a unique gift which they can offer the world. However as I reflect on this passage, I believe that this list also outlines the necessary skills and talents of pastoral counselors. As pastoral counselors, we are called to prophecy, minister, psycho-educate, and encourage our clients as we attempt to bring them to healing and growth. As members of the body of Christ, we have been given specific functions and talents, however as counselors we are challenged to not only utilize one of these gifts we have been given but to develop and pray for all of these other gifts in order to be as competent and effective as possible.
Prophesying is typically thought of as predicting or foretelling what the future holds, however, Cardinal Ratzinger gives us this definition of prophecy, “The prophet is someone who tells the truth on the strength of his contact with God; the truth for today which also, naturally, sheds light on the future. It is not a question of foretelling the future in detail, but of rendering the truth of God present at this moment in time and of pointing us in the right direction.” If we use this definition of prophet then pastoral counselors would be remiss if they did not attempt to practice prophecy by means of helping their clients live in the light of Truth. This can mean helping them identify the disorder they are struggling with and pointing them in the right direction of healing. It can also mean shedding light on the past and helping them accept and process previous trauma’s and seek the Truth in those moments.
As a pastoral counselor, one’s duties may extend beyond the counseling office. Minister commonly refers to someone who performs some act on behalf of the church or takes on a pastoral leadership role. With a title such as ‘pastoral counselor’ a position of leadership is undeniably implied, therefore in one’s daily interactions and duties a pastoral counselor must acknowledge that he or she is called to be a living example to members of the parish. Furthermore, within the Catholic tradition, a pastoral counselor may be asked to provide ministry such as Bible Studies, hospitality events, or to coordinate and plan retreats.
Every counselor must be able to include an aspect of teaching through psycho-educating their clients. Psycho-education seeks to not only help them understand what they are struggling with but also to empower them. For example, when a client understands that the set of symptoms they struggle with are signs of generalized anxiety disorder, which many other people struggle with, and they learn that there things they can do to lessen their anxiety they now are empowered to take control of their symptoms. For clients to understand the chemical pathways that are effected during trauma and the neurochemicals involved, they can better understand their reactions. Understanding and empowering lead to hope, a necessary ingredient to the healing process.
One definition of exhortation provided by the Spiritual Gifts Test, explained that the gift of exhortation, “is the special ability to counsel or challenge others toward a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.” Someone who exhorts does not shy away from confrontation and neither should good pastoral counselors. Empathy, gentleness, and compassion all have their rightful places in the counseling relationship and are inexplicably necessary, especially in building rapport and trust. However, without challenging and confronting our clients at times how can we ever hope to stretch and strengthen them? Life requires confrontation, clients have the opportunity to experience appropriate confrontation in the counseling setting as a model to incorporate into their lives. We cannot expect clients to gain assertiveness skills if we do not first practice them as the counselor.
Each of these characteristics are not simply skills and talents, but gifts from Our Creator. Just as we educate ourselves, attend conferences, plan and prepare for our clients, and hone our skills as counselors; we must also ask for the gifts of prophecy and ministry, of teaching and exhortation. We cannot hope to counsel on our own, of our own accord, it is only through Christ that our clients can find true healing and peace. We are blessed however to play a very particular role in that healing process. We are one part of the healing body of Christ, let us exercise our gifts, given to us through His grace, for the greater glory of God.