My personal reflections of what I am studying in pastoral counseling takes me back to my protestant roots and my years of studies in preparation for ministry. I would like to address three key points that Brenner (1998; Care of the Soul) discusses which are congruent to my own beliefs; 1) pastoral care, 2) pastoral spiritual counseling and 3) pastoral counselors licensed for community counseling.
Brenner (1998) relates “soul cure” and “soul care”, and the characteristics of Jesus as the Good Shepard as integral to pastoral care and the pastor’s responsibilities. One of the major components of pastoral care is the lost soul. According to Brenner (1998) “soul cure” in Christianity is “the response to the need of a remedy for sin and assistance in spiritual growth” (p.28). The remedy is repentance of sin and accepting Jesus Christ as ones Lord and Savior. Whether one feels the experience of forgiveness or not, what matters is the person believing in their heart that Jesus, the Son of God, died for their sins and rose again. They seek forgiveness and repent of their sins. A second component of pastoral care is the cultivation of this new life in Christ. Preaching and teaching the Word of God provides the foundation for the person to develop their spiritual maturity. This component of pastoral care, the “feeding of the flock” is necessary in developing both the spiritual relationship one has with God and their relationships with other people. I like what Brenner draws from William Clebsch and Charles Jaekle regarding the four elements for soul care; 1) healing, the overcoming of an impairment and movement towards wholeness, 2) sustainment, the ability of the hurting person to endure and rise above the situation, 3) reconciliation, the ability to reestablish broken relationships and finally, 4) the guiding of the person towards wise choices and spiritual maturity. Lastly, I believe that pastoral care includes the teaching of the virtues of Christ. These too set the foundation of spiritual maturity and relationship building. Becoming “Christlike” is becoming an internally whole and healthy person.
So, is pastoral care synonymous with pastoral counseling or is there a difference? Is pastoral counseling the same as psychological counseling, or is there a distinction between the spiritual and psychological parts of the person? What, if any, are the cautions between pastoral spiritual counseling and community counselors incorporating pastoral care? I believe there are some distinct differences between the two types of pastoral counseling. And, there are a few cautions to be addressed as well.
Pastoral counseling is third component of pastoral care. This is action of compassion to a grieving or ill person who seeks them out. It is the wisdom and knowledge of scripture that a pastor uses to guide a person through a spiritual problem or direct a person to church or community services that could meet a need. However, pastors, only trained as a minister, must guard themselves from diagnosing mental health issues. They may be able to identify a person being depressed or angry, but, unless the Holy Spirit gives them spiritual discernment, they need to comfort, encourage and given the person in need hope. Pray with them, provide a scripture to provide a promise and encouragement, and then recommend professional counseling. Pastors are trained in scripture, doctrine and the responsibilities of the church. They may be able to help a person who is short term in their grieving, but, an injustice can be done if they try to do counseling beyond their purview and training. Mental health issues need to be handled by licensed counselors. Pastoral counselors, trained as licensed mental health professionals, who work in a pastoral setting of a church, with a pastoral care approach, are more equipped to handle cases such as depression, etc. They too can have a compassionate heart and provide some pastoral care. However, licensed pastoral counselors are more skilled in “peeling away the layers of pain, etc. to help the person heal emotionally or learn cognitive behavioral skills. They can also encourage the person in need to use their spiritual life to sustain them during the difficult time, as well as remind them their hope is in God. But, they too may be limited. Spiritual counseling could be beyond their purview and training as well.