The Pastoral Counseling approach in conjunction with the training of Clinical Mental Health Counseling is, in my opinion, one of the best and most holistic approaches toward this helping profession. I will specifically reference Pastoral Counseling from the Christian and even Catholic viewpoint in this article.
All counselors are trained to not impose their own opinions on clients and to be non-judgmental so as to facilitate client openness and therapeutic growth. That said, therapists have a worldview or frame of reference out of which they operate (just as clients do). The counselor’s worldview can still impact assessment, diagnosis, and the work of the counseling at times despite all efforts to avoid this. For this reason, I am an advocate of seeking referrals for therapists that share a similar foundation of beliefs in areas that are of significant importance to the client. There are many clients who seek therapists who have similar faith beliefs and this can be a great niche marketing technique for private practice.
Counseling techniques are similar between clinical and pastoral counselors; however, here are some practical ways they may certainly differ. A therapeutic technique of working on a client’s interior dialogue could consist of simple positive phrases or mantras or short prayers to repetitively recite, but a Christian counselor most certainly will incorporate scripture. Seeking to find passages in the Bible to recite and take to heart is helpful to the client and counselor alike. Utilizing the living Word of God and seeking to believe more deeply what the Creator says about his beloved child, the client, is of eternal value to those that believe in a Heaven and a hell. Clinical counseling has a vast amount of excellent resources, but to the client who cares deeply about matters of the faith and is not given the opportunity to discuss spiritual matters in the course of treatment could leave counseling still feeling less than fully integrated.
There are a multitude of resources and methods available to the pastoral counselor. Not only are they able to provide the clinical skills, but they also have knowledge of faith as well as secular support groups where clients can find fellowship and assistance with accountability during and after the therapeutic experience. Furthermore, they can suggest retreats, conferences, books and prayers for private reflection and contemplation. They can facilitate guided imagery experiences which can incorporate Jesus as Lord, Savior, and companion on the journey of life. But the most important of all are the virtues and spiritual gifts from which the therapist may operate such as spiritual discernment. The virtuous, humble and magnanimous counselor recognizes that all healing ultimately comes from God. A counselor is a companion on the journey bringing support, experience, and expertise, but in the end they are simply a tool in the hands of God. Yes, it is possible to be a clinical counselor and a Christian, but why separate the two? Why not work together? We are body, mind, and spirit. Pastoral counseling embraces all aspects of the human person.