We live in a culture that praises individualism and self-sufficiency. While it is necessary to learn and discover one’s individual self, a superficial focus on identity can lead to extreme selfishness and egotism. What I see is people denying the existence of God, and in this they or the people or things they cling to become their own god. Even in the world of counseling, secular programs ask you to check your values at the door. Often it’s thought that the subject of spirituality is too sensitive so it is just ignored altogether. Mostly it is put on a higher shelf, and going even close to the topic can make people uneasy for fear of offending someone. Respect, patience and understanding are essential to the counseling field. Still, I do not see discounting an entire facet of a person’s being to be very respectful. I see it as irresponsible. But this is the world in which we live.
While, this might be the majority of society, it is not the whole. There is a place in counseling that embraces the presence of God in each person’s life. This divine presence is the ultimate source of grace and healing, we need not embark on this journey alone. The Spirit living and breathing in all of us gives each life inherent dignity and worth. It is the pastoral counselor that helps to reawaken this awareness in those struggling, suffering and wounded. This form of counseling can bring about healthier mental functioning, and due to its nature it integrally might work to facilitate spiritual growth. How does this happen? Rather than trying to solve or fix a problem relying solely on the power possessed by the individual, which is limited, the pastoral counselor and client recognize the limitless hope that comes from our higher power (Jesus Christ, from a Catholic-Christian perspective).
The pastoral counselor can be a minister, priest, rabbi or other religious leader trained in counseling, though they do not necessarily need to be religiously ordained. I believe a pastoral counselor can be a layperson trained in counseling from a faith perspective. Because in this type of work the pastoral counselor might be seen as a guide or leader, it is necessary for one to “walk the walk.” This is to say that the pastoral counselor should be one who is actively involved in the constant growing and deepening of their spiritual life. Being more in tune with one’s own spiritual life, the pastoral counselor will (hopefully) be able to better facilitate spiritual growth and healing in those they work with.
From a Catholic-Christian perspective, I believe that we all come into the world as spiritual beings connected to God. Through our experiences in the world, and God’s gift of reason and free will, we either have the opportunities to grow closer to God or we stray away from Him. St. Thomas Aquinas writes about this as “The Great Circle of Being.” He says that in all of creation, there is a movement coming from God and an eventual returning to God. We can see this sort of circular movement in all of nature, as things appear, come to their fulfillment, die, and then come again in new ways as the times change. Pastoral counseling is a finding our way back to union with God. Throughout life, many circumstances occur which cause people, in one way or another, to either become more wounded or more alive. Pastoral counseling offers the opportunity to process our lives holistically, ultimately to find healing through the redemptive suffering and love of Jesus Christ.