The basic question of this blog is “what is pastoral counseling.” If you break apart the title of pastoral counseling, you have pastoral and you have counseling. Now take a second and think about what comes to mind when you read those two words. Got it? Good.
Pastoral: the image that comes to my mind is a role that is primarily ministerial. Ministry can take lots of forms, but its focus is upon spiritual guidance, spiritual formation, and spiritual health and well-being. Its walking with someone on the journey of growing and living in and living out their faith and what they believe. It is strengthening this awareness inside of an individual, and it is leading them into a deeper and more intimate relationship with the True Shepherd. But as much as a human being is spiritual, it would be detrimental to negate the other aspects of the person, mainly that they are physical, psychological, and emotional beings.
Counseling aims to assist an individual in developing a health that goes beyond the physical. Counseling takes place as a journey as well; a journey where a counselor walks alongside an individual to help them discover health and peace in their lives on an emotional, psychological, cognitive, and physiological level. An integrated harmony, so to speak, of all aspects of a human person is able to achieve health in a person’s life.
Now, let’s add the term “pastoral” and “counseling” together, and what do we get? Not as basic of an answer as one would think.
Each individual person is a complex, unique, and mysterious being. Pastoral Counseling focuses on the whole self, the soul, of the person. David Benner describes the human soul by not just saying that we have a soul, but that we ARE soul. Pastoral Counseling not only assists a person in their walk of life on a psychological or emotional level, but we walk WITH them and guide them to find true healing from the ultimate Healer, God himself. Just as in the parable of the shepherd who left his flock of 99 sheep to find the one, the ministry of pastoral counseling reaches out to the one who may have lost its way.
This type of ministry witnesses the human experience as the journey of life being a pilgrimage. Where is our ultimate end? Christ when confronted by Pilate moments before his condemnation to death spoke, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36, NIV). So our ultimate end is the Kingdom of God, with the reality being that we are walking a journey in our earthly lives towards that Kingdom.
But this journey, this human experience though beautiful at times, can be met with many trials, with suffering, with temptation, with doubt, with fear and confusion. The truth, the reality, is that we were not created, as human beings, to go through this journey alone. We were created to be in relationship with one another. Christ said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).
In my mind, this encompasses my answer to the question, “what is pastoral counseling.”
Pastoral Counseling means walking with another person in their pilgrimage of faith and in their human experience and helping them to integrate both into their healing journey. It takes a special calling to assist another person in carrying their pain. Pastoral Counselors meet individuals on their own path to Calvary, and just as Simon of Cyrene helped Christ carry the burden of his cross, so do counselors help to carry an individual’s cross, whether it be involving the person as a physical being, spiritual being, psychological being, emotional being, or a combination of all-pastoral counseling is where mental health meets faith; where mental illness meets spiritual renewal. It is a unique and humbling position to be in; to walk with another individual, in helping them find Christ in the suffering, helping them to renew their faith, dispel their fear, understand their doubt, and realizing the mystery of their existence, yet finding the hope in that mystery. Pastoral Counseling brings to fruition and personal meaning to the story of salvation in an individual’s life experience.
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it” – Madeline L’engle