I was asked to give a testimony at this past summer’s Defending the Faith Conference on the way that Franciscan University has helped me grow in my faith and as a person. While preparing for this talk, I thought I’d like to share with you the same. Because this school certainly has changed my life!
I don’t know about any of you readers, but I have never been to a pastoral counselor. I have been in counseling and in spiritual direction, but never pastoral counseling. So when I entered a pastoral counseling class I didn’t really know what I was getting into. We have spent the first four weeks of class reading articles and discussing what pastoral counseling is and what it is not. And to be honest, it’s still confusing.
As a student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program, I have learned to do assessments, diagnose, create treatment plans, and use techniques and skills to help my clients attain their goals. Many of my classes involve thorough discussions about ethics, legal issues, and boundaries (document everything!).
So, what is pastoral counseling exactly? Is it counseling with a priest/pastor? Am I just going to be talking about my faith life? Or do I talk about my personal problems and struggles with someone who prays a lot? These were some of the questions I had in regards to what pastoral counseling is before I started taking the class.
In some ways, “pastoral counseling” is a very precise phrase that is used to describe a very vague idea. Professionals in the counseling field have put forth a wide variety of ideas about what it is that distinguishes pastoral counseling from clinical mental health counseling or spiritual direction, the two fields that are most closely related to the general concept of “pastoral counseling.”
The goal of pastoral counseling is freedom—freedom from whatever prevents the person from living life to the fullest. Fulfilling one’s greatest potential is the goal in all types of counseling, whether in a pastoral or clinical setting. But what makes pastoral counseling unique is that this type of freedom finds its roots in Jesus Christ.
Pastoral counseling is an interesting field. In this field your main goal is to guide your clients into a deeper relationship with God. The goal is stated very simply, the challenging and cautionary part comes in when you think of what that one goal entails.
Do you know what Pastoral Counseling is? Probably not. Before I started taking this class I wasn’t so sure about what Pastoral Counseling was and how it differed from spiritual direction and “normal” counseling. There is definitely some gray area between these three disciplines, but the following is how I personally internalize the differences.
I know the burning question that must be on your mind right now. What is a pastoral counselor? The obvious answer is…wait for it…a pastor, who is a counselor. Right? Well, the answer is maybe!
This semester I am blessed to be studying at Franciscan University’s study abroad program in the foothills of the Alps at the Kartause in Gaming, Austria. When people told me about the program it was a little bit difficult for me to picture, so the picture to the left is hopefully worth 1,000 words.