I had believed pastoral counseling to be much like what my own family had provided to other families when I was growing up. To briefly explain, they were part of a filipino community where the idea of counseling itself was never really an option. In our culture, counselor’s duties were delegated to the elders of the community, who would help the younger generation sort out their problems by using their own experience. Respect for elders was very important for every filipino’s upbringing. As a result, I saw one side of pastoral counseling that was focused on scripture (lectio divina) as well as spiritual retreats and marriage seminars. There was a formula used that the pastoral counselors would adhere to, and there was not much divergence because in their estimation, it produced the results they wanted.
Because I don’t relate well to charismatic methods of prayer or counseling, I was at an impasse when it came to how I would use more traditional techniques and resources, and especially how I could effectively use them with youth, who in my experience (and in the area I grew up in) are more or less closed off to spirituality. I struggled with how I could be congruent in being a pastoral counselor and using techniques that did not really express who I was.
The answer came during one of my internship sessions. While I was building rapport with my client, we discovered a mutual love of hip hop and were pleased to discover that we both wrote lyrics. Though it was not a pastoral counseling session per se, we nonetheless covered a lot of spiritual topics as a result of the lyrical content he revealed in his songs. I discovered one of the reasons he wrote so much was because he needed an outlet to express his emotions. For many young men, there is an ambivalence about expressing emotion. Anger is usually considered “masculine” and acceptable for a male to express, while sadness and other emotions are considered “effeminate” and therefore taboo subjects of discussion. I was delighted to discover we could breach all of these subjects easily as we uncovered and went over the lyrical content in his rap. I was challenged by him to write verses that I would bring into session on subjects, like spirituality and relevant themes in life. I jumped on the opportunity to bring Christ into our sessions and challenged him in turn to write his own reflections via rap and share his relationship with Christ with me. I was able to use scriptural references and hold him accountable to the lyrics he had written which spoke about aspiring to a closer relationship with Christ and forgiving those who had wronged him, as well as leaving his former gang-affiliated life and doing right by God. I will briefly share one verse I shared with him in session to illustrate the material we discuss:
We’re living in the days where it’s hard to find a livin’/ain’t a jack of all trades/ I’m just wracked with indecision/got me hiding from the women who be try’na keep me sinnin’/decline em/I can’t wife em if they cant bear my children/”Netflix and chill” is really a euphemism/say what you will/you just try’na get between the linen//And don’t act surprised at the message that I’m spittin’/i write like Im enlightened like I wanna make a difference/God forbid you gotta listen to the lyrics that they spittin’/and be conscious bout the rhymes that influencing how you thinking/Cuz true belief is often written off as superstition/’til your seeds become the product of the world that they been given/so whats true and livin’?/its you who chooses your conditions/don’t misconstrue your mission/end up locked up in the system
I was able to discuss themes of future aspirations and sexuality at the beginning, opening up discussion to his hopes and dreams and his view of sexuality in light of his faith and his temptations. In addition, I was able to challenge him to consider how his music choices influenced his thinking as well, with a warning about how if our beliefs are written off continuously, it will reflect on our children through their upbringing. If we do not raise our children, the world will, and family is a topic he discusses frequently. I ended the verse with a reminder that the choice is his as per where he ends up in life. I feel without this new technique, I would not have been able to cover nearly as much ground using traditional pastoral counseling techniques with my client. Being able to think on my feet opened up great opportunity for spiritual growth. I look forward to further research on the use of music in therapy, and perhaps contributing to studies in my own practice!
Pastoral counseling had been a part of my life since I was a child, and was integral to forming my identity and understanding of a catholic sense of community. I considered myself to have a unique upbringing; as an only child, over the years I witnessed my parents form a charismatic Filipino community called Bukas Loob Sa Diyos (Open Your Hearts to God) after having newly immigrated to Canada. We moved to North America because my father had to resign from his lucrative banking position in the Middle East due to unscrupulous practices. My understanding of my own spirituality grew from this experience – their spiritual directors supported them during this tough time and they attributed all their successes in Canada to their faith in God’s plan for them. I was taught the importance of prayer, perseverance, and patience by the example my parents set for me.