In practice, Pastoral Counseling offers clients an intersection of theological foundations, philosophical moral grounding, and evidence-based clinical skill applications. To envision how this intersection comes to life in a pastoral counseling session, a brief, fictional case study may be helpful. Imagine a young, 20-year-old male college student comes to the office of a pastoral counselor. Within the first meeting, the pastoral counselor is already aware that their time together with the student is likely limited.
In my first post I mentioned that a deeper exploration of what a pastoral counseling session might entail would require a separate post. Well now is the time for a deeper exploration of what pastoral counseling looks like in practice. For those who did not read the first post a brief excerpt provides a good summary.
In my last post, I explored the idea of Pastoral Counseling. The main focus of that post was the qualities and purpose of Pastoral Counseling, while placing an emphasis on the qualities (portrayed by Christ) that should be displayed by the counselor. In this blog post, I want to express some more practical skills and techniques that one should have, if working from this position of ministry.
Struggling with feelings of depression? Anxiety? How about low self-esteem or anger management issues? In spite of all this, what about other spiritual struggles such as mistrust in a God-given purpose for your life, or a lack of belief in God’s love and forgiveness? Mental health issues are usually seen as requiring a different kind of help than the form of assistance required for one’s spiritual dilemmas. Although seeking help from a counselor and a spiritual director is always an option, pastoral counselors are clinically and spiritually equipped to professionally aid both sorts of issues in a person’s life.
According to Benner, strategic pastoral counseling should be time-limited, holistic, structured, involve assigned homework between sessions, is church based, spiritually focused and explicitly Christian. Some of these aspects overlap with clinical strategies; for example in achieving brief time-limited counseling a pastoral counselor may draw upon the practical skills and clinical techniques of basic listening, being directive, viewing the therapeutic relationship as a partnership and focusing on one specific issue or “goal”.
Pastoral counseling is the journeying with another human to the goal of wellness and flourishing human existence. So what does this journey look like practically?
First off, pastoral counseling clearly involves a foundation of good counseling. The pastoral counselor must be competent in theories and techniques of the helping profession.
As, both, a Christian and aspiring Counselor, I find the idea of pastoral counseling pretty intriguing and attractive. The question is: what is TRUE pastoral counseling?
There is a plethora of different interpretations of what pastoral counseling truly consists of. Some believe pastoral counseling is any opportunity for the pastor to guide or comfort, in a particular setting.
It seems that every source on this topic and every person asked has a different answer to the question, “What is pastoral counseling?” Some are in agreement; others are not. To answer this question, I think it’s first necessary to ask why we are asking this question in the first place. What is the purpose of distinguishing pastoral counseling from other forms of counseling or from other modes of being in day to day life?
Taking care of your self implies taking care of the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects; for example nutrition, leisure activities, emotions, relationships, etc. Counseling may assist in taking care of your mental well-being which affects your emotional and physical health. The point that I am trying to make is that a clinical counselor helps you take care of your life, and so, who helps you take care of your soul?
Many Christians have heard of spiritual direction and most people have heard of mental health counseling but far fewer have heard about pastoral counseling. Is pastoral counseling simply getting advice from your pastor or is it something more? There is something more to pastoral counseling and the simplest way to understand the approach is to first explore what makes pastoral counseling distinct from spiritual direction and from Christian counseling and then look directly at what pastoral counseling is.