About a week ago I had the incredible blessing of attending a conference put on by the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (CPA) and co-hosted by the Institute of Psychological Studies (IPS). The road leading up to the conference was difficult, especially trying to pull the money together to go.
This last week, I felt that I was consumed with stress, homework, obligations, and decisions. Some of the graduate students and I planned to go to the Catholic Psychotherapy Association Conference in Arlington, VA and I felt that it was becoming an impossible feat to get there. I was surprised to see where these obstacles came from, but as one of my friends pointed out that Satan was working very hard to keep us from the good that was the conference.
Ever watch the news? Or read the newspaper (yes they still exist!)? Or scroll through Facebook and see all the different links and articles posted about what’s happening in the world today? It seems as though there’s a common theme: suffering. Everyone around us is suffering. Like I said in my previous blog post – life is hard.
I remember when I was 10. I ran around care-free and worried about absolutely nothing. The biggest problem at that age was having to go to bed early. (Imagine such torture!) Not once did a thought enter my mind about the logistics of planning or how to get from one place to another. I knew that I would be clothed, fed, and watered.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many Catholic parishes have truly horrible websites. The reasons for this are many, varied, and generally valid – budgets, time, staffing constraints, and so on. But the end result is that potential parishioners and visitors have a very difficult time getting the information they need, and may form some negative opinions about the parish based on this virtual first impression.
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.