As I wiser person than me once said, “The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.” Throughout this past year of pursuing greater knowledge and skill of the counseling profession, I have learned a great deal. I came to Franciscan University carrying my dream of being a Catholic Counselor beneath the heavy weight of what I did not know about my future profession. The understanding of what my dream might look like has ebbed and flowed into different images and hopes as the semesters progressed. At the beginning of this fall semester, we encountered a question that has more debate around it than you might expect. “What is Pastoral Counseling?” I know I anticipated this question to be put to rest quickly. I expected some short description of spiritually integrated counseling to be offered and expanded upon and then we would immediately jump into the application of this definition. Those expectations, however, were split wide open as we learned of the complicated history, evolution, and current debate over what Pastoral Counseling really is and who is allowed to call themselves Pastoral Counselors.
Rather than focus on the debate or what cannot be known, I wish to focus, at least for today, on what we do know. The counseling profession as a whole subscribes to a way of helping clients known as the “Wellness Model.” This model helps to give context as to how counselors see and treat the person holistically and rather than focus on one particular problem or symptom in the hopes of rectifying it. Pastoral Counselors are in the unique position of being taught how to see and help their clients by taking into account the spiritual aspect of a person along with all the other pieces of them. They give the spiritual nature of the client the attention it requires without devaluing or disregarding the physical, mental, relational, or any other aspects of their reality. A Pastor Counselor has the opportunity to be truly holistic because they approach the person as a whole without ignoring an aspect many counselors may be hesitant to address.
As it applies to anyone in the counseling profession, the overt discussion of or delving into spiritual topics must be desired by the client, despite what relevance the counselor may see at the get go. That being said, the Pastoral Counselor will provide many gifts to the client due to their unique perspective, a perspective that helps them to recognize the dignity and intrinsic value of every client. The individuals we have a privilege of serving are loved, wanted, pursued, and chosen by the creator of the universe. This is our foundation. This can be known. No matter how isolated, worthless, or unlovable a client might feel, we know the truth. How, when, or even if we can directly share this truth takes time, patience, and a readiness on the client’s part, but the truth is there regardless. As we continue to counsel them, we can know who is truly facilitating the process and who wants their good even more than we do. As we come to know Jesus and the love he has for us and our clients, we can look to Him to be our model and their hope.
Claire Richard is a Clinical Mental Health Counseling student originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is frequently in awe of the goodness of our God and finds herself marveling at His providence more than one would think possible. Through years of research, it has been determined that a good conversation, a great book, and bottomless cups of coffee are all necessary for her mental health.