The world needs compassionate, ethical counselors. Individuals, couples, and families sometimes have concerns and problems that they cannot make sense of on their own. To sort out life’s issues, people often seek professionals who value social service and desire to help them improve their relationships.

The Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) Department at Franciscan University helps creative, innovative men and women become prepared for a lifetime of serving others. We aim, furthermore, to develop students’ professional and personal selves and foster a respect for human and Christian values.

CMHC Student Bloggers
Tom Hornbeck
Kelsey Johnson
Andi Corona
A. Karina Resendiz
Catherine Anderson
Claire Nichols
Tyler Kilbane
Robert Kelty

Pastoral Counseling Applications

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.

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What does Pastoral Counseling look like in Practice?

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.

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Practical Techniques for Pastoral Counseling

Being in grad school, having a calling to become a counselor, and being a practicing Christian Catholic, all these aspects kind of do drive me to be a Pastoral counselor. So far I know two things that Pastoral Counseling is not; it is not spiritual guidance and it is not counseling for the clergy only. Pastoral counselors are interested in people having mental health and spiritual health, like I mentioned in my previous writing, we also care for your soul.

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Pastoral Counseling in Action

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.

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Multi-Faceted Approaches of Pastoral Counseling

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.

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Pastoral Counseling in Practice

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”.

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Pastoral Counseling 101

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.

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The Pastoral Counselor

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.

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What is Pastoral Counseling?

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?

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Who is Helping You Take Care of Your Soul?

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?

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What Makes Pastoral Counseling Unique?

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.

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Faithful Guidance – The Importance of Pastoral Counselors

The term “pastoral counseling” can hold a variance of meanings to different individuals. To some, this brings to mind an image of a male pastor who helps clarify God’s direction in a person’s life. To others, this term specifically relates to a professional counselor who only helps those practicing the Christian faith.

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The Nature of Pastoral Counseling

Although there are many different definitions of what pastoral counseling is, I notice several common themes which writers have drawn upon. The term “integration” appears a lot in reference to guiding a client towards physical, mental and spiritual well-being. For Christian clients whose faith is important to them, knowing that pastoral counselors share their faith helps develop trust, rapport and accountability.

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The Unique Pastoral Counselor

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

With the many thoughts and images the term “pastoral counseling” evokes, it is not difficult to imagine why the disciple is so difficult to define.  Yet, with a culturally, historically, and religiously rich word such as “pastoral,” surely a counseling profession claiming the title must also contain a certain depth.  

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Morrison: Expensive Window-Shopping

For those of us who are not quite making the big bucks, or making few bucks at all, at least getting to window shop and dream about what we might like to buy if we won the lottery is a realistic alternative.

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Summers: Counter-Transference: Knowing What We’re Doing

Probably the most important message I have tried to relay in all of my posts at this point is that the counselor is not perfect–shocking, I know–and certainly not immune to depositing his or her own baggage in the midst of a session, not in the least. Various forms of this imperfection present within a session, and luckily many of them are noticeable or at the very least easy to rectify once detected.

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Wark: The Special Role of Pastoral Counselors in the Field

I think one of the key skills of pastoral counseling would be the integration of spirituality into the counseling process. One key way in which this integration could be demonstrated is with a client who is having difficulty in a relationship and needs to work towards forgiveness of a past hurt.

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Summers: Answers to Questions Unknown

There’s this notion (I’m not sure how widely it is held, but it exists) that those in the counseling field are in the field initially to learn how to fix themselves, or those in their environment, or perhaps both. And really, I don’t imagine that is too far off the mark, considering the amount of introspection it takes to be able to reach into someone’s world, pull out the themes and major characters of their life and give it back to them in a new, healthy perspective that evokes positive change–all while being able to model that kind of lifestyle in a way that convinces the client it is possible.

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Summers: Receiving the Message Pastoral Counseling as Conduit

So, in my last blog, I sort of jogged around the idea of Pastoral Counseling being an avenue for God to work through the counselor and the client in ways that help both of them grow in faith and in health. I mean for this blog to be a continuation of that, but to highlight another avenue of how Pastoral Counseling calls the counselor to be closer to God through the vessel of the client’s experience’s. First, as you will find is typical of me, I will offer a real life example.

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Resendez: A Partner on the Journey

Going through life, and especially growing up, we are constantly asked what we want to be when we grow up. Some kids say they want to be president, others want to be an astronaut, and some claim they will be dinosaurs.

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Morrison: Freedom in Pastoral Counseling

What is pastoral counseling? In short, I don’t entirely know. In a way I know exactly what it is because of how pastoral counselors are currently practicing, even what it has been as I have studied the development of it.

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Faith in Action

Have you ever found it hard to find the right words when someone shares news about misfortunes in their life? Whether it be a tragic health diagnosis, a death of a loved one, or maybe just a bad day—words can escape us. As a counselor in training, I am not immune to this. Furthermore, as a person who deeply identifies with the Catholic faith it can be tempting to have a knee-jerk response of, “I’ll pray for you,” “Sounds like an opportunity for redemptive suffering,” or worse yet, “Maybe this is an opportunity to grow in patience [insert virtue of your choice].” These phrases are all well and good, but chances are the individual possesses this knowledge already, but at the moment all they want is to be heard and understood. Just being present to a person and expressing empathy can speak volumes to a person in time of need.

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Bringing Spirituality into Everyday Counseling

With my final semester of internship drawing to a close, I am surprised at the number of times I have been able to use pastoral counseling in my internship experience. In many instances, I have had the opportunity to work with people I thought were the least likely to want to include spirituality in their therapy.

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How to Have an Attitude of Gratitude

We hear a lot this time of year about giving thanks. And rightly so! Most people agree that being thankful – or more specifically, being grateful – is a very good thing. But did you know that there are also spiritual and mental benefits to having an attitude of gratitude?

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Presence and Purpose

As I look around each day, I see vastly that life is filled with paradox. The more connected we get through technology, the more isolated we feel. The more you fail at something, the more likely you are to (eventually) succeed. The more that we learn, the more we realize how very little we actually know. And in order to fully live, we must experience a sense of death of the self.  Something that has set in over these last few weeks is that, in order to reach peace we must surrender to God’s will.

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Pastoral Reflections and the Sandlot

Here at Franciscan we have an intervention program for students caught drinking under age. The student is mandated to meet with a “Mentor” for four sessions. The mentor is a Counseling student such as myself, whose job is to assess where the student is at as far as alcohol abuse goes. Depending on what they find, they may spend those four sessions any number of ways. If the student has a problem with alcohol, then it can be addressed. If not, then I find myself in a much more pastoral role.

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Listening from the Last Pew

“From August 2002 to June 2003, I lived and walked among the faceless people of the streets. I say ‘faceless’ because when you are homeless, the rest of the world does its very best to look past you” (The Word Among Us, November 2014, p.56). This article got my attention as I was leaving from an hour of adoration in the Blessed Sacrament. It felt like Jesus was speaking right at me and challenging me to put my faith into action. Is that me, Lord?

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