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Kristen James

Student Blogger

Biography

Kristen James is a second year graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program.  She moved to the Ohio Valley from Virginia in order to attend Franciscan and holds a BA in English from Virginia Tech.  If she had free time, she would enjoy spending it writing and with friends; since time is in short demand at the moment, she’s enjoying the opportunities that God has put in her life.  She will be blogging here during the fall semester of 2014 as part of her Pastoral Counseling course, examining topics of relevance to counseling from a Christian and pastoral viewpoint.

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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Story Time!

Throughout this semester, I have done a lot of reflecting on what I have to offer my clients as a counselor. Before this semester, I did not think that I had a lot to offer my clients in terms of life experience and a story. After all, as a cradle Catholic graduate student who comes from a white upper-middle class family how can I relate to people who are new in the faith or who come from different socioeconomic, educational, and cultural backgrounds? This question has definitely been answered throughout the semester as my classmates and I have explored our family and religious background as well as discussed some very personal beliefs and experiences.

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Having the Humility to Rely on Christ’s Strength!

“God I look to you, I won’t be overwhelmed, give me vision to see things like you do. God I look to you, you’re where my help comes from, give me wisdom, you know just what to do” (Jenn Johnson).

With six papers due before Thanksgiving, and three exams in 24 hours soon after, I have to admit I’m a bit overwhelmed and burned out from this semester. It makes me wonder how in the world am I ever going to persevere in ministry and service with client after client in pastoral counseling? What do I do on the days I’m losing steam and everything in me wants to stay on the couch, take a nap and just watch a movie? That’s where the above song lyrics come into play. Do I remember to rely on the Lord and not on my own strength? Do I truly look to Him? Self-reliance is something so natural and important in our culture, yet in a sense it’s anti-Christian.

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Catholic Social Teaching’s Relevance to Pastoral Counseling

For anyone going into Catholic pastoral counseling, a strong understanding of Catholic Social Teaching is important.  The teachings of the Catholic Church shed wonderful light on the dignity of the human person and man’s relationship with other people and the world around him as God intended it to be. 

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Light in the Darkness

Before coming to Franciscan, I thought I had a fairly well formed faith and saw the world through those eyes of faith. I came from a strong parish, a strong youth group, and many strong friends. It appeared I had it all. There was one thing about my faith that over the years has been challenged, formed and tested. The one way in which I feel it has changed the most has been in not seeing the world in such a black and white manner.

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A Desire for More

As this semester has been flying by, I am reminded again and again of the importance of having a deep spiritual life to even entertain the idea of being a pastoral counselor. Other than my own personal desire to grow closer to God, there’s also the desire to do so for my clients so that I can help them in their spiritual life. One way that I can deepen my spiritual life is to learn more about virtues and focus on different virtues that I may be struggling with.

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The Uniqueness of Pastoral Counseling

As this semester continues, I have learned more about the unique opportunities and techniques associated with pastoral counseling. Based on what I have learned so far, I can see that the uniqueness of Pastoral counseling provides many advantages as well as certain limitations that should be considered by anyone who wants to be a pastoral counselor. One of the main advantages of pastoral counseling that I see is the ability to more directly incorporate our Catholic faith into therapy.

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Bringing Christ Through Hip-Hop

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.

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