Pastoral counseling, as a unique branch of counseling, incorporates the faith of the client in all aspects of treatment. This being the case, pastoral counseling in practice looks significantly different than the iconic Freudian analysis of the client on the couch staring at the ceiling freely associating the contents of their thoughts. So while the foundational basis of pastoral counseling is very different from psychodynamic theories, many other theories may be incorporated into treatment without undermining the intentions of the theorist.
David Benner (2003) offers a practical outline of what pastoral counseling “looks” like in relation to other counseling disciplines in his work, Strategic Pastoral Counseling. Benner describes defines strategic pastoral counseling by the following:
“The term strategic emphasizes the fact that this approach to counseling is highly focused and time-limited. The term pastoral points to the fact that it is offered by a representative of the Christian church who is accountable to the church. The term counseling means that the help offered is organized around the problems experienced by those seeking pastoral assistance.”
A point of clarification is needed with this definition, Benner’s work is written for the clergy serving their congregation and his definition reflects this. The pastoral counselor need not be a member of the clergy, this position may be a layperson that is a trained counselor and works within the parish to provide pastoral counseling. With this being the case, the “look” of pastoral counseling with a member of clergy or a layperson counselor are different. First I will describe the “look” with a member of the clergy and a layperson counselor.
Rev. Barry Estadt (1983), in Pastoral Counseling, describes many considerations that effect the nature of the counseling practice for the “counseling pastor.” The first consideration and the highest in terms of priority is determining if “whether one should respond personally or whether one should be the vehicle for putting that person in touch with an appropriate agency or person from whom effective help can be received” (p.127). The counseling pastor and other clergy must take into account their multiple responsibilities and duties within their parish; after these things are accounted for the pastor must then determine the amount of time and of what duration is available to the congregation in terms of counseling services. Estadt notes that the work of the counseling pastor is short-term counseling which provides the option to renegotiate the time contract of the relationship. This provides both the counselor and counselee with structure and focus. This time contract will likely be made with the liturgical calendar in mind. Estadt reflects:
“Frequently the counseling relationship is a natural follow-up to preaching and teaching as individuals attempt to integrate and to internalize the gospel message presented to them in the pulpit and through the many forms of religious instruction. Preaching and teaching provide information and inspiration; pastoral counseling deals with clarification and integration” (p. 128).
The short-term nature of pastoral counseling by the clergy suggests two things, first, that the issues brought up are important and recognized to a degree that provides a workable atmosphere within the individual and second, that the issues presented are within the normal range that allows the clergy to adequately counsel the concerns of the individual. At the termination of the short-term counseling the clergy determines if the issues have been resolved or if a referral for long-term counseling is warranted.
If and/or when the referral is made to a layperson pastoral counselor, the “look” is different and yet very similar to the previous relationship. The layperson pastoral counselor is trained and works from the background of clinical mental health, clinical psychology and/or clinical counseling. This background provides the foundation for the working relationship between counselor and counselee. Theories such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy work well within this specialized field as quite possibly more often then not an individual’s relationship with God is reflective of their core beliefs which stem from their human experiences with others, such as their family. An individual filtering their worldview from the core belief “I’m unlovable” may extend this belief to their faith life and believe that God, the quintessential Being of unconditional love, also finds him or her to be unlovable. This provides the grounding for the working relationship of the counseling alliance between counselor and counselee. The layperson pastoral counselor working from a CBT approach will still be able to utilize the techniques of the theory within undermining the intentions of Aaron and Judith Beck. In this way, pastoral counseling overlaps clinical counseling without calling into question the efficacy of either practice.
Hello! I’m Patricia Scott, a pastoral counseling student. Pastoral counseling, as a unique branch of counseling, incorporates the faith of the client in all aspects of treatment. As Catholics, or any person with a deep faith tradition, a common problem when seeking out mental health services is finding a counselor that will understand you not only as an entity compiled of mind and body but mind, body and spirit. Pastoral counseling recognizes the full person as mind, body and spirit in one entity.