After having theoretically outlined my understanding of Pastoral Counseling, I would like to take a more practical approach to the topic, listing the resources and techniques unique to this profession. The mental health field it’s self has many practical techniques which the Pastoral counselor should also find quite useful such as CBT, thought stopping, relaxation techniques, assertiveness training, etc. However, pastoral counseling also has access to all of the gifts and resources which the church has to offer such as prayer, saintly examples, sacraments, scripture and so forth. In my previous blog I mentioned that pastoral counseling bridges the gap between the professional mental health field and ministry in the Church. In this post I’ll identify and try to flesh out what it looks like to fully take advantage of the ministry tools through pastoral counseling.
The pastoral Counselor themselves should be rooted in a life of prayer on his or her own. This may mean making a daily holy hour, meeting with a spiritual director, or taking up certain devotions such as the rosary or particular novena’s. From this internal life of prayer their apostolate and counseling shall flow. As Catholics, we are called to be reservoirs of the Lord’s love and Mercy, not simply river which His love pours through, but to be so full of the Lord’s graces and love that it overflows from us into those whom we work with.
Pastoral counselors may also decide to use prayer both inside and outside of the session. Outside the session this may take the form of the counselor bringing their clients to prayer, asking the Lord to help guide the direction of the treatment and to inspire the counselor to utilize certain techniques or explore areas in greater detail. Pastoral Counselors may choose to create a prayer to be recited before they meet with each client and soon after they leave the office.
If the counselor does maintain a life of prayer they must be open to the spirit moving in them throughout the session as well. Throughout the session the counselor should feel free to recite a short prayer, even something as simple as, “Jesus, I trust in You”, “Hail Mary”, or “Come Holy Spirit” can be mentally prayed in conversation. These prayers may be helpful especially when counselors feel particularly challenged, or the feel their client could use extra comfort or grace in order to continue.
One practice which a Priest once taught me included greeting a person’s guardian angel and asking them to bless the interaction. Once again this is a mental prayer, otherwise this could cause some interesting first impressions for one’s clients.
If the client feels comfortable with it, verbal prayer can also be incorporated into the session. The client may desire to learn how to pray or learn how to pray in new ways with scripture, through the Mass, etc. The counselor should be prepared or at least have literature on practical prayer tips and instructions including such things as Lectio Divina.
As suggested, Lectio Divina, a slow contemplative praying of the scriptures, can be taught to clients interested in learning a new way to pray and can also be directed toward passages which may have the most benefit for that clients specific needs. Pastoral Counselors would benefit from a listing of particular passages which may be associated with common issues such as: loneliness, despair, fear, anxiety, etc. Such passages can be used as fotter for journal entries or discussion.
Clients should be encouraged to remain close to all of the sacraments, but in many cases, the sacrament of Reconciliation may be especially useful for clients who struggle with shame or guilt for their past or current actions.
Example of the Saints
In the Church, we are blessed to be preceded by many fervent, holy souls whose example can be inspiring and whose words can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our own issues.
In counseling, the arrangement and atmosphere of the counselor’s office plays a significant role in the counseling process and should be seen as an intentional design. For example clients should never feel blocked from having an escape route, especially when working with clients with PTSD it is important that they feel safe and free to leave while in the counseling office. Similarly, the religious symbols or objects displayed by the pastoral counselor should also be selected with prayer and intentionality. A pastoral counselor may choose to display a crucifix or an image of the Virgin Mary which could possibly be referenced and used in the session and may encourage the client to be reminded that Christ is present even in their suffering. Pastoral Counselors may also find certain prayers, quotes, or words of encouragement and inspiration useful to hang on walls or within eyesight of the client.
As pastoral counselors, we are called to prophecy, minister, psycho-educate, and encourage our clients as we attempt to bring them to healing and growth. As members of the body of Christ, we have been given specific functions and talents, however as counselors we are challenged to not only utilize one of these gifts we have been given but to develop and pray for all of these other gifts in order to be as competent and effective as possible. I’m L. Hoppenjan, and I’m a pastoral counseling student.