The goal of pastoral counseling is freedom—freedom from whatever prevents the person from living life to the fullest. Fulfilling one’s greatest potential is the goal in all types of counseling, whether in a pastoral or clinical setting. But what makes pastoral counseling unique is that this type of freedom finds its roots in Jesus Christ. This freedom originates from a God who gives so willingly and so generously to those who ask. Like a father who longs to give gifts to his children, even more so does our Heavenly Father wish to give to those who ask. As Jesus promises in Scripture, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For whoever asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
Despite what some may believe, pastoral counseling is not about saying the right thing, memorizing a set of rules and regulations, or taking full responsibility of “fixing” the individual. It is about allowing the Holy Spirit—the “Wonderful Counselor (Is 9:6),” the “true counselor”—to work through the pastoral counselor and to uniquely minister to the individual in whatever way he or she needs.
Pastoral counseling is basically giving the Holy Spirit full reign to do His thing.
How freeing is this! In no way does this mean that the counselor does not have to prepare before the session, practice the fundamental techniques of counseling throughout, and continue to educate him or herself. It does, however, mean that pastoral counseling is not all about the counselor. It is about leading our clients to God, the One who has the power to heal and who has an insatiable thirst for hearts. The role of the pastoral counselor is elevated to a completely different plane than that of other clinical counselors, in that the counselor collaborates with the Holy Spirit to give suffering individuals freedom and liberation. In the words of Estadt, et. al., “A pastoral counselor makes personal the liberation of Jesus Christ.”
One of the pastoral counselor’s most important roles in making personal the liberation of Jesus is to simply be. Estadt et. al. writes that “doing” is not as important as simply being. Although this statement may seem counter-intuitive, feeling pressured to “do something” may not bear as much fruit as “being with” the individual. Benner explains this concept in his book Strategic Pastoral Counseling. He writes that pastoral counseling is a structured “being-with.” Offering a ministry of presence is vital in allowing the individual to feel understood, accepted, and loved. The pastoral counselor must rest in the truth that healing does not necessarily come from “saying all the right things.” French theologian Fenelon once wrote, “Speak little; listen much; think far more of understanding hearts and of adapting yourself to their needs than of saying clever things to them.” In “being-with” the client, God can communicate His consolation and His peace—a peace “which surpasses all understanding” and which guards one’s heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7).
Estadt et. al. writes, “A pastoral counselor motivates and facilitates people to take risks and to make decisions which enable them to become what they are meant to be.” This is the role of the pastoral counselor: to introduce the person to Jesus Christ and to allow the Holy Spirit to communicate His freedom and liberation. Only in this freedom will the individual discover who they are meant to be. As Saint Catherine of Siena writes, “If you are who you should be, you will set the world on fire!” May all counselors allow the Lord to do His work in us and bring about true freedom in every individual we encounter!
God loves us and has our best interest in mind. He wants us to have a ten-year old heart again that is perfectly content with building and playing and coloring. He wants us to be grounded in the truth that He is going to take care of everything. Everything. Saint Paul reminds us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). And freedom comes from living out our identity as sons and daughters of the Father. When we live as children of God, we do not lose our “grown up” identities. When we embrace childlike trust and surrender, God empowers us to go out and change the world. For He promises, “I will be with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).