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. After this foundation is established, there is room for creativity. There is no shortage of resources and techniques available for the pastoral counselor. The trick is to find the methods and tools that best resonate with the pastoral counselor’s own personal style, philosophy, and value system. While serving the same basic, essential service, each pastoral counselor’s work will look differently from the next. These differences can be equally effective in serving the needs of clients seeking pastoral counseling.
As previously mentioned, plenty of techniques exist to serve the pastoral counselor and his or her clients. One category of techniques involves prayer. Prayer can take many forms. The pastoral counselor can recommend many different written prayers to benefit the client with the goal of providing comfort or hope in challenging times. Other forms of prayer can involve more than a recitation of words. Praying the ‘Jesus Prayer’ (Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) coordinated with deep breathing and following along on corresponding prayer beads involves physical senses, mindfulness, and prayer all in one. Techniques like this can be helpful in aiding clients’ growth in virtue while calming nerves and focusing on the present moment. Praying the Rosary can provide similar effects for clients. For Catholic counselors, Mass, Adoration, and Confession can be beneficial suggestions to help clients heal and receive the graces they need to deal with their situations.
One of the greatest tools available to the pastoral counselor is the power of the Holy Spirit. If we ignore this resource that is always available to us, we will be doing a great disservice to ourselves and to our clients. Whether this means praying a short, “Come Holy Spirit,” before the client walks through our door or an intense session of prayer with a client, invoking the Holy Spirit can bring about real, lasting change in the lives of our clients. As people in the helping profession, we are instruments in the hands of the Lord. It would only make sense that He wants to give us the grace and power necessary to help bring about change and healing in His people. It is God who draws clients to us because He wants to draw them closer to Himself. By opening ourselves up to the graces of God, we are being equipped for the vital work to which we have been called.