Pastoral counseling had been a part of my life since I was a child, and was integral to forming my identity and understanding of a catholic sense of community. I considered myself to have a unique upbringing; as an only child, over the years I witnessed my parents form a charismatic Filipino community called Bukas Loob Sa Diyos (Open Your Hearts to God) after having newly immigrated to Canada. We moved to North America because my father had to resign from his lucrative banking position in the Middle East due to unscrupulous practices. My understanding of my own spirituality grew from this experience – their spiritual directors supported them during this tough time and they attributed all their successes in Canada to their faith in God’s plan for them. I was taught the importance of prayer, perseverance, and patience by the example my parents set for me. Their free time was devoted to forming this community, which grew rapidly across North America. I remember many weekends having to tag along to countless meetings in various houses, the venues soon changing to church halls and larger summer retreat venues as more and more families joined. Praise and worship in a friend’s home was suddenly turned into a church full of families celebrating mass together on the weekends, with a fully fledged praise ministry that my parents were part of also leading praise and worship and giving talks on issues that affected their community. A major theme was the newly immigrated families experiencing culture shock as their kids began to rebel and spouses began to fight due to the stress of adapting to a new culture. My parents realized they had to better quip themselves to help their growing community and began to take classes on pastoral counseling and attend workshops whenever possible, ultimately leading them to Franciscan University.
As they grew in experience they began to informally counsel couples experiencing marital trouble. As a child, it was very normal for me to accompany them when they made these pastoral visits. Perhaps it was not entirely professional on my parent’s part, but they never charged a penny to visit their “lambs” (as they were called in the community). I would usually be in the next room watching TV, reading a book, or blatantly eavesdropping because there was nothing else to do. I must have inadvertently heard many things over the years, though I paid them no mind because it was so normal for me. There would be tears, there would be shouting, there would be laughter, but most important of all there would be healing. I was able to witness and listen to the stories of couples who had all but given up on each other through the grace of God rekindle the flame they had lost. This was my first inkling of what pastoral counseling was, though I had no formal way to categorize it. For me, I was merely witnessing people being there for people in their time of need.
I had once vowed to never be like my parents. Being dragged along for pastoral visits eventually took its toll on me and I resented their absence in my life. I led a secular life for a time, stayed far away from charismatic communities, and studied political science and anthropology in my undergrad, hoping to move on to law school and become a barrister. After graduating undergrad, spending five years in the workforce, and suffering from an inability to choose a career path, I was led full circle back to Franciscan University, the very school I had visited as a teen, written off as a strange catholic cult, and vowed to never return to. I find myself not only becoming like my parents in their ministry, but taking it even further and choosing to make it my career. As I actually learn and apply techniques as an intern, I am horrified to discover I sound just like my parents when I counsel, though I think of how God was able to use them and I calm down a bit.
Understanding pastoral counseling as a unique relationship between the people involved where the counselor can be a member of your community dedicated to your spiritual well bring came about as a long process for me, something that I can fully appreciate now being a student at Franciscan. When I discuss the theories and techniques we study on the secular side of psychology with my parents, they are endlessly impressed by all the things their son is learning. Ironically, I saw them achieve similar results, but with a more holistic outcome by simply adhering to the same tenets of pastoral counseling I am learning now.
As I have seen it from my family, pastoral counseling is centered around a love for the community you are part of, and letting Christ be the catalyst for change in the people you work with. It does not take a fully-fledged pastor to administer pastoral counseling. It takes someone who is committed in their faith, in tune to the Holy Spirit, and mindful of the holistic approach required (body and spirit) when ministering to members of your community.