In today’s blog I will be investigating 3 questions that pertain to the client’s goal, the nature of their presenting problem and the all important question, “Why now?” I will be forgoing the investigation on the methods and approaches for now and will expand after these three have been appropriately illustrated.
4. What is the goal of the client or directee?
When listening to the reason for counsel it is important to “listen” closely to the language the individual is using. The simple language can describe the issue at hand with greater depth than what may appear at a cursory glance. In general, the language of the individual gives a sense if this issue is transitory or has been present for quite some time, if the issue is encompassed in an adjustment period or a response to a life stage or traumatic event.
In general, a client seeking pastoral counseling will describe a problem that involves their personal mental health, a relationship with another individual, or any number of issues that they do not possess the necessary coping skills to appropriately adjust and progress through the situation.
In contrast, a directee seeks spiritual direction with the intention of developing their spiritual life and issues at hand that are affecting the state of their soul. This may be a spiritually mature individual that is seeking a form of prayer that will enhance their prayer life. It is also possible that an individual new to the faith will seek spiritual direction because they want a deep relationship with God but are unsure where to start. The clear theme within this broad spectrum of the soul is a deepening relationship with God.
6. What is the nature of the client/directee’s presenting issue and how is it keeping him/her from reaching the identified goal?
The nature of the client’s presenting issue can be seen by two perspectives: 1) the actual issue at hand or 2) the “final straw” issue that is only the “tip of the ice burg.” In either case, the presenting issue is still an issue to be worked through. As with any helping profession, we (the counselors) do not determine what the problem is, we simply aid the client in discovering their own solution and educate him or her on means of coping that will enable them to lead a healthy life.
The unique aspect that is recognized in pastoral counseling, and thankfully becoming more recognized in secular counseling, is the role of the soul and the individual’s spiritual life. The body and soul cannot be separated in the field of psychology; however, there are issues that are better suited for pastoral counseling and some that are better suited for spiritual direction. Each counselor must bear in mind that an issue in one area is likely to present itself in some form in the other.
For example, spiritual dryness may appear in a devout Catholic as depression. By spiritual dryness I mean the lack of spiritual consolation in one’s spiritual life. It is a form of spiritual crisis experienced subjectively as a sense of separation from God or lack of spiritual feeling. In this case, if the individual is only involved in pastoral counseling and not spiritual direction the treatment of the depression would be of prime focus, and this risks not addressing the true problem of spiritual dryness. The pastoral counselor would note the need for a spiritual assessment by a spiritual director to discern accordingly if the depression is a result of spiritual dryness; if this is the case, then the individual should seek counsel with a spiritual director in conjunction with continued monitoring by the pastoral counselor. As the individual works through the spiritual dryness it would be assumed that the depression will begin to lift.
However, if the case is reversed and the individual involved with spiritual direction is going through spiritual dryness and appearing depressed, the spiritual director should refer the individual for psychological assessment, assuming that the depression has continued to persist longer than expected when enduring spiritual dryness. If this is the case, it is important for spiritual directors to be well versed in the symptom presentation of depression, including anhedonia, avolition, fatigue, inability to concentrate and feelings of hopelessness.
This is only one example of how a presenting issue could keep a client/directee from reaching their goals. In any case, both counselor and spiritual director need to be knowledgable of symptoms that may be present and hindering the progress of the individual.
7. What is their reason for seeking help at this particular time, “why now?”
This basic question is also a good indicator in regards to the nature of the presenting issue and goal. In both counseling and spiritual direction, it is important that the client/directee clearly identify their goals. By identifying their goals it is easier to discern if they are best suited for spiritual direction or counseling. Keep in mind that participation in one does not, but in some cases can, negate participation in the other.
For example, if an individual’s reason for seeking help now is “I want to deepen my relationship with Christ” this is clearly a request for spiritual direction. In contrast, if an individual’s reason is, “I want to be able to better cope with stress in my life and difficulties with my family.” While a deeper spiritual life would certainly help this individual, individual counseling is more appropriate at this time to help him or her develop coping skills.
It is best practice to always listen for indicators that what someone needs help with is outside your scope of practice, and if/when this happens refer them to someone that can appropriately help them.