In my last post, I explored the idea of Pastoral Counseling. The main focus of that post was the qualities and purpose of Pastoral Counseling, while placing an emphasis on the qualities (portrayed by Christ) that should be displayed by the counselor. In this blog post, I want to express some more practical skills and techniques that one should have, if working from this position of ministry.
Counseling is a place of exploration and discovery. Throughout this process, a counselor will use certain strategies to help an individual make changes and heal. Some people think that counselors act as an active force that does things to change a client. While counseling is an active process, David Benner points out that counselors do not do things to their clients, but does things with their clients. I think this distinction is important, because it highlights the importance of communion with other believers, as well as the fact that the people seeking counseling are also taking an active role in the process.
The role of the counselor is to use certain skills that promote change and provide an avenue for that to occur. While psychology and other disciplines have produced a vast number of these skills and techniques, that seek to use the power of the mind to promote healing; the power of God and His word have been forsaken in the process. I believe that the Pastoral Counselor has an ability and duty to bridge the intellect with the spirit.
While I didn’t mention it in my previous post, the Pastoral Counselor should have an in-depth knowledge of the Word of God. This knowledge and understanding will be a foundational skill that can be used in session, and (in my opinion) will be a significant technique to bridge the power of the mind, with the power of the Spirit. For lengths sake, I won’t outline the theoretical foundations of counseling theories, but if utilized in conjunction with scripture, the Pastoral Counselor can successfully do three things: 1) Reinforce the intellectual coping skills that have been demonstrated. 2) Provide the client with a powerful reminder that God is present during our struggles. 3) Help the client remember quick phrases, that can act as in independent coping skill.
For example, if working with a client who is struggling with anxiety, the Pastoral Counselor is armed with numerous scriptures that can help solidify therapeutic techniques. Some scriptures that could be used in this context could be Psalms 27:1 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation, so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble.” This scripture, if used with controlled breathing, could serve as a way for someone to cope with their anxiety. Another scripture (one of my favorites) is 2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” Not only does this highlight that God would prefer us to walk in love and peace of mind, but also that He has given us authority and power over our fears. These are only a few examples, but there are plenty more that could also serve as coping skills.
The Bible provides us with such wisdom and peace, that we can use its power to remind ourselves of God’s unfailing love and provision for us. For the individual seeking Pastoral Counseling, the use of God’s word would be greatly appreciated. In addition to scriptures, God has given us the gift of communication and prayer with Him. No matter what faith tradition you operate from, the importance of prayer is a salient feature of a relationship with God.
As I stated before, counseling is not something you do to a client, but something you do with a client. Prayer can be a perfect example of this principle in action. Some clients may prefer you pray with them during every session, others may appreciate it more if it is used as the Spirit leads. However it is chosen to be implemented, it is a skill that can promote peace, comfort, encouragement, and solidarity with the counselor, the client, and most important, with God. Another way to use this skill in a different manner, would be to ask the client if they have any personal prayers that they favor, or that have helped them through tough times. This is a way for the counselor to affirm and draw on the strengths that the client already has, and help promote those. Counselors are in the business of empowerment, so if the client has some strengths, it’s important for them to use them.
To close, the Word of God and our communication with God can serve as skills in the counseling process. When used with other techniques, the counselor can connect the spirit with the mind, and help the client to develop their own set of skills to use. For some individuals, these interventions may serve as a stand-alone coping strategy. For others, it may be beneficial to utilize these two foundational skills, of scripture and prayer, in addition to other therapeutic strategies.