Throughout the beginning of this semester, we have attempted to define the title of our class “Pastoral Counseling.” This has proved to be a worthwhile endeavor but a difficult one at that. Ultimately, we discovered that pastoral counseling is not an easily identifiable term, and many writers and practitioners have differing opinions about its goals and structure, its strengths and limitations, and the uniqueness of a career which encompasses both ministry and counseling.
A friend of mine who counseled in a secular setting once compared her experience of counseling without incorporating faith to working with one arm tied behind her back. She acknowledged that she had an essential gift to share with her clients in sharing the Word of God, but because of the setting she worked in, she was not allowed to bring the client’s faith into the counseling relationship. She admitted that there was something lacking in this attempt to bring the person to wholeness and health. This is one of the unique qualities of Pastoral counseling in that it allows a counselor to use “both hands” to bring their client to encourage deep growth and healing in a truly holistic manner. In this example, “both hands suggests” using the gifts which the church has to offer us in Scripture, the Sacraments, the teaching of church fathers, the lives of the saints, alongside the empirically tested theories and technique of clinical mental health in order to create a method of counseling which treats the person as a whole body and soul. Pastoral Counseling is able to bridge that gap between clinical mental health and ministry providing a “unique opportunity for God’s Word to be spoken to the specific life experiences of the person seeking pastoral help (Benner, 2003).”
While techniques and scripture versus are important instruments of the pastoral counselor, the heart of pastoral counseling is the faith and actions of the counselor themselves. As Carl Jung describes, “…it is not what you do or what you know in counseling that makes the difference but rather who you are.” It is the pastoral counselor’s job to walk with their client’s in their pain and difficulties, however it is difficult to lead others where one has never been. Therefore it is important for pastoral counselors to not only learn and understand theology and church teachings but to also be living it out in their daily lives. Now, this doesn’t mean that a pastoral counselor has no faults and joyfully embraces all of the suffering which comes their way they, just like priests and religious, are human and stained with the same original sin as the rest of humanity. They will fall and need confession, however the key is that they find the redemption in suffering and they strive to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
As pastoral counselors, we are called to prophecy, minister, psycho-educate, and encourage our clients as we attempt to bring them to healing and growth. As members of the body of Christ, we have been given specific functions and talents, however as counselors we are challenged to not only utilize one of these gifts we have been given but to develop and pray for all of these other gifts in order to be as competent and effective as possible. I’m L. Hoppenjan, and I’m a pastoral counseling student.