While there are similarities to clinical counseling, a characteristic of pastoral counseling that vastly differs from many approaches to counseling is that it is holistic in nature. Rather than separating a client’s issues or pieces of themselves, the practice of pastoral counseling works to treat the whole, integrated person. This practice stems from the Christian beliefs that one can only truly be understand in their entirety. Seeing the human person as a whole, the pastoral counselor always considers the body, mind, emotions and soul or spirit, and how these “parts” are constantly interacting and relating to form the complete person.
So often people try to compartmentalize aspects of their lives, as if they have several separate identities depending on the location or audience. I know that I find myself doing this just in separating my role as a student during the week, and that of wife and daughter on the weekends. This is not to say that I do not hold these roles during the week, but because of a difference of 4 hours in location, I tend more to certain roles at certain times. While these circumstances are unusual and temporary, I at times do feel a disconnect. In such cases I work to bridge these two worlds so that each is given the time and honor deserved. It is not always easy, but it becomes easier with time and practice. Realizing the greater plan of God helps immensely.
An awareness of and reliance on God helps to bring a constant hope and meaning to circumstances that might otherwise seem hopeless. Pastoral counselors look at their clients presenting issues, problems or strengths with the awareness of their inherent dignity and worth from the grace of God. It is with great patience that the pastoral counselor looks for the Christ in each person, as is essential to the Christian faith. Often times, clients in pastoral counseling might have a Christian background, but due to struggles or suffering they have forgotten the tremendous gift of their faith and the resources this offers. The pastoral counselor can help clients rediscover and utilize such resources as appropriate to specific individuals and situations. For instance, a client that suffers from anxiety and depression might be given homework to pray a rosary each week if they are open to this kind of work. Homework is common in clinical counseling, and can be used in both practices in very similar or different ways. The rosary is a powerful resource in bringing peace as it is a meditative practice that allows a person to focus on reciting a series of prayers. This type of prayer can also remind clients that putting their trust in Jesus through Mary can offer great relief. Another resource for clients might be a book of short, daily meditations. These types of books offer a brief meditation, maybe from the writing of saints, to read and think about throughout the day. Some of these books also offer a short mantra of sorts to think of throughout the day that is easy to remember and can offer solace in times of difficulty. Daily meditation books provide a sense of routine, which can be extremely beneficial for clients of all different strengths and struggles. These resources can be given to clients to continue growth and reflection outside of the counseling sessions, and can be discussed or reflected upon when meeting in person if the client so desires.
The use of the rosary and meditative prayer books or journals can be a way for clients to begin to see the hand of God in all aspects of their life, even in the hard times. This awareness of God’s presence can help to bring harmony in what some might see as chaos. These sorts of practices that become routine and habit forming might be used in clinical counseling, though more so with the focus on a certain aspect of the self or behavior. In pastoral counseling, clients can reflect and work on themselves, which includes their behavior, in relation to the creator. This brings a sense of viewing the whole person from a seat of love and belonging, as God is love.