Pastoral Counseling is a discipline confronted with the task of defining itself since it is, in some ways, still in search of an identity. In this write up I will take a look at pastoral counseling with regard to its meaning, history, identity and purpose.
The word Pastoral from the Latin word pastor, pastorem refers to the shepherd role of the elder(s) within the Christian community, especially the Latin Church. The imagery of shepherd is very recurrent in the scriptures and in the church teachings, and it was mostly used to depict Jesus Christ in the New Testament as the good shepherd of his flock the Church. In his Cura Pastoralis Pope St. Gregory the Great (590 AD) outlined the pastoral duties of the episcopal office and other presbyters (priests) in the Church as one of great care of the faithful.1 Other ancient Christian writers like Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom had written on similar works before Gregory. The word pastoral has connotation with the church circle and usually goes with cura – care or cure, as in pastoral care. However the word today has acquired a more extensive usage to include the roles of ministers, rabbis, imams, chaplains and others involved in providing services to people dealing with life’s predicament.
Counseling and psychotherapy gained prominence and great recognition in North American society by mid 20th century. Humanistic psychology, and particularly the work of Carl Rogers that dominated the era also played significant role in the formative period of the pastoral counseling movement in the 1950s and 1960s.2 Thus pastoral counseling was deeply embedded in the psychologism of the era that almost became a religion of itself which over emphasized the human person as expounded by the theoretical underpinnings of the Rogerian personalistic nondirective stance. Holifield (1983), in his history of the pastoral counseling movement, noted that Rogers’ psychology appealed to both the liberal and neo-orthodox Protestant theology of the time.3
Evidently pastoral counseling’s identity is torn between ascribing allegiance to both the language of psychotherapy with that of theology as espoused by Clinebell’s definition.4 One school of thought suggests that “doing a functional analysis of pastoral counseling”5 is the best approach towards a better understanding of Pastoral Counseling since by doing so “the theological foundations that give it form and that shape its identity will emerge.”6 This trend of thought is in line with Power, C. F. (1990) submission that the uniqueness of pastoral counseling must be based in what the counselor actually does and not on the counselor’s training, role, or consciousness. In the light of the foregoing discourse Benner (1992) posited a formal definition of pastoral counseling when he wrote that “Pastoral counseling involves the establishment of a time-limited relationship that is structured to provide comport for troubled persons by enhancing their awareness of God’s grace and faithful presence and thereby increasing their ability to live their lives more fully in the light of these realizations.” 7
The Christian soul care has been the focus of the church’s mission and ministry. Pastoral counseling shares heavily in this burden of helping realize this mission and ministry in the life of the Christians. Pastoral Counseling can be described as a counseling (guided discovery) undertaken by one who partakes of this shepherding (soul) care role among the people of God be he a clergy or a lay person. Pastoral counseling is the counseling that is put at the service of faith to assist the faithful undertaking the salvific journey, who is also confronted with all human predicaments and vicissitudes of life as other humans. Pastoral counseling should be well poised to help individuals to work through their crises, while focusing on the ultimate questions these life crises raise. Thus, pastoral counseling could demonstrate the proper complementary relationship between the realms of reason (science) and faith (spiritual/religion). In the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio John Paul II rightly described it thus: Faith intervenes not to abolish reason’s autonomy nor to reduce its scope for action, but solely to bring the human being to understand that in these events it is the God of Israel who acts.8
- Gregory the Great (590). Cura Pastoralis. Copyright. NJ: Paulist Press, p. 4
- Power, C. F. (1990). The Distinctiveness of Pastoral Counseling. Counseling and Values.
- Holifield, E. B. (1983). A history of pastoral care in America: From salvation to self-realization. Nashville: Abingdon Press. Cited in Power, C. F. (1990). The Distinctiveness of Pastoral Counseling. Counseling and Values.
- Clinebell, H. (1984). Basic types of pastoral care and counseling: Resources for the ministry of healing and growth, Nashville: Abingdon Press, p.46. Cited in Power, C. F. (1990). The Distinctiveness of Pastoral Counseling. Counseling and Values.
- Estadt, B. K., Blanchette, M. C., Compton, J. R. (1991). Pastoral Counseling. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, p. 18
- Estadt, B. K., et al. (1991) Pastoral Counseling. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, p.18
- Benner, D. (2003). Strategic Pastoral Counseling. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, p. 40.
- John Paul II (1998). Fides et Ratio. n. 16