Since I was a child, my friends always seemed to come to with their secrets: about what girls they were interested in, who did better on a test or what one of my friends said about another. At the time I thought that was normal, but as we grew older the secrets became more real and personal such as: family troubles, thoughts of depression and advice on how to navigate tricky situations. Little did I know it was molding me into an empathetic and understanding person and ultimately my career.
There are many different helping professions where a person comes and shares the “secrets” of their lives some of them including counselors, social workers, and psychiatrists. One in particular that has in some ways lost its identity is the pastoral counselor. You might be asking me, what the heck is a pastoral counselor? You are not in the minority, I actually asked that very same questions just a month ago.
Some argue the pastoral counselor is a lost profession because it has been split and absorbed into the fields of counseling and spiritual direction. Some argue the pastoral counselor is someone who is attached to a parish or is pastors themselves. Other would say the pastoral counselor is one who counselors from a religious perspective with not as much emphasis on the mental health side such as licensed counselors do. Although those definitions may be what once was, I believe it has changed into a disposition of the person in the help profession rather than an actual title itself.
The pastoral counselor then is one who looks at their clients or directees in a particular way. Anyone who has the attitude of faith when approaching a client can be considered a pastoral counselor to some degree. The tricky thing here is to not get too general with the definition of pastoral counselor. Certain things would bar a person from that title:
1) Need to be in the helping profession (counseling, spiritual director, pastor, and social worker)
2) Having a spiritual back ground (explored later)
3) An overall desire to care for the soul of the client
A person to have a spiritual background would likely to have some formal education on the history, practice and dogmas of the certain religion. Depending on the depth and breadth of writing of the religion would determine how much education would be required as a solid basis of grasping the fundamentals of a religion. I believe this is necessary for the pastoral counselor because without any religious and spiritual component they would be just a normal helper.
The part that is most vital to the pastoral counselor is the position they must have towards one’s own soul as well as the souls they will be caring for. A pastoral counselor’s role in whatever profession they choose to partake in MUST have a base line disposition for the love of souls. For example a counselor may not explicitly talk about religion or their faith in any regards, but when they have the intention to bring the soul to a better state.
In practicality, when we look to define what a pastoral counselor is, we are trying to determine in what way we are aiding our brothers and sisters to get to heaven. It seems to me the definition is not as crucial as the work being done.
The better we as people can operate in the role of a helper be it body, mind or soul, we are aiding that person being helped but also the network of people around them. I have experienced many times that the healing of one person effects and entire community because they celebrate with. The pastoral counselor is there to give people something to celebrate, something they can hold onto: usually hope. The pastoral counselor has a unique role in being an instrument of hope in the lives of those they serve.
Not only is it ordinary hope but it is truly extraordinary hope they are spreading.
So although little me growing up might not be considered a pastoral counselor, there was definitely the beginnings of a one who may be in the future. To all of you out there who are in the helping professions, I would encourage you to develop a grounding in the care of soul, or develop a stronger sense of love for the people you care for. Pastoral counseling if for all of us.
Before coming to Franciscan, I thought I had a fairly well formed faith and saw the world through those eyes of faith. I came from a strong parish, a strong youth group, and many strong friends. It appeared I had it all. There was one thing about my faith that over the years has been challenged, formed and tested. The one way in which I feel it has changed the most has been in not seeing the world in such a black and white manner.