As this semester continues, I have learned more about the unique opportunities and techniques associated with pastoral counseling. Based on what I have learned so far, I can see that the uniqueness of Pastoral counseling provides many advantages as well as certain limitations that should be considered by anyone who wants to be a pastoral counselor. One of the main advantages of pastoral counseling that I see is the ability to more directly incorporate our Catholic faith into therapy. Catholic counselors should always be counseling pastorally, meaning we should 1) always be viewing both our clients and ourselves through Christ’s eyes and 2) seeking to grow in holiness and help others do the same. Pastoral counseling acknowledges that counseling must address the entire human person; body, mind, and spirit. It also specifically provides the opportunity to directly incorporate more Catholic traditions and tools into our counseling though because, as David G. Benner said in his book Strategic Pastoral Counseling, it is “Church based, spiritually focused, and explicitly Christian”. The many rich gifts that are offered through our Church, such as the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Eucharist, the rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, are wonderful gifts and resources for healing. I know that I would use every single one of them as a pastoral counselor. We are also blessed with many examples of holy men and women who navigated through their unique life struggles and became saints. These examples not only give us comfort in knowing that we are not alone on our journey, but they also give us concrete ways to overcome sin, temptation, and the struggles of life so that one day we may hopefully join the company of the saints in heaven. I would use the stories of these holy men and women to help illustrate certain points to my clients as well as to give them hope by showing them that they are not the only people to suffer, stumble, and fall as they strive for holiness. Finally, techniques such as logotherapy and guided imagery or meditation can definitely be adapted and used in a Christian pastoral setting. I would definitely use tools such as Bible verses and stories as well as stories of the saints as a part of these techniques as long as the client is open to it.
Certain limitations of pastoral counseling that I believe it is important to be aware of include the time- limited nature of the counseling provided as well as the limitations of the setting in which it is provided. All counseling is essentially time-limited because of the length of the sessions and the number of sessions insurance companies and clients are willing to pay for. The Strategic Pastoral Counseling approach recommended by David G. Benner is no exception to this, and as a result it requires the pastoral counselor to be active and directive, use a collaborative approach in therapy, concentrate on one main problem, and stay within the time limit. Pastoral counseling is also typically offered in a parish/ church setting or in a specifically Christian organization. This can be somewhat limiting because there may be only one pastoral counselors in that particular setting and the clientele may not be very diverse. To avoid isolation as a pastoral counselor and ensure that I keep my skills sharp, I would be sure to consult with other counselors, seek supervision, and talk with my pastor regularly as well as volunteer or do additional work outside of the parish setting. I would also keep myself up-to-date on the most recent research and news in the counseling field by attending conferences and seminars to continue my education because that is an important component to being a competent and ethical counselor.
Overall, I believe that pastoral counseling should first and foremost be counseling pastorally. As counselors, our anthropology of the human person, where we draw our strength from, and where we encourage our clients to find strength are all foundational to our work. Some clients will not be willing to go deeper and talk about God or faith, but we can still be the face of Christ to them in the ways we treat them and the way we encourage them to become the man or woman God create them to be. As the quote attributed to St. Francis goes, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary use words.” If a client is willing to talk about God and faith, then we are even freer to discuss the fullness of truth with them and use the many gifts and tools available to us through the Church. A counselor who is able to be both flexible and grounded like this will be able to connect with a variety of clients and bring them closer to the truth by meeting them where they are and making the truth attractive to them. This is definitely the kind of counselor I want to be, whether or not I work in a pastoral counseling setting. So far I have definitely learned how to be the flexible, but grounded, counselor. I look forward to learning more and practicing these skills as I continue my studies.