Certain counseling interventions might be more unique to pastoral counseling than they might more standard counseling. In most regards, I’m a huge advocate for things like Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and also Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. In regards to pastoral counseling, all of these can be useful and will undoubtedly come up a time or two (certainly for me), but for pastoral counseling alone, the application of the Unbound Ministry interwoven with counseling and the addition of Christian fiction in bibliotherapy can have great outcomes. I will discus the application of Motivational Interviewing and REBT in pastoral counseling first though.
Motivational Interviewing calls upon you as the counselor to help draw out from the client a passion and a dedication to change. Often times, when clients come in to therapy, they come in contemplating change. They have a few good ideas why they want to do it, or maybe there are needs and legitimate reasons for them to change, but all the same, there’s something within them that is dedicated to a way of life that perhaps isn’t the healthiest. Not unlike a person addicted to the sin of pornography, they might come in aware of the dangers it’s having in their life, but at the same time, they’re trapped and possibly even comfortable in the habit. Motivational Interviewing aids the counselor in helping the client find the reasons, the desire, and the motivation within themselves to change.
REBT calls to mind the fact that we as humans are flawed, but also that our worth cannot be measured. We have perfect value in the fact we are human, and to take it further in a Christian perspective, we have perfect value in the fact that we are made in the image of God and redeemed in the blood of Christ. Our mistakes, our endeavors, our failings and successes do not give us worth and we cannot measure our value based on that.
All of these interventions are my general preference, but there are some that are more applicable and readily available in pastoral counseling. This isn’t to say they couldn’t be used in a more secular counseling setting, but their application would possibly need to be more implicit. The two that have spoken to me in particular are the Unbound Ministry and bibliotherapy with a main focus on Christian fiction.
The Unbound Ministry is, as it says, a ministry, dedicated to closing the doors people have opened in their lives that leaves them vulnerable to the influences of evil spirits. As pastoral counselors, deliverance of any sort may or may not be something we ever encounter, but Unbound does possess concepts that can be used in therapy. Unbound calls upon us to take into consideration our past wounds, those that have hurt us deeply, and asks us to be able to forgive. Being able to forgive releases a heavy burden from our shoulders. When we hold on to past wounds we keep them ever open, never giving them the chance to heal fully, but rather remain exposed and fresh enough that when they inevitably get prodded, the hurt us deeply. By being able to forgive, we let the wounds close and heal proper. Nonetheless, sometimes it can be hard for people to forgive. The Unbound Ministry does a fantastic job of taking this into consideration, encouraging us to be open to forgiving others for their misdeeds (even ourselves for the pain we’ve done onto others and for holding on to hurts the way we have) but more than just forgiving on our own, Unbound helps us bring Christ into that process. An experience that I’ve heard that’s made a lasting impression in my life was when one man described a woman who was struggling to forgive someone who’d hurt her greatly. She said it was just impossible for her to forgive, and so the man asked her:
“Would you be able to forgive through the blood of the cross of Jesus Christ?”
The woman thought about it and then said, “Yes, I think I could.”
How much of a blessing it is for us as pastoral counselors to know that we will be able to turn to our savior when we’ve hit gridlock with our clients.
Finally, something that’s been very useful for me in my life are books. Not just counseling and psychology books (which are fantastic, don’t get me wrong!), but fiction books too. I’m an avid reader and nothing soothes me more after a long day than being able to snuggle down with a cup of tea and a good novel. Novels can be more than stress relief though: they can be therapeutic. They help us get into the point of view of a person going through similar hardships we’ve endured, hardships such as rejection, addiction, loss, and many others. We can tap into their emotional experience and know that we’re not alone in our pains, and novels can possibly even normalize our experiences and reactions. What’s more, books can challenge us in a ways that we might resist another person doing. In the guise of fiction, we can be called to courage and to action. We can be called to reevaluate our decisions and our life’s choices and behaviors. We can be called to newfound chastity, to repentance, to forgiveness, and to holiness.
Some books that have been great help to me in my conversion and day-to-day life are:
The Screwtape Letters— C.S. Lewis
My Visit to Hell— Paul Thigpen
Lord Foulgrin’s Letters & The Ishbane Conspiracy— Randy Alcorn
The Lord of the Rings— Tolkien
The Underdark Series— R.A. Salvatore
Snowflower and the Secret Fan— Lisa See
Weaveworld, the Abarat Series— Clive Barker
The Bible (seems like a given)
Captivating— John & Stasi Eldredge (for men: Wild at Heart)
Any book on the lives of the saints
The Problem of Pain— C.S. Lewis
Upon my conversion to Catholicism, and after some general soul searching about the path that God had set before me, I found myself at Franciscan University pursuing a degree in Mental Health Counseling. I also came into the program with the full intention of getting the Christian Counseling Certificate. It’s an excellent plan for anyone who is passionate about counseling and their faith combined, especially if you don’t intend on having a life throughout the process.