The field of counseling encompasses a vast array of theoretical disciplines and specialties. Among these is pastoral counseling. Pastoral counseling is similar to other forms of counseling in that it is interested in how the client’s mind, body, and soul operate and perceive reality. The counselors with a pastoral counseling discipline, like in other trains of counseling, are constantly becoming more informed about new counseling techniques, theories, and research findings. What makes pastoral counseling unique is its special emphasis on the spiritual nature of humanity. This is its hallmark.
Pastoral counseling sees humanity within the light of spiritual realities. It sees humanity’s ultimate integration and wholeness as intimately connected with its awareness and responsiveness to these spiritual realities. It blends traditional counseling techniques and theories into a spiritual approach creating a beautiful web of love and care for souls.
These counselors do not leave their spirituality at the door of the counseling session. Rather, it comes into the counseling session with them as they meet clients. The way they see things, how they demonstrate love, compassion, empathy, understanding, etc are all reflective of their spiritual orientation. Furthermore, they are open to the promptings of the divine and the many ways he may want to manifest himself in the session.
I believe Catholic Christian pastoral counselors have something special to offer the pastoral counseling field. These counselors have within their counseling tool bag over 2,000 years worth of wisdom in all matters of sin, virtue, and overall well-being of the soul. Within the tool bag can be found the teachings of St. Ignatius on spiritual discernment, St. Teresa’s stages of the spiritual life, and St. Francis de Sales’s instructions on the devout life. All of these wonderful insights can be brought into the counseling session to help bring greater integration to clients.
These counselors also have a special gift they offer their clients, in that they have a name for the divine and have a deep relationship with him. This carries over into the counseling session. Thus, when the counselors are with clients, there are three acting persons present in the room, the counselor, the client, and the Holy Spirit. These counselors listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit during counseling sessions and read a scripture, express a Christian teaching, speak a simple word, or take a moment of silence as the Lord directs.
Pastoral counseling is one of many counseling specialties. Like the other specialty areas, it has its own contribution to the field of counseling. It is a worth while field for anyone who wants to integrate his/her faith into his/her counseling practice.
For anyone going into Catholic pastoral counseling, a strong understanding of Catholic Social Teaching is important. The teachings of the Catholic Church shed wonderful light on the dignity of the human person and man’s relationship with other people and the world around him as God intended it to be.