REFLECTIONS ON PASTORAL COUNSELING:

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1 REFLECTIONS ON PASTORAL COUNSELING: Descriptions of the Pastoral Clinician and the Processes of Pastoral Counseling By: Graduate Students in the Master of Arts Counseling Program at Franciscan University of Steubenville Katherine Gallagher Elizabeth Kuhn Jason Pancake Joshua Schubert All students were enrolled in the Pastoral Counseling Course (CSL 620) taught by Dr. Christin Jungers, LPCC, NCC during the Fall semester 2009.

2 Introduction Pastoral counseling is a field of study, a clinical practice, and, most would agree, a vocation or calling that places the counselor at the service of others. Going beyond this brief description of pastoral counseling in effort to say more about its practice and the person of the counselor, however, becomes a tricky endeavor. A brief review of literature on the topic seems only to raise more questions about pastoral counseling. For example: Is all counseling pastoral to some extent because it is aimed at relieving suffering? If all counseling is not pastoral, what truly distinguishes pastoral from all other types of counseling? Does a pastoral counselor have to be an ordained minister or must the pastoral counselor work in a church setting? How does the pastoral counselor s own religious beliefs and value systems factor into the counseling process? What is the overall purpose of pastoral counseling is it different from other types of counseling and if so, how? Does the pastoral counselor have to be concerned about evangelization? It was to these and numerous other questions that the graduate students in the Fall 2009 course on pastoral counseling turned their attention, study, and personal reflection in hopes of getting a better grasp on understanding the person and practice of pastoral counseling. The document that follows is both a summary of discussions that occupied our focus throughout the course and a set of personal reflections on seven themes that emerged as important characterizations about pastoral counseling and the pastoral clinician. The themes are informed by readings from the course as well as from student input, personal viewpoints and belief systems, and reflection on life experiences. All of the students in the course are Christian, and, thus, the themes reflect Christian values and worldviews. The goal of compiling our reflections is to provide clinicians, ministers, ordained and lay leaders, and any interested persons with a source of information about pastoral counseling or simply with food for thought. We hope you find that these reflections achieve this purpose! Blessings, Pastoral Counseling Class, Fall 2009 & Dr. Christin Jungers (instructor) 2

3 THEMES CHARACTERIZING THE PASTORAL COUNSELOR The Pastoral Counselor displays the comfort of Christ by assisting others on their journey towards emotional, mental, spiritual and physical well being (Luke 2:52). The counselor, being trained in the art and skill of counseling, as well as Christian beliefs, becomes a tool in the hand of King Jesus aiding all of God s children on the path of life. The pastoral counselor is a trained professional with a master s degree in counseling or a closely related helping field. The pastoral counselor is aware of his or her own religious beliefs and walks a journey of faith. The pastoral counselor appreciates the mystery of the human person, the significance of the counseling alliance and the place of forgiveness in human healing (Estadt, 1991). The pastoral counselor is one who approaches others with a Christian anthropology, that is, one who sees the client as coming from God and going to God (existing before and existing after the counseling experience). The pastoral counselor is one who, modeled after Jesus, makes concerted effort to meet clients at their own level in the process of raising them up to greater levels of growth and maturity. The pastoral counselor incorporates and draws on his or her own spiritual charisms and on those of holy persons who inspire them personally. Pastoral counselors seek to be true to their charism and to use that as a gift to aid in the counseling process. The pastoral counselor draws on the wisdom of his or her religious traditions to help clients make sense of their life experiences. 3

4 THEME 1: The Pastoral Counselor displays the comfort of Christ by assisting others on their journey towards emotional, mental, spiritual and physical well being (Luke 2:52). The counselor, being trained in the art and skill of counseling, as well as Christian beliefs, becomes a tool in the hand of King Jesus aiding all of God s children on the path of life. The pastoral counselor brings a unique holistic approach to counseling by serving the total person. The pastoral counselor sees all aspects of the human person including and exploring the spiritual needs of the individual. Along with the resources available to all counselors, the pastoral counselor also relies upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit acknowledging His presence in the counseling process. Pastoral counselors, most of all, acknowledge that they themselves have been comforted by God and in turn comfort others as a wounded healer. The Apostle Paul stated, Blessed be the God and Father our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Through a continuance of prayer, bible study and Christian fellowship, the pastoral counselor reenergizes and allows God to minister to him or her that he or she is capable of comforting others. The pastoral counselor is placed in a position of privilege and responsibility of displaying the merciful, compassionate heart of Jesus to the bruised and broken. Therefore, the counselor is bound to his or her conviction of faith to treat all of God s children with respect and dignity no matter social, economical, or moral standing. Just as Jesus ministered to the poor and the wealthy, and the sinner as well as the saint, the pastoral counselor follows the example of our Lord. In all, the pastoral counselor recognizes his or her own dependency upon the Cross and the extended hand of mercy. The pastoral counselor cherishes the sacrifice that Jesus made for all humankind showing the value of the human person. The pastoral counselor would then see all humankind as having value and significance because of the cross. 4

5 THEME 2: The pastoral counselor is a trained professional with a master s degree in counseling or a closely related helping field. The pastoral counselor is a trained professional, with a master s degree in counseling or a closely related helping field. The professional aspect includes training in and completion of a master s degree in the human services field (e.g., MA Counseling, MS Social Work). The individual will study and demonstrate competency with theories and techniques in clinical counseling. The pastoral counselor will also obtain practical experience working directly with clients through practicum and internship hours, as well as receiving supervision under licensed professionals. Other studies will include ethics of counseling, appraisal of the individual, and an understanding of clinical disorders, as well as courses designed to focus on pastoral counseling and Christian counseling approaches. 5

6 THEME 3: The pastoral counselor is aware of his or her own religious beliefs and walks a journey of faith. The pastoral counselor appreciates the mystery of the human person, the significance of the counseling alliance and the place of forgiveness in human healing (Estadt, 1991). Pastoral counselors have an understanding of their own religious beliefs and are well grounded in their own faith lives. Pastoral counselors are secure in their own beliefs, which allow them to be open to working with clients of diverse faith backgrounds and not to impose their own particular spirituality on clients. The counselor s faith must be able to withstand the storms of suffering and doubt and must not depend on the client s belief or unbelief. The counselor might not have the same spiritual or religious traditions as the client, but a common ground may still be reached in discussing matters of faith. In cases where the client does not acknowledge or even opposes a faith life, the counselor will still be able to maintain his or her own faith and can still approach the client from a faith-based perspective without imposing or forcing evangelization on the client. Pastoral counselors will recognize that their own faith is communicated in action and way of life, as well as spoken words. For example, Saint Francis illustrated this way of living faith in the statement, Preach always, and when necessary, use words. In order to be aware of and continuously open to the workings of the Holy Spirit in their own life as well the lives of clients, pastoral counselors will maintain a consistent and fortifying prayer life and will seek out opportunities for growth in their own personal spiritual journeys and faith lives. Counselors will have a clear conception of their own spiritual journey, including knowledge and understanding of where they have been, where they are, and where they would like to be on the journey. Counselors will also have an understanding of how God works in their lives, and will work to develop their relationship in a deep, personal way with the living God. The pastoral counselor will approach others with a sense of mystery (Estadt, 1991). The human person is created in the image and likeness of God, and as such, is extraordinarily complex and encompasses many facets of being, including both corporal and spiritual aspects. The physical and biological aspects alone include chemical, neuronal, and genetic factors. In addition, there are the emotional, psychological, social, relational, and spiritual aspects of the human person. The pastoral counselor comes into relationship with a client at a particular point in the person s life. The counselor listens to, and in a very personal way, shares in the story of the person; thereby, he or she comes to an understanding of the person s struggles and experiences. However, the counselor recognizes that ultimately, each human person is a mystery, created by God, whose depths of being can only be fully explored and known by his Creator. The relationship that develops between the counselor and client is deeply personal and involves a sacred sharing of intimate details of the client s life, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The pastoral counselor will have an appreciation for the privilege of participating in this counseling relationship. The counselor will also be open to and aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit participating and working in the relationship. 6

7 Also, the counselor will establish and uphold appropriate and ethical boundaries in this counseling relationship. As an important part of the healing process, the pastoral counselor will aim at supporting reconciliation (Estadt, 1991). All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:18-20). Forgiveness and reconciliation have been shown to be fundamental in the growth and healing process. Following God s own example and teaching, as part of the counseling relationship, the pastoral counselor will be aware of areas in the client s life and relationships in which reconciliation can be addressed and forgiveness can be sought. Important to remember in this area is the client s relationship with oneself, as well as the client s relationship with God. 7

8 THEME 4: The pastoral counselor is one who approaches others with a Christian anthropology, that is, one who sees the client as coming from God and going to God (existing before and existing after the counseling experience). The pastoral counselor's view of the human person originates in the beginning with Genesis 1:27: "And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them." Knowing the creation of man, the pastoral counselor views people as spiritual and bodily creatures created by God. Our spiritual side has been created in the image and likeness of God, to know and love Him. Our bodies are our very selves and therefore are not overlooked by the pastoral counselor who takes the whole person into account. The true essence of the Trinity is its relational nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Created in God's image and called to love and know Him, we are first called into relationship with God. By creating us male and female, our bodies direct us towards one another and make us relational beings. God calls us into intimate relationship with one another by commanding that we love one another and be fruitful and multiply. Through our nature and God's command, people come into union with others through marriage, family, friendships, and community. It is inscribed in the anthropology of man, in his body and in his soul, that we are holistic beings in relation to one another. The pastoral counselor looks at people with purity of heart, by viewing people in their most pure and natural light. 8

9 THEME 5: The pastoral counselor is one who, modeled after Jesus, makes concerted effort to meet clients at their own level in the process of raising them up to greater levels of growth and maturity. As counselors, our main goal with our clients is to meet them where they are at in their trials, tribulations, and suffering; we also celebrate their moments of personal growth, self-awareness, discovery, and change. As a pastoral counselor, the stakes are changed in the sense that there is an additional responsibility to look after the client s journey in towards spiritual growth and a more mature faith. We seek to aid in the process of humanization, psychological wholeness, and well-being where we desire to give our client s a taste of what is means to be a fully functioning, free, consciously aware, responsible, and loving individual. God did not create human beings to suffer any evil; that was the fault of man. Through the fall of mankind when human beings turned their backs on the unconditional love of their Creator, evil entered the world through our original sin. We declared to God in that action that we no longer needed nor required His infinite mercy and goodness.that we could do everything on our own. Pastoral counseling seeks to rectify this distance between a human being and the Creator by harkening them back to that original call God has for each and every one of humankind to live in paradise with Him once more and to come back home to their Father in Heaven whose love transcends all bounds. The ultimate questions we ask of our clients are these: What part is God playing in the story of your life? and What is God asking of you in this particular struggle and in this particular moment? There is a dichotomy in our relationship to God as human beings.that in order to become more autonomous, independent, and free, to become more fully human means to come to a point of complete surrender to God for anything and everything. Karl Rahner claimed that human beings are radically free and yet absolutely oriented to God, the ground of their freedom and existence. Obedience to God is accomplished not by renouncing human autonomy, but exercising it fully (as cited in Powers, 1990). We become more fully alive the more we are able to refute the lie that we have it all handled and under control. This requires learning how to face our inner demons and our psychological, social, and environmental hindrances that are keeping us from a life of being in healthy relation to our God and our neighbor. As clients struggle with the unending, exhausting goal to become more fully human through Christ, we must constantly and consistently remind our clients that perfection is an unachievable ideal, and being in the process of becoming is the ultimate normal human reality. The Latin word Fiat means let it be done. A person can only truly say Fiat, or yes to God s will in their life when they are able to take a hard look at themselves and see all the good, bad, and the ugly. The very essence of who that person is as a fallen and suffering creature of his or her Creator can be reflected back to them in the empathic eyes and interventions of the pastoral counselor. Meeting clients where they are at means that we as counselors learn to accept the person at any stage of their journey back to God; whether they do not believe in or deny the existence of God (atheistic), are unsure of the existence of God (agnostic), or fall anywhere within the spectrum of a belief in 9

10 God. Clark Power (1990) specifies that pastoral counseling goes beyond a concern for mental health to a concern for the Kingdom of God and that the goal is to exemplify Christ in all that we do so that we can not only minister to their mind, but also to their heart and soul. God knows each person s suffering and pain, but as Christ is the Divine Counselor, He exhorts His earthly counselors to pass on the message that with increased self-awareness and self-knowledge entails the necessary moral responsibility to learn, to grow, and to change for the better. Therefore, as pastoral counselors, we can aid our clients to be the change that they want Christ to see in the world. As Christ did not discriminate against the poorest, the sickest, the weakest, the most detested and despised in society, so, too, must we as pastoral counselors willingly accept any and all opportunities to take marginalized, neglected individuals under our clinical and spiritual care. Learning how to suffer with our clients is key as it begets a deeper understanding of what it means to love as Christ loves to pour out one s life blood and being for another to give oneself (in service) completely without hesitation or reservation to value another s suffering as no less important than your own. Truth is made manifest in the idea that just because an individual struggles with challenges such as poverty, infertility, gambling, sexual addiction, substance abuse, divorce, domestic abuse, single motherhood or teenage pregnancy, racism, contraception, or homosexuality does not make them any less valuable as a human being. They are worth spending the time and energy on. It is a high and noble task as a pastoral counselor to be called by Christ to exhort this truth to His suffering children that their inherent value as human beings is not contingent on anything or anyone except through God because it is only through Him that we live, find meaning, and have being. 10

11 THEME 6: The pastoral counselor incorporates and draws on his or her own spiritual charisms and on those of holy persons who inspire them personally. Pastoral counselors seek to be true to their charism and to use that as a gift to aid in the counseling process. It should never be the intention, purpose, or place of pastoral counselors to attempt to impose our religious views or ideas of morality on our clients. On the other hand, lessons we have learned from living out our faith tradition and wisdom gained from the writings of holy men and women can have a beneficial impact on a counseling relationship. Counselors may find over years of practice that trying to re-invent the wheel and be creative all the time can become an utterly exhausting practice, especially when spiritual interventions or techniques are avoided for fear of the potential risks. Within the pastoral counseling role, there may be a temptation to call people out on behaviors that ought not to be condoned based on moral obligatory grounds. However, in doing so, there can be a risk of turning the client off to the counseling process altogether. One way to remain true to one s faith tradition and speak the truth without confrontation is through one s philosophy of life or way of being (Yevenes, 2005). As human beings we are drawn to people that embody a way of being that colors their words, thoughts, actions, spirituality, and approach to interpersonal relationships and their relationship with God. Holy men and women, such as saints in the Catholic faith tradition, lived out a unique charism or gift in their life in an exemplary, excellent manner. They became highly esteemed and venerated examples of human kind in that they gave the world glimpses of the highest good that humanity has the potential to fulfill. A charism is defined as a gift freely given by God to a person or community, for the good and service of others in bringing about the Kingdom of God. For pastoral counselors, this means that any gifts we have been given (ability to listen, to empathize, to provide accurate and meaningful feedback) are not to be used for our personal benefit or gain, but to help facilitate opportunities to get out clients closer to heaven through our particular charismatic example. St. Therese of Lisieux is a modern day saint of our times who was born in 1873 and died in 1897 at the age of 24. Her way of being or charism was humility and living out the virtue of love heroically and passionately in her little way. Therese took others under her spiritual wing by adopting them as her spiritual children, and, like Christ, she would choose the ones most in need of prayers those that the world rejected or cast aside. All her joys and her sorrows were offered up to God for the salvation of souls. She so dearly desired to be a missionary, yet because of her illness she had to remain behind and learn to be content with her place as a Carmelite sister. Within the Catholic Church this young woman was canonized as the patroness of missionaries even though she never stepped foot on foreign soil all because she embodied in her way of being a true missionary at heart (caring for those whom the world chooses to forget through her spiritual suffering and sacrifice). Within the counseling relationship, pastoral counselors may chose to live out the charism of humility in a variety of ways that do not deny, negate, or neglect any part of their personal identity nor support an immoral behavior or value system. Here are some 11

12 ways: refraining from assuming the worst motive for something a particular individual does and withholding personal judgment for the greater good of the client, resisting the urge to fix the problem or follow through with the temptation to have a solution ready and at hand for the right moment, walking patiently with and sharing in clients suffering throughout their journey despite feeling uncomfortable and insecure with how effective a counselor you may be, and approaching counseling with an openness to learn from clients in the human encounter. Humility is a quality by which a person considering his own defects, has a humble opinion of himself, and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God s sake. Humility also entails that a person recognizes one s gifts and strengths as blessings from God and avoid the temptation to hide these goods from the world. We must learn as counselors to be present to our clients for exactly who God created them to be in that moment, the good and the bad, and not withhold from them any part of our being in the helping process. Let no stone be left unturned for the greater glory of God. The ultimate purpose of our service to our fellow man is to help be a party to a potential conversion of being within the cognitive, behavioral, emotional and spiritual realms. When pastoral counselors passionately choose to live out their unique gifts and charisms within their sessions for the greater good of the client, they have the privilege and the honor of participating in the 7 spiritual acts of mercy. These acts are meant to remind the counselor of the second commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. Mercy, no matter what form it takes, is meant to care for the state of the person s soul and bring them comfort and consolation according to the depth and limitless love of God. Therefore, if pastoral counselors are doing God s work, they must continually ask themselves this question: How am I contributing, through my actions and my way of being, to the client s conception and understanding of God (Yevenes, 2005)? This will help the counselor discern what approaches and interventions to use that will present God to the client in truth and in a healthy manner; not a God of wrath, of punitive punishment, finite, limited, unloving, or unmerciful. Our motto is to do no harm, and in this case, to preserve and safeguard to the best of our ability, a client s relationship with God the Father. For personal reference, the 7 spiritual acts of mercy are as follows: 1.To admonish the sinner: "...there will be more joy in Heaven at the repentance of one sinner than at ninety-nine of the righteous who had no need of repentance." Luke 15:7 2. To instruct the ignorant: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation." Mark 16:15 3. To counsel the doubtful: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you...let not your hearts be troubled..." John 14:27 4. To comfort the sorrowful: "Come to me, all you grown weary and burdened, and I will refresh you." Matthew 11:28 5. To bear wrongs patiently: "...Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you." Luke 6: To forgive all injuries: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Mt. 6:12 7. To pray for the living and the dead: "Father, I desire that they, too, may be with me where I am..." John 17:24 12

13 THEME 7: The pastoral counselor draws on the wisdom of his or her religious traditions to help clients make sense of their life experiences. The pastoral counselor has the unique vantage point of being able to use religious practices for health and growth. Through the sacraments, prayer, the Magisterium, and other traditions, pastoral counselors are equipped like no other counselor to help make sense of life experiences. The pastoral counselor can direct the client towards sacraments such as reconciliation, communion, and marriage. Reconciliation frees people from the regrets and shame of sin; communion unites ones to the Body of God, and Marriage unites spouses. All of the sacraments bring healing, development, and a closer union between the client, God, and others. Through prayer, the pastoral counselor can connect with the client on a spiritual level and invite the Holy Spirit to empower the session with grace. In addition, prayer is used as a therapeutic technique for a variety of symptoms, such as stress. The pastoral counselor also can use the teachings from the Magisterium, which is the doctrine of the Catholic Church. This guidance can be used to help direct moral issues in counseling when the client is open to such input. For the pastoral counselor, counseling is not just a career but a way to serve God through, for example, the seven spiritual acts of mercy, which are instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and patiently forbearing. All of the spiritual acts of mercy may be integrated into counseling from almost any orientation. In addition, the pastoral counselor works with the Holy Spirit and uses the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. Through empowerment by the Holy Spirit and conducting spiritual works of mercy, the pastoral counselor can have a career and a means to salvation as they do the Lord's work. 13

14 REFERENCES Benner, D. (2003). Strategic Pastoral Counseling. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. Case, P. (1997). Potential Sources of countertransference among religious therapists. Counseling and Values, 41, Estadt, B. K., Blanchette, M. C., Compton, J. R. (Eds.) (1991). Pastoral Counseling. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Haug, I. E. (1999). Boundaries and the use and misuse of power and authority: Ethical complexities for clergy psychotherapists. Journal of Counseling and Development, 77 (4), Ingersoll, R. E. (1994). Spirituality, religion, and counseling: Dimensions and relationships. Counseling and Values, 38 (2), Koppel, M. (2007). Playing church: Towards critically creative pastoral practices, Pastoral Psychology, 54, Power, C. F. (1990). The distinctiveness of pastoral counseling. Counseling and Values, 34, Warren, H., Murray, J., Best, M. (2002). The discipline and habit of theological reflection. Journal of Religion and Health, 41, Yevenes, L. (2005). Pastoral counseling: The ignatian contribution to the dynamics of the helping relationship. Review of Ignatian Spirituality, 108,

REFLECTIONS ON PASTORAL COUNSELING:

REFLECTIONS ON PASTORAL COUNSELING: REFLECTIONS ON PASTORAL COUNSELING: Descriptions of the Pastoral Clinician and the Processes of Pastoral Counseling: Vol. 2 By: Graduate Students in the Master of Arts Counseling Program at Franciscan

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