Pastoral Counseling

    Ask a dozen pastoral counselors to define pastoral counseling, and you’ll get a dozen different answers.  The reason this will happen is because pastoral counseling is an integrating discipline -- the American Association of Pastoral Counseling, a professional organization to which Russell and Jeanine both belong, has adopted the tagline:  “professionally integrating psychotherapy and spirituality” -- and everybody integrates differently.  What pastoral counselors integrate are:

·        the insights and practices of psychology,

·        the insights and practices of diverse spiritual perspectives, and

·        the unique strengths, needs, and points of view of each client.

A pastoral counselor can be an ordained minister who has done extensive training in psychotherapy (like Russell) or a non-ordained psychotherapist who has done extensive training in theology (like Jeanine).

     One hallmark of pastoral counseling is the counselor’s effort to help people recognize and draw upon their spiritual resources.  So, for example, in working with a client who has intense anger, a pastoral counselor might help this person understand his anger biologically (learning to recognize the physical signs that his anger is rising, developing a safety plan to use while his adrenaline levels are high), psychologically (understanding the thought processes and emotional dynamics that underlie his anger), relationally (figuring out the relational tensions that trigger his anger and working to approach those relationships in different ways) and spiritually.  In approaching his anger spiritually, a person might, for instance, come to understand his anger as a protector that shows up when something in him feels threatened or unsafe.  A pastoral counselor might help that person explore what other sources of safety he can draw upon (a sense of the presence of God, for example) so that his anger does not feel as necessary as it once did.

    A second hallmark of pastoral counseling is its respect for the religious or spiritual orientation of the client.  Pastoral counselors do not impose their own religious beliefs on others but help others explore and use the spirituality that is theirs.  I (Russell) sometimes say to people:  “Everyone is different.  We have different body shapes and sizes, different colored eyes, different ways of thinking, different tastes in food, clothes, and music.  Everyone is different spiritually, too.  So the way people connect with God is going to be different.  Some people connect in traditional religious ways:  through Scripture, prayer, or participation in a faith community.  Others connect through nature, music, dance, reading, walking, or acts of service.  Some are comfortable with words like ‘God,’ while others are not.  What’s important is not the way you connect, but that you connect, because your spiritual life is an important part of your well-being and healing.”

    A pastoral counselor will not tell you what your spiritual frequency ought to be.  A pastoral counselor will help you discover and claim what your spiritual frequency really is, tune in to that frequency, and draw upon the resources for transformation that that frequency offers.

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