Pastoral Care, otherwise known as “shepherding” takes on many forms, but can be summed up as “a Christian reaching out with help, encouragement, or support to another at a time of need” (Benner, 20). Closer still is spiritual direction, or coaching (Collins, 56), which only differs in its focus, which is centered on the Spirit (Benner, 23) and improvement. Pastoral Counseling then is a pastor-centered on addressing problems experienced (Benner, 24) by “individuals, families, or groups as they cope with the pressures and crisis of life” (Collins, 36). Yet, pastoral counseling is simultaneously less and more than psychotherapy, as the pastor is more than a counselor, but less involved in a “long-term, in-depth helping process that attempts to bring fundamental change in the counselee's personality, spiritual dies, and ways of thinking” (Collins, 36).
Hence, the purpose of pastoral counseling is to help parishioners achieve lasting change (Collins, 3) through a “time-limited relationship that is structured to provide comfort for troubled persons by enhancing their awareness of God's grace and faithful presence and thereby increasing their ability to live their lives more fully in the light of these realizations” (Benner, 40). Put more simply, the main goal of pastoral counseling is “spiritual growth” by helping people “understand their problems – and their lives – in the light of their relationship with God” (Benner, 36) or put another way “to help counselees experience healing, learn coping and relational skills, and growth both personally and spiritually” (Collins, 36).
Characteristics of a healthy, ethical, and properly motivated pastoral counselor.
The first and foremost characteristic of a pastoral counselor should be a clear calling from God to the purpose and goal of pastoral counseling. Beyond calling, a pastoral counselor should be a person who portrays several important qualities which include: “a genuine interest in people, empathy, personal, self-awareness, awareness of values, tolerance of ambiguity, demonstrate integrity, courage and care” (Collins, 17). His/her motivations should be genuine and not based on the need for relationships, the need for control, the need to rescue, the need for information, the need for affirmation and acceptance, or the need for personal healing (Collins, 21-22).
Because the counseling relationship is at the core of the helping process (Collins, 67), aspects of the relationship will influence how the counselor should help the counselee, or whether or not, the counselor should be counseling a particular individual at all. Collins affirms that all counseling is cross-cultural, and thus everything must come under scrutiny to ensure it is, in fact, helping the counselee. This is true all the way down to the terminology the counselor uses, since theological or psychological terms may not be understood (doing more harm than good). Thus, it is a good practice for counselors to first understand their own worldview and that of their counselees by being able to answer questions such as: What is your view of God? What is your view of the universe? How do we get knowledge? What is your view of humanity? How is right, wrong, and morality, defined?
Pastoral counselors must also be able to identify when they should not counsel a certain person, and instead refer them to another counselor who is better able to assist. This is not a sign of failure, but a recognition that “no one counselor can work effectively with every kind of personal problem” (Collins, 98).
For an appointment please contact Pastor Dewayne Braxton, M.A.