There are various approaches used in the field of pastoral counseling; some are effective, while many are not. This leaves those seeking counseling for answers and help in a worse place than they were before because now they feel as though no one can help them and they have spiritually failed as well. Being a pastor necessitates a dualistic responsibility. The first is that of a shepherd and the second is as that of a counselor. However, due to the lack of proper training, most pastors are either ill-equipped or they do not possess the necessary tools to handle many of the situations and mental illnesses that present themselves on a daily basis. In order for this to change, there must be a radical paradigm shift in the academia requirements to become pastors. In doing so, pastors will be better equipped to combine the spiritual truths of God with the miraculous advances of science to bring about real life-changing breakthroughs. By examining previous experiences, as it relates to pastoral counseling, the goal will be to illuminate currents needs, while also providing quantifiable expectations from the introduction to pastoral counseling course.
Pastoral Counseling Reflection Paper
This reflection paper combines the past experiences of this writer in the pastoral counseling role with the recognizable needs of pastors today in meeting the many needs of parishioners. Pastors now, more than ever, are in need of training not previously offered in the scope of seminary degrees. As a result, many pastors are ineffective in their dualistic role of shepherd and counselor. Only by combining the truth of God found in the Bible with the art of psychotherapy and counseling can true breakthroughs occur in the lives of those seeking mental healing and real life-change.
Spiritual Guidance Versus Psychotherapy
Roughly one-third of the Western world can be diagnosed as having a mental disorder (Sherer, 2002, p. 1-5) and being ordained or even having a graduate or post-graduate degree does not qualify one to be competent in treating every disorder. Johnson & Johnson (2014) believe, “Because seminaries have only recently started to consistently teach professional pastoral skills… it is imperative that ministers honor the real limits imposed by their time, training, and competence in the arena of mental health care” (p.176). The same is true within the mental health counselor (MHC) world, and that is why there exists such a diverse range of specialties geared towards each MHC’s strengths and approach.
Most members of clergy find themselves as the first line of defense and often the first place faith-based people turn when a need or crisis arises. Howard Clinebell (2011) paints the picture vividly:
Whenever you look at a group of people, remember that many of them have heavy hearts and that they are walking through shadowed valleys… such burdened people often trust the entire fabric of their lives to the caregiving skills of religious leaders (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 2014, p. 175).
Johnson & Johnson (2014) also demonstrate ministers are frequently the first professionals who suffering parishioners will allow into their lives, but as pastors, we do those seeking help a disservice when attempting to counsel them in an area we have no business trying to address. Some would call this desire to solve every puzzle a God-complex and for ministers, this carries a sense of irony with it, since God is ultimately the one who provides the wisdom and strength to do all things. This way of thinking is also prevalent in the medical profession as the majority of doctors desire and strive to be the one with all the answers. Having all the answers and being right all the time is an impossible task for anyone. In fact, W. E. Oates (1974) believes:
One of the reasons that pastors do not have time to do their pastoral ministry is that they insist on doing it all themselves… They have failed to build a detailed knowledge of their community as to the agencies, professional, and private practitioners who could help them in their task (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 2014, p. 176).
This writer would be inclined to believe both Oates (1974) and Clinebell (2011) could not have illustrated the current problem facing pastors in the counseling arena any better and until there is a radical change in the training and education of pastors, there will continually be pastors in over their head unable to meet the vast needs of those seeking biblical-based-counseling.
This writer has been in full-time vocational ministry for the past five years and over the course of that time, marital and premarital counseling has been the number one reason for counseling appointments. In most cases, the biblical training, personality profiles, combined with other various marital tools available have properly equipped this writer to develop many of the necessary qualities detailed by Johnson & Johnson (2014). For example, by forming relationships, creating common goals, opening the lines of communication, establishing trust, showing genuine respect, demonstrating common values, and by acknowledging the supreme authority and work of the Spirit, many of the individuals this writer has encountered in counseling sessions have gone on to form strong foundational marriages (p. 177).
While the church is often the first place people turn when a need or crisis arises, that does not mean they should always have the answer, but it does mean they at the least should be able to point to someone who does. In all instances, a member of the clergy could point to God and say He knows, but that does not necessarily help the individuals move past the root issue in his or her life. Yes, God knows what they are going through and yes, He is more than able to meet any need, but He has also gifted MHC’s in this area, so that they can help bring about peace, restoration, and wholeness.
As a pastor who is responsible for the needs of the church, this writer feels overwhelmed with the multitude of needs and during many seasons has felt pushed to the breaking point. There is nothing wrong with this feeling because humanity has a finite amount of strength. While scripture says, “We can do all things,” it also says, “Through Christ who gives us strength.” This does not mean with Christ we can fly or pick up cars, it means we can endure all seasons, circumstances, and things when Christ is the Lord of one’s life.
As P. D. Tripp (2012) suggests, “Ministry is a dangerous calling with its unrelenting personal and spiritual demands” (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 2014, p. 1). Since pastors are typically the first place people turn to, there needs to be more training in how to help people struggling with addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder, marital issues, depression, mental illness, and other disorders. In addition to this increased focus on counseling, there needs to be instruction and guidance as to what pastors should do when they are not equipped to handle certain types of counseling. Additional courses during seminary will help prepare future pastors for what they are truly getting themselves into and will also hopefully help them not fall into the many snares of the world that lead one to need counseling in the first place.
Helping people to be realistic is also of the utmost importance. Culture today believes everything should be easier, faster, and a magic pill should be the answer. As each new generation arises, this facade only becomes more real in their perception and sense of entitlement. As Clinton & Hawkins (2009) suggest culture today is sold, “the false expectation that we can ‘have it all, and have it all now.’ This only reinforces the aching ‘hole in the soul’ that so many suffer in the midst of our material abundance” (p. 7). Our pastors, leaders, and professionals need to posses not only the knowledge, but also the means to speak into the lives of the lost and hurting, so that the broken might find love, acceptance, forgiveness, wholeness, and restoration.
From this introductory course to pastoral counseling, the number one thing this writer hopes to take away is learning how to meet people where they are, then helping them get to where they want to be, and ultimately helping them become what God is calling them to be. Understanding why people do things and the driving forces behind their actions is also of interest. As M. Carbonell (2008) suggests, “Understanding personality patterns is one of the keys to improving your relationships and solving the people puzzle [and by] understanding the four-quadrant model of basic human behavior often explains why people do what they do” (p. 7 &11). God made humanity unique for a reason, and as the body of Christ, the individuals that make up the church each serve a specific function, so learning how to teach and equip people to reach their greatest potential is also a compelling goal.
There are short-term approaches, just as there are also long-term approaches when applied to the pastoral counseling setting. Just as every person is different, every need is also different and often times very complex dating back to a much earlier stage in life. The fundamental goal behind all approaches is to get the individual back on the path God desires for him or her. By assuming the future is only an extension of one’s past, Kollar (2011) illustrates what prevents us from seeing and acting on a new idea is often the same thing that hinders one from seeing new options, outcomes, and solutions (p. 13). In essence, it falls on the counselor to shed light on the eclipse, which has marooned the counselee in a sea of despair. The counselor and the counselee are essentially in a partnership and they both must be in agreement with the course of action and God’s intention for any progress to be made (Kollar, 2011, p. 20).
Humanity lives in a fallen state and anything God stands for Satan will either try to destroy, pervert, or counterfeit. Satan’s desire to corrupt every institution God has established is no secret as God has been systematically been taken out of schools, homes, marriages, the workplace, and even some churches, which are founded upon everything other churches are, except for God. Only by working together as leaders of the church alongside with mental health professionals can the deep-rooted needs of the lost and hurting be properly addressed. While God remains the “Great Physician,” He still chooses to use His children to heal in the natural when He does not heal in the supernatural. There are also issues, which must be worked through before someone can perceive how there could possibly be a heavenly Father who loves him or her when his or her earthly father abused or abandoned him or her. In a like manner, if someone were out evangelizing and they came across someone who was starving to death or severely dehydrated, they would offer them real food and drink before they spoke of Jesus being the bread of life or the water that would make you thirst no more. Only by meeting people where they are and satisfying their most basic needs will pastors and counselors have the opportunity to speak truth and life into the lives of the lost and hurting.
Carbonell, M. (2008). How to solve the people puzzle: Understanding Personality Patterns. Blue Ridge, GA: Uniquely You® Resources.
Clinebell, H. (2011). Basic types of pastoral care and counseling (Rev ed.). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Clinton, T & Hawkins, R. (2009). The quick reference guide to biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.
Johnson, B. W. & Johnson, W. L. (2014). The minister’s guide to psychological disorders and treatments, 2nd edition. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.
Kollar, C. A. (2011). Solution-focused counseling: An effective short-term approach for getting people back on track. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Oates, W. E. (1974). Protestant pastoral counseling. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press.
Sherer, R. (2002). Mental health care in the developing word. Psychiatric Times, 19 (1), 1-5.
Tripp, P. D. (2012). Dangerous calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing.