Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Great Value of Pastoral Counseling

Pastoral counseling involves a helping relationship between a religiously affiliated counselor and an individual, couple, or family who seek assistance for coping with life. Pastoral counselors include ordained ministers and consecrated professionals licensed in the field of counseling and therapy.

The word “pastoral” indicates that services are provided which are sensitive to the spiritual viewpoints and values of counselees regardless of their faith affiliation. A respect for the faith dimension of human experience is an important contribution of the pastoral counseling movement to the mental health field. Pastoral counseling assumes that a counselee’s spiritual life has value in helping to heal emotional wounds, resolve conflicts, facilitate life transitions, and clarify values and purpose.

Pastoral counseling often takes the form of a specialized ministry within a church, where pastors or professional counselors offer pastoral counseling under the auspices of pastoral care. However, pastoral counseling can also function as an outreach ministry to a local hospital, homeless shelter, or independent counseling center; or it may serve persons through the chaplaincy in a prison, military base, or college campus.

I know of a pastor who has collaborated with the police department in his hometown for over twenty years. Early on they so valued his contributions that they gave him a badge with the title “Police Chaplain.” Over the decades his phone has rung regularly for calls involving domestic disputes.

Pastoral counselors meet a wide range of human needs. For instance, a counselee who is grieving the loss of a loved one; a couple who need premarital counseling or help raising step-children; an individual addicted to substances; a person dealing with adverse work conditions; a parent overwhelmed by young children or adolescents; a family being torn apart by forces they don’t understand; or a person searching for intimacy with God.

By transforming broken personalities and reconciling damaged relationships, pastoral counseling helps persons and communities to become living expressions of God’s redemptive love in the concreteness of daily life.

Most pastoral counselors have academic training in addition to religious credentials. These may include the Master of Divinity or Doctor of Ministry degrees, with a specialty in pastoral counseling. If a pastor has not had opportunity to study counseling in seminary, there are excellent Internet and external degree programs in pastoral counseling offered through credible institutions that strengthen competence in counseling. For instance, I offer an online course for 4 CE (Pastoral Counseling: The Intersection of Psychology and Spirituality) through the Zur Institute.

On the other hand, some pastoral counselors meet with counselees on the basis of their religious credentials alone; Biblical counseling, for example, emphasizes helping parishioners respond to a crisis primarily through empathetic listening, prayer, and biblical instruction.

Consecrated mental health workers who work in religious settings or private practice are often licensed as psychologists, professional counselors, or marriage and family therapists. They may work in private practice or band together to form a church-based counseling center.

Personally, I see pastoral counseling as hugely important to the life of the Church and the witness to the community, embodying the truth that God ministers compassionately and wisely to human need, and that anything human is worthy of understanding

As I approach seventy years of age, I realize I've carried on pastoral counseling for almost forty years. I wouldn't trade a moment of the enriching and inspiring conversations I've enjoyed with several thousand individuals and couples. Lord willing, I hope to keep these conversations going until the day I pass from this earthly life to eternal life with Christ. And then I'll talk over with him the things I learned and the prayers I shared with so many precious people.

For 25 therapeutic techniques that can be used in pastoral counseling, read:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Makes A Church Successful?

Compass personality theory suggests that achievement and failure are best seen in a dynamic rhythm, a rhythm worth assessing by every pastoral staff and church.

Churches are tempted to measure achievement solely by attendance: if lots of people show up for services, then the church has achieved success.

But has it? What is success for a church? What is achievement? And what is failure? 

How does Christ view achievement and failure? Churches may need periodic prayer and soul-searching for pastoral staff and congregations to discern the Lord’s intentions for their church.

Here are some observations from the perspective of compass theory.

In his earthly life, Jesus reveals two overriding concerns: 
  1. His own faithful witness to the Father and attunement to the Spirit.
  2. The maturing of his disciples in terms of personality and relationships.
Given this emphasis, it is likely that Christ, as head of the church, sees church achievement in terms of how well people are learning to love God and others as they love themselves, and how they are progressing in transformation of personality and relationships in Christlike ways.  

Failure would manifest itself as a loss of fidelity to the Trinity, and an apathetic attitude toward conversion and transformation.

One sees these rhythms of achievement and failure reflected in the ups and downs of Peter, James, and John:
The joy they felt on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Mount of Transfiguration
The shame when they fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Garden of Gethsemane

Church members, too, who seek to follow Jesus in their humanness, can expect times of fatigue and discouragement in rhythm with times of rejuvenation and celebration

Those of us in pastoral service do well to recall Paul's words:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).
For more, read:

Christian Personality Theory

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Brief Overview of Compass Therapy: Dr. Dan Montgomery

My fifteen years of collaboration with Everett Shostrom, a Stanford research psychologist and psychotherapist who carried out pioneering work in the field of counseling, planted the roots for Compass Therapy in what we at that time called Actualizing Therapy. Our approach combined a health model of personality with an explanatory system of psychopathology. We suggested that actualizing growth fosters maturity, flexibility, and purpose in life, and constitutes a reasonable goal of therapy. Further, that therapeutic gain always involves the integration of polar opposites within the personality and an acceptance of individual differences in relationships.

Historically, Dr. Shostrom had produced the “Gloria” films during which Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Albert Ellis each worked in hour-long sessions with a counselee named Gloria. These films demonstrated the usefulness of showing exactly what happens in counseling sessions so that others can replicate beneficial techniques. Some years later Shostrom and I produced a second film series that featured Arnold Lazarus (Multimodal Therapy), Carl Rogers (Client-Centered Therapy), and Everett Shostrom (Actualizing Therapy) each working with a counselee named Cathy.

In the decades followed I continued this eclectic theory building by developing Compass Therapy, an approach that links together the Self Compass model of personality with operational definitions of psychopathology found in the universal standard for mental health professionals: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The use of compass-like diagrams made a user-friendly graphical interface that not only highlighted the principles of Compass Therapy, but also allowed counselees to readily understand how to participate more fully in their own transformation.


Though Compass Therapy has distinctions of its own, I was careful to construct an open-ended conversation with other major counseling theories. This partnering philosophy makes Compass Therapy a co-proponent of some of the most reliable therapeutic principles found in Psychoanalysis, Jungian Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Family Therapy, Existential Psychotherapy, Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Positive Psychology. Perhaps this accounts for why Raymond Corsini, considered by many as the dean of American counseling and psychotherapy, has described my Compass Therapy approach as a “supersystem” that represents “the therapeutic system of the future.”

What has differentiated Compass Therapy from other theories is the idea that human nature and personality are comprised of dynamic opposites that need integration around the core self, and that action techniques are often required to move people forward in therapeutic progress. Like the alternating AC/DC current that powers an electric appliance, polar opposites in human beings create aliveness and health. For instance, healthy individuals find rhythms between solitude and sociability, activity and passivity, involvement and detachment, and work and play.

It’s when the dynamic movement between polarities breaks down and you get an extended flat line of stasis that people become sick, depressed, or devitalized. Dynamic movement fueled by the rhythmic swings of polar opposites expresses itself in mental health as well. Healthy individuals are spontaneous and flexible precisely because they are alive with new possibilities and passionate about the pursuit of creativity. If something doesn’t work, they try something else. If they are frustrated in fulfilling a goal, they explore novel options. They resist becoming stuck in a one-dimensional life.

Psychopathology, however, works differently. Rigidity replaces rhythm. Resourcefulness succumbs to sameness. Relationships perpetuate superficial actions and reactions. Life grows dull. Symptoms set in. The personality and human nature become frozen in intractable patterns that resist change and growth. Actually, the whole range of psychopathological alternatives to healthy living have a strangely attractive appeal, for they seem to make life safe, to make life predictable, and make life familiar.

The Compass Model
Healthy individuals can be loving or assertive, and weak or strong, as a situation requires. Rigid individuals are stuck in chronic behavior patterns that are too loving, too aggressive, too weak, or too strong. If healthy living lets you play the eighty-eight keys of the piano with both hands, then psychopathology makes you play only “Chopsticks” with two fingers.

Compass Therapy's Self Compass as well as the Human Nature Compass offer crucial dimensions for growth of personality and human nature that give a person all eight-eight keys, and unlimited capacity for composing the creative melodies and harmonies required for successful coping.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Treatment Success For The Paranoid Personality Disorder

Understanding the mind, heart, and spirit of the Paranoid Arguer personality disorder lies at the center of treatment success for the Christian counselor.

Paul had this to say about the Paranoid Arguer pattern:
“When you follow your own wrong inclinations your lives will produce these evil results...hatred and fighting, jealousy and anger, constant effort to get the best for yourself, complaints and criticisms, the feeling that everyone else is wrong” (Gal 5:19-20 TLB).

To the Paranoid Arguer, God is only wrathful, quick to anger, and slow to forgive. In what is surely a self-statement, the Arguer hears God saying, “I mete out punishment to those with whom I disagree. I make a point of disparaging alternative views. I issue ultimatums to those not in my will. After all, ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord.” 

Paranoid Arguer

But the apostle John replies: “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness” (1 Jn 2:9).

Arguers’ independence isolates them from social feedback, so they hear only the marbles rolling around in their own heads. Nothing else is relevant; nothing else matters. Over time their thoughts can take the form of delusions in which they are captains of fate struggling against formidable forces, a theme strengthened by selectively interpreting most stimuli to fit this internal scenario.

Their highest ongoing priority is to maintain freedom in a world of their own making—a mentality that shares much in common with schizoid, schizotypal, and schizophrenic ideation. On the other hand, they share with the histrionic pattern ideas of reference whereby they interpret insignificant or innocuous events in ways that suit their dictates and confirm their suspicions.

Compass Therapy suggests this explanation for paranoid Arguers’ stubbornness and vainglorious pride: they have desensitized themselves to the Love compass point as a defense against caring, and to the Weakness compass point, where hurt, shame, and self-doubt are barred from consciousness.
The decommissioning of Love and Weakness reduces their interpersonal connection with humanity to a defensive vigilance against perceived threats. The short-term gain is a remarkable lack of intrapsychic conflict achieved through an aggressive reflex-arc that utilizes the mid and lower brain stem—what I call the “reptile brain”—to create a psychology of hate, suspicion, and retribution. The neocortical functions are recruited to verify these assumptions by sifting for evidence to build a case that other people have ulterior motives.

In every vocation paranoid Arguers vent their malevolence on those under their control. They train underlings to walk on eggshells to reinforce their power over others, criticizing them over nothing as a form of stimulation. And, of course, there is not the slightest remorse for dressing someone down because “if he (or she) had done the right thing, I wouldn’t have had to blow my stack.”

Paranoid Personality Disorder

Understanding the above features helps the Christian counselor selectively empathize with the pain the counselee has known in life, while at the same time feeding back a certain amount of truth serum about the toxic effects of the paranoid Arguer pattern. While taking care to speak in a diplomatic and non-inflammatory way, you nevertheless remain firm about how pattern recognition can serve the counselee’s self-interest better than the paranoid pattern itself.

You identify with their pride, yet suggest that a realistic integration of both strengths and weaknesses will increase their capability to understand motivation. You temporarily align with their grudges against others, while suggesting that this narrowed perceptual field creates a vulnerability all its own. You compliment their no-nonsense realism, while delicately pointing out that the reason they are in marital therapy (or some other difficulty) is related to a general lack of empathy and caring.

Over time you construct the mental possibility that the world might be a friendlier place than they assume, and that other people could find them interesting and attractive if they’d quit baring their fangs. Many paranoids are genuinely surprised to learn that there are people in the world who want to like and love them, but have never been given the chance.

As a Christian counselor, suggest to a Christian counselee that they consider learning to:
  1. Talk with you about painful times during childhood or current situations that are aggravating.
  2. Speak from the heart.
  3. Confess their sins.
  4. Pray for a deeper trust in God’s love.
  5. Immediately distrust their knee-jerk angry reactions and practice replacing these with the deliberate cultivation of patience.
  6. Offer quick apologies after any lapses into the old inflammatory behavior, seeking to make peace, not war.
  7. Experience the grace of forgiving and being forgiven.
  8. Give others the benefit of the doubt.
  9. Discover the pleasure of becoming a more caring person.
  10. Pray to “put away…all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph 4:31-32).
Forgiving others as Christ has forgiven you

For more, read: 

COMPASS THERAPY: Christian Psychology In Action

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's Unique About Pastoral Counseling?

By checking out this blog, I assume your interest and involvement in pastoral counseling, whether you are a pastor, seminary student, or full-fledged pastoral counselor with years of experience under your belt. In any case I extend you a warm welcome, for I see us as colleagues in the challenging enterprise of pastoral counseling.

Pastoral Counseling

Why does pastoral counseling hold a place of high regard in my heart? 

Pastoral counseling extends the saving work of the Holy Trinity into every new generation, adapting itself to people’s culture and lives in every nook of the globe. 

This means to me that the Father calls individuals into this vocation, the Son inspires his Word and inner power, and the Holy Spirit communicates creatively with those who are brought under their care. 

Christian Trinity

Not that pastoral counseling can’t be exasperating and exhausting at times, because it can. Counseling other human beings is emotionally intensive, intellectually demanding and spiritually draining, since it requires the processing of an immense amount of human pain and suffering

That said, something about working with the living God to care for those who are hurting strikes me as thrilling. There is always something new to learn about God, people, and ourselves, as we carry on the adventure of interfacing Christ’s fullness of redemption with pressing human needs.

Pastoral counseling is unique because there is no end point or final statement, but rather an ongoing engagement, every new insight adding to the pastoral counselor's resourcefulness and wisdom, every new technique bringing new possibilities for healing and helping.

I also hold a long-standing belief, held for forty-five years now, that Christian doctrine supports the ministry of counseling. The church is an extraordinary place for counseling to occur, since pastors witness lives unfolding across the generational boundaries. They enjoy the unique opportunity to guide individuals seeking one or more sessions of pastoral counseling into deeper dialogue with themselves, others, and God.

Growing in Christ

I'm sure you would agree that there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a person grow in Christ, in part as a consequence of your pastoral counseling. 

And I would add that I find an equal satisfaction in writing the Compass Series books, summing up a lifetime of counseling into principles and possibilities that might be of service to you.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Hope for Aggressive Personality Disorders

Do you find that the people you see in pastoral counseling lose hope? Like when someone stuck on the Assertion compass point with too much aggression feels there is no way out of reacting with anger or deception? 

Losing hope

You can offer them some good news. The Paranoid Arguer and the Antisocial Rule-breaker personality disorders do offer hope. Here is how you might say it:

There is a curious paradox rooted in your personality pattern. Every personality pattern possesses a particular virtue unique to that pattern. Yet it is only accessible by embracing your whole Self Compass. 

Compass Virtues
Arguer—virtue of courage. 
  • A master of debate and rhetoric. Not intimidated by anyone.
  • Able to hold up under stress.
  • Good at confrontation and challenging unfairness.
  • A fearless negotiator.
As a recovering Arguer, you shed the angry chip-on-the shoulder and discover what love is all about. Drawing on the virtue of courage, you find ways of asking for forgiveness and making amends to those you have harmed (Love and Weakness compass points). Instead of ventilating explosively when you feel mad, you ask God and others for help in handling anger. Combining caring with the ability to assert, you stand up for others' rights as well as your own.    

Recovering Arguers turn suspicion of people’s motives into a discerning trust of others. Because your Assertion compass point is balanced by with the Love compass point, you can now upgrade your negotiating skills to include less competitive tension and more concern for overall fairness.

Finding more pleasure in relationships, you laugh or hug more readily. When arguments or emergencies occur, you use the ability to handle stress by holding steady, while working out a solution for the common good.  

Arguer & Rule-breaker Self Compass Growth

Rule-breakervirtue of creativity.
  • Inventive and imaginative.
  • Non-conforming.
  • Risk-taking.
  • Knows how to cut through red tape.
  • Gives novel responses to new or difficult situations.
  • Is not intimidated by threats or punishment, which only makes for more resourcefulness. 
There comes to be a good feeling about doing the right thing. About researching guidelines for doing tax forms and following them to the letter. About paying for everything you take from a store, even if there’s an opportunity not to. About establishing an inner code of conduct where you care about God’s opinion of your actions. You like the inner security that comes with having integrity.   

When you humbly ask God to be part of your life (Weakness compass point), God can use your creativity to bring innovation and needed changes to the status quo.

Because you are not rule-bound, you can ferret out inventive but workable solutions to problems. A recovering Rule-breaker’s sense of adventure and fearlessness allows you to live on the edge where others would fear to tread.

Creativity takes on an altruistic dimension by incorporating empathy from the Weakness compass point with caring service from the Love compass point
As rigid patterns fall away, in their stead comes the harvest of your labor: Compass virtues. Virtues that can now sprout forth as fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). Why? Because you are surrendering your patterns to Jesus Christ. 
For more, read: 

The Self Compass

Friday, March 1, 2013

Transforming Personality Disorders Into Virtues

Virtues lie hidden within personality patterns. When accessed with God’s help, and freed from manipulative rigidity, these virtues house the power to disarm the very patterns that contain them. To transform personality through the process of becoming Christlike. 

Becoming Christlike

Growing more like Jesus is at first tentative and feels self-conscious. It is a process that requires rhythmic swings between the compass points of Love and Assertion, Weakness and Strength, resulting in fewer manipulative ploys. More core self-disclosure.

When the Dependent Pleaser patterned person asserts rather than placates, for example, the need for always pleasing others lessens. The core self grows less dependent on others, resulting in less anxiety, more authentic caring. There is more congruence between an interior feeling and its external expression.

Out of a pattern’s rigidity, its virtue is born. And now the person takes hold. With God’s guidance, for evermore.
  • Out of the Dependent Pleaser pattern comes the virtue of Charity: kindness, untainted by placating neediness.
  • From the Histrionic Storyteller: Good Cheer. Confident lightheartedness.
  • The Paranoid Arguer: Courage. The ability to speak hard truths diplomatically.
  • The Antisocial Rule-breaker: Creativity. Risk-taking that does not harm.
  • The Avoidant Worrier: Empathy. Sensitive rapport.
  • The Schizoid Loner: Objectivity. Fair-minded exchange of ideas.
  • The Narcissistic Boaster: Autonomy. Confident leadership.
  • The Compulsive Controller: Discipline. Competence, with room for error.

Compass Virtues

Compass virtues are born, not of striving, but from unforced rhythms of grace. They grow from experiential trust upon the Holy Spirit coupled with relaxed growth stretches into neglected compass points. Virtues flow energetically from the alternating polarities of Love and Assertion, Weakness and Strength, as they did in Christ’s personality. Such movement creates a dynamically balanced Self Compass that provides direction in emerging life situations.

How do these virtues emerge? As personality patterns are redeemed.
When persons offer themselves to God in this transformative process, they are aligning with the full power of the Trinity. When they acknowledge their wrongs and begin the journey that will claim their entire Self Compass, they find hope in Jesus Christ: “In (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood,” Paul declares, “the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7).

For example, Redeemed Pleasers cultivate the virtue of charity as they catch it when compliance verges on placating. They recognize the curls of tension forming in their chest and stop to ask an internal question: Am I appeasing this person when both of us would be better served if I said what I really feel?

The old undercurrent of resentment caused by overly pleasing behavior now replaced by authentic love, the virtue of charity.

For more, read: