Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Contributors to Pastoral Care and Counseling

Who has come before you? Who has contributed to your identity?Your vision as a pastoral counselor? Who are the significant pioneers in the modern field of Pastoral Care and Counseling?

In a very real sense, Jesus Christ is the first Christian pastoral counselor. He held intimate conversations on life-changing topics with many, among them Mary Magdelene, Nicodemus, the rich young ruler, and the disciples, who needed transformation in many areas of their personality and behavior. Not for nothing did Isaiah foretell that the Messiah would be a mighty counselor!

At his Ascension, Christ passed this mantle of pastoral counseling from the Good Shepherd to the his pastoral shepherds, like Peter and the rest of us, whom the Holy Spirit would call and empower with gifts of healing, wisdom and discernment. Today innumerable servants of Christ bring pastoral care and counseling to millions.


Though pastoral counseling has existed for millennia in the form of “care for the soul,” its expression in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has intersected the development of clinical and counseling psychology, as well as marriage and family therapy.

Psychologist William James, one of the first American thinkers to envision the integration of behavioral science and religious faith, wrote Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) to place this topic on the agenda for future exploration in universities, churches and seminaries.


Beginning in the early twentieth century, pioneering pastors and priests began to integrate Freudian, Jungian, and Adlerian theories with their experiences in pastoral care. The aftermath of World War II provided a major impetus in the United States for the use of psychology by pastors, particularly through the development of Clinical Pastoral Education taught in interdisciplinary programs through colleges and universities.

Seward Hiltner (University of Chicago), discerning the rich connection between religion and mental health, wrote the influential book Pastoral Counseling (1949). Carroll Wise (Garrett) focused on the application of psychoanalytic theory in church counseling.  

Paul Johnson (Boston University) emphasized “responsive” counseling, drawing from Harry Stack Sullivan’s interpersonal theory. Wayne Oates (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) sought to give pastoral counseling full standing in medical school training and chaplaincy programs.

The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) was founded in 1963.


In his classic Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling (1966), Howard Clinebell helped consolidate the field of pastoral counseling, advocating that pastoral counselors complement their ministerial credentials with competent training in psychological counseling theories.

Perhaps in reaction to this emphasis, Thomas Oden, fearing that pastoral counselors might err in becoming pseudo-psychologists instead of pastoral caregivers, encouraged the incorporation of pre-modern psychologies and traditional forms of spirituality in pastoral counseling (1983).

Charles Gerkin (1984) developed the theology of providence in relation to crisis experiences, presenting the pastoral counselor as a skilled “interpreter,” assisting in the integration of a counselee’s life story within their larger faith tradition. Similarly, John Patton emphasized the pastoral counselor’s use of “relational humanness” in dealing with issues of guilt, shame, and forgiveness (1985).

Contemporary contributors to the history and diversity of pastoral counseling include, among others, Jay Adams, Lawrence Crabb, Richard Dayringer, David Brenner, Gary Collins, John MacArthur, Rodney Hunter, Nancy Ramsay, Donald Capps, Robert Wicks, Howard Stone, Pamela Cooper-White, James Dittes, Carrie Doehring, Jeanne Stevenson Messner, Ray S. Anderson, Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger, Raymond Pendleton, Abigail Rian Evans, Ann Ulanov, David Augsburger, Dan Montgomery, and H. Newton Malony.

The most ecumenical expression of pastoral counseling, the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling by Rodney Hunter and Nancy Ramsay (1996; 2005), enlisted the participation of nearly 600 Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish contributors.


My own interpretation of this brief history on major contributors to pastoral counseling? That there are two potentially complementary tracks, one that is Christ-centered and emphasizes the supernatural energies of the Bible and the Trinity, and the other, humanistic and emphasizing secular therapeutic systems.

The supernatural track relies most deeply on the Bible as the revealed Word of God, and the Holy Spirit as an indwelling force for helping people find their way amidst life anxieties and crises. In this tradition the pastoral counselor views Jesus Christ as actively present and influential in the counseling process. Prayer, sacraments, and participation in church life are viewed as irreplaceable assets in psychological and spiritual healing.

The humanistic track emphasizes prevailing theories of counseling and therapy as the primary means of care-giving. There is relatively less concentration on intercessory prayer or seeking the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and more emphasis on methods derived from humanistic-existential, cognitive-behavioral, or psychoanalytic models. In some cases, this approach to counseling may closely resemble secular-based therapy, since that is the source that inspires it.

Here is the perspective that Compass Therapy offers.

For centuries, Christianity didn’t know quite know what to do with the Trinity, other than mention the Trinity during congregational recitation of orthodox creeds or at baptism. But in light of what we have learned in the study of interpersonal psychology, we can now grasp that the Trinity is actually the cosmological foundation of human personhood and interpersonal relationships.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Persons in one God who actualize their love through mutual indwelling, and who invite human beings to share in this Trinitarian intimacy. Compass Therapy is constructed on a Trinitarian foundation that illuminates the interconnections between personhood, personality, and interpersonal relationships -- in both their healthy and dysfunctional forms.

Thus, the compass approach to pastoral counseling invites the Trinity’s participation in the counseling process. This can take the form of prayers for counselee blessing, trust in divine guidance during sessions, and response to the Father’s desire to fashion persons into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom from the Word of God commingles with empirical research from behavioral science to create a unified field theory of psychospiritual growth and fulfillment.


The counselee, then, experiences an integration that encompasses faith and reason, the supernatural and the humanistic. Compass Therapy suggests that the Trinity expresses an abiding presence in pastoral counseling, healing and transforming personality and relationships in Christlike directions, for the wellbeing of persons and the glory of God.

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