Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Handle Human Nature in Pastoral Counseling

While theologians may debate what constitutes human nature, the pastoral counselor needs a working model that brings x-ray vision for seeing into the counselee’s very being. Many theological debates have revolved around whether God created humans with a bipartite nature (body and soul) or a tripartite nature (spirit, mind, and body).  

However, the diverse ways in which the Bible refers to the human person include such varied elements as body, soul, spirit, mind, and heart.

Compass Therapy, with its interest in uniting polar opposites into compass-like wholes, employs the Human Nature Compass to bring together the Mind (cognition) and Heart (emotion), Body (biology) and Spirit (purpose) for a holistic understanding of human nature.


The Human Nature Compass is especially useful in pastoral counseling because it enables you to observe and engage a counselee’s whole being, while monitoring how each part is functioning in relation to the whole.

Mind stands for cognitive thinking. Heart expresses emotive feeling. Heart points to the emotions and passions that are the energy of personality. Body emphasizes the biology of anatomy and physiology, and the five senses. Spirit describes one's values and purpose, and potential for intimacy with God.

The core is the innermost dimension of the person that has the power of self-reflection, and bring humans the God-endowed capacity to say, “I am,” and the ability to make free-will choices.

The Human Nature Compass gives you the ability to discern a counselee's moment to moment functioning. If the counselee has a dead zone (a decommissioned component of human nature), or exaggerates another component (perhaps by thinking at the expense of feeling), you will notice this and start finding ways to help them discover their whole human nature, in itself a therapeutic thing to do.

If one of your sessions overly focuses on emotional catharsis, you will know to spend a portion of the next session on cognitive integration, since emotional release without cognitive meaning has little staying power in overall learning. If your counselee has repressed bodily awareness so as to be oblivious to muscle tension or shallow breathing, you’ll help them relax the body in order to live through it with greater zest. Or if your counselee has little or no prayer life, you will support their spiritual growth by encouraging open conversations with Christ and greater visceral trust in the Holy Spirit.

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