Insights from the field of therapeutic psychology have greatly enriched pastoral counseling. From Sigmund Freud (1920) came descriptions of the major ego-defense mechanisms, vital in helping counselees understand how they might be resisting the very truth that can heal them. These include rationalization, denial, projection, reaction formation, repression, intellectualization, passive aggression, and acting out.
Carl Jung (1933) viewed faith in God as an essential dimension of mental health, saying, “I don’t believe God exists. I know God exists.” He reported that most of his patients in the second half of life were deeply concerned with religious issues, and helped us understand that symbols, whether in the form of dreams or daydreams, can carry religious meaning about discerning God’s will for one’s spiritual pathway.
Erik Erikson (1950) developed the concept of eight stages of life, suggesting that a successful resolution of these life crises gives birth to the life-affirming virtues of hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, caring, and wisdom.
Rollo May (1965) viewed the goal of pastoral counseling as increasing a person’s freedom, spontaneity, and genuineness. He described the counseling process as offering counselees “the grace of clarification” to release them from the anguish of egocentricity.
Carl Rogers (1965) recognized the importance of prizing the counselee. His work as a consultant to Seward Hiltner focused early formulations of pastoral counseling in the direction of developing warmth, congruence, and unconditional positive regard in the pastoral counselor’s therapeutic style.
Aaron Beck (1975) noted that what people are thinking directly influences the emotions they feel, and that cognitive assumptions about life need constant revision in order to become healthy and adaptive rather than self-defeating. Many pastoral counselors benefited by adding elements of Cognitive Therapy to their approaches.
My colleague Everett Shostrom and I suggested that self-actualizing in relation to God is a reasonable goal of pastoral counseling (1978). Further, we put forward the concept that counseling involves the whole of human nature: cognition and emotion, sensation and spirituality (1986).