In the Compass Therapy approach, time is apportioned for exploration of the presenting problem, exploration of the person’s history—especially as this bears on the issues at hand—and the mobilization of a treatment plan to help counselees make progress toward agreed-upon goals.
Ronnie, a man of forty, reported his frustration with dating relationships that typically ended after several months. During the first phase of counseling I focused on building rapport, asking open-ended questions about his upbringing, reviewing his high school dating experience, and discussing the failed relationships that had checkered his adult life.
In the middle phase of counseling I shared in a gentle manner my working hypothesis that Ronnie let women get very close to him, like his mother did, because it felt familiar and provided comfort; then he would suddenly panic because he'd feel like they had become invasive and smothering. He would want to tell them off to re-establish his boundaries, but because he was never allowed to express anger, he'd resolve the problem by terminating the relationship, only to be left all alone again.
Because I offered these insights only as he ratified them, his consciousness was raised to the point where after a fifth session, he risked starting a relationship with someone new.
In the final phase of counseling, and as a consequence of some practical coaching about how to diplomatically assert himself, Ronnie reported that he was replacing his old passive aggressive tendency with a new openness to talk to this woman friend about their relationship. After one more session he said he felt confident enough to proceed on his own. I congratulated him on his progress, suggested a book to help strengthen his relational skills (The Self Compass), and invited him to return for a future visit if he wanted a “tune-up.”
For more theory and techniques applicable to short-term pastoral counseling, read: