Saturday, August 25, 2012

Short-Term Pastoral Counseling Using Compass Therapy

Short-term pastoral counseling usually requires four to nine sessions in order to move through the therapeutic cycle of problem analysis, experimentation with coping strategies, and consolidation of therapeutic gain.

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.


A pattern emerged. I discovered that Ronnie had a smothering mother who dominated him, and a father who never stood up to the mother on his behalf. I realized that not only had Ronnie never received good modeling on how to relate to the female gender, but he also developed a fair amount of unconscious anger toward his mother’s controlling ways.

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.”


Short-term pastoral counseling and coaching might work well with the father who is having communication and discipline problems with his teenage son; the overly shy business person who wants to develop more ease in networking; the husband and wife who have lost their sexual connection; or the missionary who has pioneered several churches yet secretly feels unloved by God.

For more theory and techniques applicable to short-term pastoral counseling, read:



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