Long-term pastoral psychotherapy generally requires ten sessions to a year or more. While some exposure to clinical pastoral training is recommended for all pastoral counselors, long-term pastoral psychotherapy in particular needs formal academic and supervisory training in the field of counseling.
If brief situational counseling is like taking a car in for lubrication, oil change, and tire rotation, then longer term pastoral psychotherapy is like rebuilding the car’s engine. This requires the thorough integration of a Christian personality theory with a well-established counseling theory, and supervision of your initial counseling experience.
You want enough knowledge about personality disorders to treat counselees with narcissistic, compulsive, paranoid, antisocial, histrionic, dependent, avoidant, schizoid, and borderline personality patterns.
You want enough knowledge of biochemical disorders such as chronic depression, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit disorder to discern when a referral for medical evaluation is indicated.
You want an understanding of the role of the unconscious in the generation of psychopathology and the therapeutic transformation of personality.
And you will undergo a course of therapeutic treatment yourself, a standard requirement for advanced degrees in counseling, so that your own personality patterns do not negatively impact the counseling process.
The reason for this extensive psychological preparation is simply that you don’t want the counselee to become worse off for seeing you! And this is what can happen when a counselee’s repressed emotions, irrational thoughts, conflicted values, and pent-up pain enter the counseling arena.
You can take them too far too fast, or make a seemingly innocuous remark that sets in motion rash decisions, suicidal urges, destructive aggression, or the collapse of a fragile sense of self. Nor do you want to become emotionally enmeshed with your counselee, so that you both topple off the nearest cliff.
Think of it like this: if your counselee needs you as a guide to ascend Mount Everest, you want to have safely guided many people up that mountain so that you know the territory.
That said, pastoral psychotherapy contributes profoundly to the present and future wellbeing of people that it serves, for it can transform barriers to wholeness, creating a positive behavioral legacy that will bless generations of people to come. You just have to know that you are called to this vocation and that you have acquired the expertise to deliver on its challenges.
I suggest that if you have a passion for counseling, you set about developing your capability in all three types of pastoral counseling—brief (1-3 sessions), short-term (four to nine sessions), and long-term (ten sessions to a year)—so that you can exercise wisdom and creativity in meeting a wide range of counselee needs, enjoying the freedom and fulfillment this brings you.
For more theory and techniques to enhance
pastoral psychotherapy and pastoral psychology, read: