Let’s focus on how to engage, heal, and integrate the mind in pastoral counseling, with its valuable assets of analyzing data, storing what is learned, and estimating probable consequences of certain decisions.
Most people use their minds without thinking about the mind they are using. They have thoughts without examining these thoughts. They live out beliefs and expectations that were programmed into their psyche somewhere along life’s way, but have not updated these mental assumptions to their current circumstances or the evolving goals that new life challenges bring.
A thirty-year-old man reveals to you that he had three major goals when he was twenty: work hard and make money; have fun letting off steam with the boys at the local bar; and get married.
By the second session, precisely because you’ve been concentrating on his story and looking for how he has engaged his mind in lifespan development, you realize that he did indeed achieve all three original goals, but because he never integrated them with new information concerning how to love and care for his wife, she has ended up alone in the marriage for ten years, and that is why she’s left him.
You present this as a tentative hypothesis, something you are modeling for him to learn to do, in this fashion:
“Bob, from what you shared, it sounds like your company thinks you’re the best worker they’ve got, and your buddies have a ball with you when you all get hammered. Now I know you are absolutely heartbroken that Tanya has left you, and you want to do anything possible to get her back. But it seems to me that without revising your assumptions about life and really changing your thinking about marriage, even if she came back on a Friday she’d be gone again on Monday.”
“I guess you just pretty much hit the nail on the head. I was raised with five older sisters and a mom who doted on me. I guess I never learned to pay attention to anybody’s needs but mine.”
“I think that’s part of it, Bob. But here’s the fascinating thing. You’re only boring when you’re at home with Tanya. The rest of the time people think you’re a livewire who can be totally depended upon to come through with what they need.”
“That’s true enough. Everybody but Tanya thinks I’m a great guy.”
“Well, I have a suggestion for you. I believe you have it in you to take that same emotional gusto, friendly smile, and sincere loyalty that you’ve been giving your guy pals all these years and transfer a portion of it Tanya’s way. You know, like taking funds out of one account that has abundant cash and depositing them in another account that’s overdrawn. If you can just remember to keep doing that, then the emotional satisfaction level of both accounts will do fine. Now, how would you put this in your own words?”
(In this way, you’ve introduced Bob to a new theory of why his marriage has failed, a new way to understand how his past is connected to his present and future, and an innovative idea for making new decisions that can develop more satisfying outcomes. But it is very important after a mental exchange like this, especially when the stakes are so high, that you create room for Bob to find his own way of construing the information, developing his own cognitive-linguistic pathways for expressing these insights, thereby converting them from short-term intuitions to permanent memory).
“Well, I guess it’s that I didn’t want to get over being a spoiled kid when I became an adult. And I did know how to work and play. So when my friends started getting married, I figured I’d do that too. It never occurred to me that I needed to make changes in my thinking.”
“That’s an excellent analysis of the problem. Do you see a solution?”
“I think the main problem is that I always thought women came from outer space, that they had their own needs that didn’t make any sense to me. But from what you’re saying, Tanya may be a lot like my buddies, and that if I can learn to treat her with the same respect and attention I give them, she’ll find out I’m not so bad after all.”
“I believe you’ve developed a solid plan here, Bob. I know it’s not going to be easy, but I want you to keep thinking like this, and trying out some new attitudes and behaviors toward Tanya, without expecting her to change her mind overnight. Let’s work together to keep you on track until treating her with love and sensitivity becomes your new track record in this relationship. May I say a prayer of blessing to close the session?”
In this example you utilized pastoral counseling to reveal informational deficiencies in the counselee’s mind, and to supply updated principles that the counselee translated into his own mental framework, principles that forge links in developmental growth that will not only mend his mind, but also bring more of his whole human nature to the relationship with his estranged wife.
The Compass Therapy approach to pastoral counseling specializes in integrating polar opposites, transforming them into rhythmic wholes. This brings up a paradox in pastoral counseling: you pass judgment while also expressing empathy; you analyze your counselee’s mental functioning, including scrutinizing the content of ideas, beliefs, and expectations, while at the same time maintaining emotional rapport; and above all, you keep an open mind while having your own values.
For more about using Compass Therapy, see: