Let’s speculate a little, for the purpose of enhancing empathy with counselees, about what goes on within a person before making a first contact with a pastoral counselor.
It’s awful when individuals feel bound up with a knotty life problem that won’t go away and doesn’t get better, no matter what efforts they make, no matter what advice they receive from trusted friends, the problem even defying heartfelt prayer, a sense of helplessness accruing alongside inner anxiety.
It may be that a third child, unlike the first two who were calm and sociable, climbs the walls day and night, paying no attention to parental pleas or reprimands. Or it may be that sexual issues have come to haunt the marriage bed. Or what about a person who has recurring anxiety attacks and doesn’t know why?
Every counselee feels anguish. They would not contact you if pain and perplexity didn’t compel them. And once they are resolved to reach out, there is the added uncertainty about how you will respond to them.
Treatment fearfulness is commonly underestimated by counselors, but nevertheless acts as a genuine obstacle in seeking help. Further, men especially may have some culturally determined resistance to counseling because of the intimate sharing it requires.
Take heart, though. Research shows that counselees have a greater probability of experiencing healing in their area of need than do patients who seek a physician’s care. And, generally speaking, the more anxious and distressed people are when they enter counseling, the more likely they will continue with it and the more benefit they are apt to derive. Keep in mind, too, that many people prefer seeing a counselor who is sensitive to spiritual values over one who is secular-minded.
Fears and all, then, many hurting persons reach a point where they decide to pursue pastoral counseling, mustering the courage to make a first contact. They may know you from church, hear of your work from someone you’ve counseled, or find your site on the Internet. In their moment of reaching out, a touch of hope stirs within them, a warranted hope, since God is encouraging them to make a counseling connection with you.
Now, for our part, what goes on inside us to prepare for a first session with a new counselee? As a Christian counselor, I am helped by an open-ended prayer conversation that says to Jesus, “Please send me only those individuals that in your providence you want me to see, and please guide us from beginning to end.” This steadies my confidence in God’s superintendence of my counseling practice, helping my unconscious to accept that Jesus Christ is guiding people long before they see me, and will continue to help them long after our counseling is over.
I want, as I'm sure you do, God’s multifaceted involvement in my pastoral counseling practice. After all, Christ is the one who originally called me to this profession!