Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Contributors to Pastoral Care and Counseling

Who has come before you? Who has contributed to your identity?Your vision as a pastoral counselor? Who are the significant pioneers in the modern field of Pastoral Care and Counseling?

In a very real sense, Jesus Christ is the first Christian pastoral counselor. He held intimate conversations on life-changing topics with many, among them Mary Magdelene, Nicodemus, the rich young ruler, and the disciples, who needed transformation in many areas of their personality and behavior. Not for nothing did Isaiah foretell that the Messiah would be a mighty counselor!

At his Ascension, Christ passed this mantle of pastoral counseling from the Good Shepherd to the his pastoral shepherds, like Peter and the rest of us, whom the Holy Spirit would call and empower with gifts of healing, wisdom and discernment. Today innumerable servants of Christ bring pastoral care and counseling to millions.

Though pastoral counseling has existed for millennia in the form of “care for the soul,” its expression in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has intersected the development of clinical and counseling psychology, as well as marriage and family therapy.

Psychologist William James, one of the first American thinkers to envision the integration of behavioral science and religious faith, wrote Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) to place this topic on the agenda for future exploration in universities, churches and seminaries.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, pioneering pastors and priests began to integrate Freudian, Jungian, and Adlerian theories with their experiences in pastoral care. The aftermath of World War II provided a major impetus in the United States for the use of psychology by pastors, particularly through the development of Clinical Pastoral Education taught in interdisciplinary programs through colleges and universities.

Seward Hiltner (University of Chicago), discerning the rich connection between religion and mental health, wrote the influential book Pastoral Counseling (1949). Carroll Wise (Garrett) focused on the application of psychoanalytic theory in church counseling.  

Paul Johnson (Boston University) emphasized “responsive” counseling, drawing from Harry Stack Sullivan’s interpersonal theory. Wayne Oates (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) sought to give pastoral counseling full standing in medical school training and chaplaincy programs.

The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) was founded in 1963.

In his classic Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling (1966), Howard Clinebell helped consolidate the field of pastoral counseling, advocating that pastoral counselors complement their ministerial credentials with competent training in psychological counseling theories.

Perhaps in reaction to this emphasis, Thomas Oden, fearing that pastoral counselors might err in becoming pseudo-psychologists instead of pastoral caregivers, encouraged the incorporation of pre-modern psychologies and traditional forms of spirituality in pastoral counseling (1983).

Charles Gerkin (1984) developed the theology of providence in relation to crisis experiences, presenting the pastoral counselor as a skilled “interpreter,” assisting in the integration of a counselee’s life story within their larger faith tradition. Similarly, John Patton emphasized the pastoral counselor’s use of “relational humanness” in dealing with issues of guilt, shame, and forgiveness (1985).

Contemporary contributors to the history and diversity of pastoral counseling include, among others, Jay Adams, Lawrence Crabb, Richard Dayringer, David Brenner, Gary Collins, John MacArthur, Rodney Hunter, Nancy Ramsay, Donald Capps, Robert Wicks, Howard Stone, Pamela Cooper-White, James Dittes, Carrie Doehring, Jeanne Stevenson Messner, Ray S. Anderson, Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger, Raymond Pendleton, Abigail Rian Evans, Ann Ulanov, David Augsburger, Dan Montgomery, and H. Newton Malony.

The most ecumenical expression of pastoral counseling, the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling by Rodney Hunter and Nancy Ramsay (1996; 2005), enlisted the participation of nearly 600 Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish contributors.

My own interpretation of this brief history on major contributors to pastoral counseling? That there are two potentially complementary tracks, one that is Christ-centered and emphasizes the supernatural energies of the Bible and the Trinity, and the other, humanistic and emphasizing secular therapeutic systems.

The supernatural track relies most deeply on the Bible as the revealed Word of God, and the Holy Spirit as an indwelling force for helping people find their way amidst life anxieties and crises. In this tradition the pastoral counselor views Jesus Christ as actively present and influential in the counseling process. Prayer, sacraments, and participation in church life are viewed as irreplaceable assets in psychological and spiritual healing.

The humanistic track emphasizes prevailing theories of counseling and therapy as the primary means of care-giving. There is relatively less concentration on intercessory prayer or seeking the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and more emphasis on methods derived from humanistic-existential, cognitive-behavioral, or psychoanalytic models. In some cases, this approach to counseling may closely resemble secular-based therapy, since that is the source that inspires it.

Here is the perspective that Compass Therapy offers.

For centuries, Christianity didn’t know quite know what to do with the Trinity, other than mention the Trinity during congregational recitation of orthodox creeds or at baptism. But in light of what we have learned in the study of interpersonal psychology, we can now grasp that the Trinity is actually the cosmological foundation of human personhood and interpersonal relationships.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Persons in one God who actualize their love through mutual indwelling, and who invite human beings to share in this Trinitarian intimacy. Compass Therapy is constructed on a Trinitarian foundation that illuminates the interconnections between personhood, personality, and interpersonal relationships -- in both their healthy and dysfunctional forms.

Thus, the compass approach to pastoral counseling invites the Trinity’s participation in the counseling process. This can take the form of prayers for counselee blessing, trust in divine guidance during sessions, and response to the Father’s desire to fashion persons into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom from the Word of God commingles with empirical research from behavioral science to create a unified field theory of psychospiritual growth and fulfillment.

The counselee, then, experiences an integration that encompasses faith and reason, the supernatural and the humanistic. Compass Therapy suggests that the Trinity expresses an abiding presence in pastoral counseling, healing and transforming personality and relationships in Christlike directions, for the wellbeing of persons and the glory of God.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jesus Christ in Pastoral Counseling

While the world benefits from psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and marriage and family counselors, no one can take the place of Christ’s pastoral shepherds, appointed by the Lord and empowered by the Holy Spirit, spending countless hours calming the anxious, encouraging the depressed, binding up the emotionally wounded: Maria, Bill, Antonio, Ming, Abdul.

Through his pastoral ministers, Jesus Christ reaches out in every culture not only to save people from sin and set them right with God, but to help them grow psychologically and spiritually, creating in them a sound mind and responsive heart, a relaxed body and serene spirit, edifying them with enough maturity to love others as they learn to love themselves and God.

During my seminary years, a classmate of mine I will call Jeff developed suicidal urges; his study of the Bible had left him with the impression that he had too many sins for God to forgive. Though there was a professional counselor on staff, this student chose to confide his soul-pain to a professor of Old Testament, himself an ordained minister.

What struck me was how the professor took time out of his schedule to shepherd and nurture Jeff, even to the point of visiting him in the dorm at night to make sure he was okay. After several days of being watched over, Jeff’s depression lifted. He told me that the professor’s faithful caring had penetrated his emptiness, opening an inner door through which he experienced God’s love.

Churches worldwide offer a natural home for healing and personality development throughout the lifespan. Many ethnic backgrounds, all kinds of people, and every form of relationship add to the richness and complexity of local churches. And if there are biases regarding class or gender, the Holy Spirit empowers the Word of God to challenge and change them.

The church is like a living organism, where the Triune God lives and breathes, awakening individuals to their full potential in Christ, stirring motivation that draws them forward, offering hope when difficulties overwhelm. Here pastoral counseling delivers the service of repair and recovery, providing confidential one-on-one or group sessions specifically designed to explore what troubles someone, what baffles or frustrates them, to the end that their lives are clarified and they are set on a path of healthy growth.

In a church counseling growth group I led, Charlie shared in halting words, face gaunt with pain, how he’d felt shunned by church members during the two years he and his wife Linda had attended the church.

“What makes you think that people have been judging you?” I asked.

“I was divorced before I married Linda. The pastor often preaches against divorce,” he  said, arms folded and legs locked together, reminding me of an armadillo encased behind armored plates.

“I see. So you’ve assumed that people in the church won’t
accept you because you’ve been divorced?”


“And do you know this for sure?”

“Well, no one has been friendly toward us. Except maybe this group a little bit. That’s why I’m mentioning it.”

“I appreciate you sharing this issue with us. I wonder if you’re open to hearing from people what they really think?” He stiffened somewhat, yet nodded his assent. Beckoning to the other eight persons in our circle, I said, “Out of curiosity, how many of you have known that Charlie was divorced before he married Linda?”

Only one hand went up, a woman named Barbara.

“Barbara,” I said, “can you share how you came by this
knowledge and how you felt about it?”

Barbara looked inquisitively at Linda, who gave a nod for Barbara to speak freely. “Linda told me last year,” said Barbara, “to help explain why Charlie holds back from people.”

“And how did you handle the issue of his divorce?” I asked.

“I didn’t think twice about it. I love them both and just wanted them to feel at home here. I tried being friendly to Charlie, but he didn’t seem to notice.”

“Thanks for sharing.” I turned to Charlie. “Seems like no one but Barbara knew you were divorced, and she tried to show you her friendliness. What do you make of this?”

Charlie’s face slackened. “It’s new information. It never occurred to me I was reading people wrong.”

It seemed time for a brief integration of psychology and spirituality.

Addressing the group, I said, “The type of difficulty that Charlie got into happens to all of us, doesn’t it. Our private perceptions influence how we believe others see us. If we have a negative experience, we can assume everyone sees us in that light, not knowing we’re projecting our own negative bias onto them. Even God has trouble convincing us that we’re loveable. The interesting thing is, all we have to do is withdraw our negative projection and we can feel close to people again.”

I noticed that Charlie was breathing more easily, his arms no longer tucked tightly over his chest. I turned toward him. “What are you feeling right now, Charlie?”

“Kind of amazed,” he said. “I don’t feel that wall between me and the people in this group any more. It makes me wonder if I haven’t been hiding behind walls for years.” He smiled as he looked around the circle. “This feels better.”

With that the topic shifted to a new subject. Charlie sat peacefully attentive, hearing from other people with a new look of caring on his face, a fresh touch from Jesus in his heart.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pastoral Counseling Meets Universal Spiritual Needs

The rejuvenation of pastoral counseling in both church and community is shown by the abundance of church-based counseling centers and the extensive Internet offerings of pastoral counseling educational resources.

Most denominations are encouraging their ministers to develop pastoral counseling skill-sets that enrich their pastoral care. Seminaries are strengthening their offerings in pastoral psychology and counseling, including programs for the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths. Chaplaincy programs apply principles of pastoral counseling to enhance preparedness for service in hospitals, prisons, the military, and university campuses.

The rise of the Psychology of Religion Division within the American Psychological Association underscores the prestige of pastoral counseling as contributing valuable principles to the mental health field—namely, for working with the universal spiritual needs of humankind.

An ever-growing assortment of journals and books specifically relating to pastoral counseling and pastoral psychology stimulate and nourish the worldwide development of indigenous pastoral counselors serving church and society.

Thus today there is unparalleled interest in pastoral counseling, both among professionals called to this field and among those many people interested in receiving it. Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and other spiritual seekers often prefer a counselor of their same “faith-family” as a trusted resource in time of need.

What distinguishes pastoral counseling from secular therapy?  The expectation that the pastoral counselor is qualified to address not only psychological but spiritual needs.

 These spiritual needs include:
  • finding a meaningful relationship with God
  • handling inner conflicts between guilt and grace
  • discussing categories of good and evil 
  • exploring issues regarding salvation and the afterlife
  • discussing angelic protection or demonic oppression
  • finding support during illness
  • grieving over the death of a loved one
  • seeking purpose and security in an anxiety-ridden world
  • longing to transform self-confusion into wholeness and holiness.

While the pastoral counselor shares with the secular mental health professional a concern for what best serves the well-being of counselees and helps to resolve their presenting problems, the pastoral counselor enjoys unique ethical permission to utilize religious resources, rituals, and sacraments that transcend the boundaries of scientific psychology.

An extraordinary gift that pastoral counselors can offer counselees, which is not a prerogative for psychiatrists or psychologists, is a prayer of blessing from God or a discerning word from Scripture.

For more about the Compass Therapy approach to Christian Counseling, read:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pastoral Counseling and Coaching In Ministry Today

Whether you are a pastor, seminary student, or church affiliated therapist, I view you as a companion in the field of pastoral counseling. I will present theoretical and practical principles with this in mind. Together we share a joint commission from Christ to love and to heal. We seek to help people develop greater wholeness, liberating them from constraints that block fulfillment, strengthening their participation in knowing themselves and doing God’s will.

 My own calling as a psychologist and pastoral counselor has extended over forty years. During that time I have persistently encouraged pastors, chaplains, and Christian therapists to take back the high ground of counseling, an opportunity for ministry that in the twentieth century was too often relinquished to mental health professionals.

In defining the scope of this post, I have deliberately paired pastoral counseling with coaching to underscore what many pastors have told me they need: a practical method for interacting with parishioners that promotes people’s understanding of self and God, reconciliation with others, ability to cope with the crises faced throughout the lifespan, and motivation to integrate their Christian faith with the challenges of daily life.

The counseling aspect of this book presents a Christian personality theory and method for pastoral counseling intervention that sizes up factors disrupting a person’s life and offers growth strategies that move a person forward toward resolution.

 The coaching aspect responds to a counselee’s need to feel emotionally significant and understood by a caregiver, especially during times of vulnerability. When you exercise the coaching function of pastoral counseling, you build people up by providing an occasional pep talk, praying with them for God to show his loving guidance, or offering an encouraging word when they feel dispirited.

In counseling you listen with the third ear (a form of hearing that requires discernment in psychological and spiritual causes and effects), whereas in coaching you impart enthusiasm and faith that strengthens motivation. Both counseling and coaching are needed in pastoral ministry, since a pastoral counselor functions more as a consecrated shepherd of Christ than as a state licensed therapist.

As we make progress in this blog, you will put together pastoral counseling and coaching in creative ways that bring you fulfillment and serve your constituency well.

For more information about Christian counseling, read:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why Use Compass Therapy in Christian Churches?

The use of Compass Therapy in churches equips a new generation of pastoral counselors with practical tools that bring together spiritual faith, psychological insight, a Christian personality theory, and the use of counseling techniques to engage and heal the brokenness in a counselee’s personality
and human nature.

But why, you may ask, use the word therapy at all? Doesn’t therapy imply a secular approach to counseling carried out by mental health professionals? The answer is that major contributions to pastoral counseling have arisen from psychoanalysis, Jungian therapy, Transactional Analysis, Gestalt therapy, Client-centered therapy, and Cognitive-behavioral therapy. What distinguishes them is generally a tradition of empirical research and clinical validity.

However, these methodologies stand outside the Christian tradition, and some of their assumptions flatly contradict orthodox Christian teachings. While elements of these approaches have been adapted for church use, it is often because no Christian equivalent exists. Pastors and parishioners have rightly complained from time to time that secular psychologies have undermined their trust in the Bible, the Trinity, and the Church.

In contradistinction, Compass Therapy has its origins in both scientific research and biblical Trinitarian theology. While hundreds of studies validate the growth psychology behind compass theory, the core assumption is that Jesus of Nazareth reveals God’s personality and interpersonal nature, a nature known as the Trinity, and becomes the standard against which personality health and dysfunction are discerned.

While it might seem to some that Jesus’ personality would have nothing to do with modern conceptions of personality, compass theory proposes the opposite: that Christ’s personality and behavior are readily understood through the contemporary lens of the Self Compass growth tool, the central working model of Compass Therapy that points the way to mental health while illuminating the personality disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

I will deal with this application as it pertains to pastoral counseling and coaching in future posts. But for now I want to underscore that Compass Therapy signifies a counseling approach backed by empirical research and differentiated from other counseling theories by a Christian ontological foundation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Handle Human Nature in Pastoral Counseling

While theologians may debate what constitutes human nature, the pastoral counselor needs a working model that brings x-ray vision for seeing into the counselee’s very being. Many theological debates have revolved around whether God created humans with a bipartite nature (body and soul) or a tripartite nature (spirit, mind, and body).  

However, the diverse ways in which the Bible refers to the human person include such varied elements as body, soul, spirit, mind, and heart.

Compass Therapy, with its interest in uniting polar opposites into compass-like wholes, employs the Human Nature Compass to bring together the Mind (cognition) and Heart (emotion), Body (biology) and Spirit (purpose) for a holistic understanding of human nature.

The Human Nature Compass is especially useful in pastoral counseling because it enables you to observe and engage a counselee’s whole being, while monitoring how each part is functioning in relation to the whole.

Mind stands for cognitive thinking. Heart expresses emotive feeling. Heart points to the emotions and passions that are the energy of personality. Body emphasizes the biology of anatomy and physiology, and the five senses. Spirit describes one's values and purpose, and potential for intimacy with God.

The core is the innermost dimension of the person that has the power of self-reflection, and bring humans the God-endowed capacity to say, “I am,” and the ability to make free-will choices.

The Human Nature Compass gives you the ability to discern a counselee's moment to moment functioning. If the counselee has a dead zone (a decommissioned component of human nature), or exaggerates another component (perhaps by thinking at the expense of feeling), you will notice this and start finding ways to help them discover their whole human nature, in itself a therapeutic thing to do.

If one of your sessions overly focuses on emotional catharsis, you will know to spend a portion of the next session on cognitive integration, since emotional release without cognitive meaning has little staying power in overall learning. If your counselee has repressed bodily awareness so as to be oblivious to muscle tension or shallow breathing, you’ll help them relax the body in order to live through it with greater zest. Or if your counselee has little or no prayer life, you will support their spiritual growth by encouraging open conversations with Christ and greater visceral trust in the Holy Spirit.

For more, see  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Fascinating World of Pastoral Counseling & Coaching

Welcome. I'm Dan Montgomery. I've been doing pastoral and clinical counseling for over 35 years. I've counseled several thousand people in universities, private practice, and both Protestant and Catholic churches. My abiding concern is to serve the Body of Christ through the Compass Therapy approach to pastoral counseling. More about this later.

I've always believed that the Church is a natural place for healing personality conflicts, fixing broken relationships, and finding one's purpose in Christ. Christian ministers and small groups leaders deal with people all the time who faced significant problems and need not just a friendly ear, but action steps for making their lives and relationships better. This is how the love of God gets translated into daily human affairs.

I am committed to increasing the counseling expertise and communication skill sets of professional caregivers, as well as individuals within congregation whom the Holy Spirit endows with gifts for healing and helping others. Perhaps blogging is a good way to pass on what practical knowledge about the fascinating world of pastoral counseling and coaching.

As I write this, I'm visualizing you. Are you a person others naturally turn to when they need somebody to trust? A person others confide in when their hearts are broken or their dreams shattered? Are you a healer of the soul who wants to enrich your theory and method, so that Jesus Christ can use you all the more? If you answer "yes" then we're on the same wavelength, and I know Jesus will bless our journey into pastoral counseling and coaching.

My calling from God to a lifetime of practicing and teaching counseling began in seminary, without me fully recognizing it. I not only wanted to learn every aspect of Christian faith and doctrine, but I felt a burning desire to understand the psychology of human behavior, so that I could help people grow more whole.

I felt surprised when the Holy Spirit guided me to earn a PhD in counseling and clinical psychology. Yet it began to make sense at my graduation, when a week later I was also ordained as a non-denominational minister. My full-time service from that day until now has included both therapeutic counseling, and consulting with pastors and parishioners wherever I've lived.

At the age of sixty-six has come the greatest surprise of all, that my book Pastoral Counseling and Coaching, among other books in the Compass Series, has been brought into worldwide usage, and commended by counseling peers at Yale, Princeton, Fuller, Notre Dame, and Stanford, as well as from ministerial professors in most major Protestant and Catholic seminaries.

I am humbled and amazed. But primarily I feel excited that the Church in the 21st century is showing great interest in ministering to the whole person: psychologically as well as spiritually. What you're going to see as this blog unfolds is a thoroughgoing integration of psychology and theology, because in my experience at least, when either one of these is overly emphasized at the expense of the other, the people in a congregation—each dear soul whom Christ loves—are deprived.

I know that you have your own way of intermingling  theological perspectives and psychological dynamics may differ from mine. That's what makes our conversation interesting.

That said, I consider us launched. Come join me in future posts, where I'll slow down the pace so we can savor our explorations into the fascinating world of pastoral counseling and coaching!

You can click on the title if you're interested to read the first chapter of my book on Amazon.com: