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:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Historical Psychology Contributions to Pastoral Counseling

Insights from the field of therapeutic psychology have greatly enriched pastoral counseling. From Sigmund Freud (1920) came descriptions of the major ego-defense mechanisms, vital in helping counselees understand how they might be resisting the very truth that can heal them. These include rationalization, denial, projection, reaction formation, repression, intellectualization, passive aggression, and acting out.

Sigmund Freud

Carl Jung (1933) viewed faith in God as an essential dimension of mental health, saying, “I don’t believe God exists. I know God exists.” He reported that most of his patients in the second half of life were deeply concerned with religious issues, and helped us understand that symbols, whether in the form of dreams or daydreams, can carry religious meaning about discerning God’s will for one’s spiritual pathway.

Carl Jung

Viktor Frankl (1946) bore witness, through his survival of a Nazi death camp, that even in the most tragic of circumstances, persons retain a degree of freedom to choose their inner attitudes. He called the search for meaning a universal spiritual and psychological quest.
Viktor Frankl

Erik Erikson (1950) developed the concept of eight stages of life, suggesting that a successful resolution of these life crises gives birth to the life-affirming virtues of hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, caring, and wisdom.

Erik Erikson

Rollo May (1965) viewed the goal of pastoral counseling as increasing a person’s freedom, spontaneity, and genuineness. He described the counseling process as offering counselees “the grace of clarification” to release them from the anguish of egocentricity.

Rollo May

Carl Rogers (1965) recognized the importance of prizing the counselee. His work as a consultant to Seward Hiltner focused early formulations of pastoral counseling in the direction of developing warmth, congruence, and unconditional positive regard in the pastoral counselor’s therapeutic style.

Carl Rogers

Aaron Beck (1975) noted that what people are thinking directly influences the emotions they feel, and that cognitive assumptions about life need constant revision in order to become healthy and adaptive rather than self-defeating. Many pastoral counselors benefited by adding elements of Cognitive Therapy to their approaches.

Aaron Beck

My colleague Everett Shostrom and I suggested that self-actualizing in relation to God is a reasonable goal of pastoral counseling (1978). Further, we put forward the concept that counseling involves the whole of human nature: cognition and emotion, sensation and spirituality (1986).

Everett Shostrom
Dan Montgomery

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pastoral Counseling Definition and Applications

Pastoral counseling involves a helping relationship between a religiously affiliated counselor and an individual, couple, or family who seek assistance for coping with life. Pastoral counselors include ordained ministers and consecrated professionals licensed in the field of counseling and therapy.

The word “pastoral” indicates that services are provided which are sensitive to the spiritual viewpoints and values of counselees regardless of their faith affiliation. A respect for the faith dimension of human experience is an important contribution of the pastoral counseling movement to the mental health field. Pastoral counseling assumes that a counselee’s spiritual life has value in helping to heal emotional wounds, resolve conflicts, facilitate life transitions, and clarify values and purpose.

Pastoral counseling often takes the form of a specialized ministry within a church, where pastors or professional counselors offer pastoral counseling under the auspices of pastoral care. However, pastoral counseling can also function as an outreach ministry to a local hospital, homeless shelter, or independent counseling center; or it may serve persons through the chaplaincy in a prison, military base, or college campus.

I know of a pastor who has collaborated with the police department in his hometown for over twenty years. Early on they so valued his contributions that they gave him a badge with the title “Police Chaplain.” Over the decades his phone has rung regularly for calls involving domestic disputes.

Pastoral counselors meet a wide range of human needs. For instance, a counselee who is grieving the loss of a loved one; a couple who need premarital counseling or help raising step-children; an individual addicted to substances; a person dealing with adverse work conditions; a parent overwhelmed by young children or adolescents; a family being torn apart by forces they don’t understand; or a person searching for intimacy with God.

By transforming broken personalities and reconciling damaged relationships, pastoral counseling helps persons and communities to become living expressions of God’s redemptive love in the concreteness of daily life.

Most pastoral counselors have academic training in addition to religious credentials. These may include the Master of Divinity or Doctor of Ministry degrees, with a specialty in pastoral counseling. If a pastor has not had opportunity to study counseling in seminary, there are excellent Internet and external degree programs in pastoral counseling offered through credible institutions that strengthen competence in counseling. For instance, I offer an online course for 4 CE (Pastoral Counseling: The Intersection of Psychology and Spirituality) through the Zur Institute.

On the other hand, some pastoral counselors meet with counselees on the basis of their religious credentials alone; Biblical counseling, for example, emphasizes helping parishioners respond to a crisis primarily through empathetic listening, prayer, and biblical instruction.

Consecrated mental health workers who work in religious settings or private practice are often licensed as psychologists, professional counselors, or marriage and family therapists. They may work in private practice or band together to form a church-based counseling center.

Personally, I see pastoral counseling as hugely important to the life of the Church and the witness to the community, embodying the truth that God ministers compassionately and wisely to human need, and that anything human is worthy of understanding

For 25 therapeutic techniques that can be used in pastoral counseling, read: