Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Holy Trinity and Pastoral Counseling

For centuries Christianity didn’t know quite 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 ontological 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 built on a Trinitarian platform that supports the connections between individual personhood  and interpersonal relationships. 

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 counselees into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit

In Compass Therapy wisdom from the Word of God joins empirical research from behavioral science to create a unified field theory of psychospiritual growth and fulfillment. This opens the door for our counselees to experience personality integration that encompasses reason and faith, the natural and supernatural. 

When we call upon God in faith, Compass Therapy affirms, the Trinity empowers pastoral counseling—healing and guiding our counselees to the glory of God.

Here is my prayer of blessing for our continued ministry in pastoral counseling work: 

“Dear heavenly Father, thank you for calling us to the field of pastoral care and counseling. Empower us with the Holy Spirit that we might contribute hope and healing in both church and community. Help us wisely blend Scripture and science in ways that accomplish your purposes. Thanks for loving help. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Assemblies of God Seminary Professors Praise Dr. Dan Montgomery Books





“The Church of the 21st century desperately needs pastors and pastoral counselors who are psychologically educated and spiritually discerning to address the complex emotional and psychological needs of today's congregants. 

“As a practicing psychologist and seminary professor training men and women for ministry I have found Dr. Dan Montgomery's work beneficial and practical

“In his latest book, Pastoral Counseling & Coaching, Dr. Montgomery provides pastors with both a biblically-based and psychologically sound perspective on human growth and behavior, as well as practical techniques for effective therapeutic intervention. 

“Readers will find case studies, visual models, and excellent resources. This is definitely a book which will help pastors and pastoral counselors find more satisfaction in pastoral counseling. 

“I commend Dr. Montgomery for his contribution to the field of pastoral counseling and highly recommend his Compass Therapy Model as a framework for a pastoral care ministry.” 







“I continue to enjoy using Christian Counseling That Really Works and the Self Compass Model and tools in all my Pastoral Counseling classes. It is such a lively and engaging synthesis of biblical and counseling insights. I'm confident a harvest of young pastoral counselors are going to find these books helpful in the fields of ministry.” 








Pastoral Counseling and Coaching is a comprehensive approach to pastoral counseling. Dan Montgomery's text is a priceless resource for students, pastors and professionals in the field.” 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Emotional Healing in Pastoral Counseling

Working constructively with emotions is crucial to success in pastoral counseling because feelings are the energy of personality. They are literally like an artist’s color palette, from which the artist loads his brush to give life, hue, and nuance to a painting. If the artist keeps rinsing the brush between applications, the color will remain vivid and true. But if the artist doesn’t regularly clean the brush, paint from former brush strokes will accrue and turn the new applications muddy and dark.

So it is with feelings. During the course of counseling, from first to last session, you are seeking to offer the counselee ways to experience and express emotions that contribute to healthy living, and keep the heart cleansed from clogged-up feelings that would otherwise contaminate the canvas of perception.

What is the nature of clogged-up emotions? Human emotions are meant to flow through the body much like water down a river. Sometimes there is a lot of emotion and sometimes there is only a trickle, but what’s important here is that emotions are transitory psycho-physiological events involving the mid-brain and lower brain stem, but not the neocortex. In a word, emotions feel but don’t think. They reflect the more instinctual, subjective part of perception, the gut reaction to what’s going on between the environment and the organism in the here and now.

What, then, is the purpose of a feeling? The purpose is to discriminate between liking and disliking, needing and not needing, wanting and not wanting, coping and not coping. Feelings tell people about their own spontaneous interests, preferences, needs, and desires. Once a feeling has served its purpose, it recedes into the background of awareness.

Compass Therapy utilizes the catchall word “Heart” to point toward those inner states that most people experience as emanating from the area of the heart, stomach, and bowels. The Old Testament is full of anthropomorphic references to internal body organs that offer metaphors for how both God and people experience emotion.

Counselees understand immediately when you talk about matters of the heart. When you ask what a counselee is feeling, the person understands that you are inquiring about the most subjective, emotionally colored, and private part of their perception, a part oftentimes so private they can’t find words to express it or even know they are feeling it. 

Now here’s the secret of facilitating the awareness and discrimination of emotions in counselees. Don’t judge them! Remember that feelings are transitory physiological processes that need recognition and integration into the personality, not repression and exile to the unconscious.

Thus when a six-year-old boy says he feels like killing his older sister when she twists his wrist, he is experiencing anger and trying to express it so that the feeling will pass through him and dissipate. You don’t forbid him to ever speak this way again, but rather seek to expand his metaphors until he comes up with a more diplomatic expression of anger.

Your purpose entails expanding inner emotional states, so that counselees can become more comfortable with emotions in general, and more interested in understanding and defining them. 

Feeling and thinking can interact rhythmically here, the feeling providing the raw material of direct experience, the thinking providing an analysis of explanatory causes and effects that pertain to the feeling. By repeatedly helping counselees to slow down their communication enough to feel an emotion cleanly, label it accurately, and consider how best to express it, you are healing their emotions and knitting their personalities together.

This principle is so important that if you primarily listen to people’s feelings and help to clarify and transform them into meaningful expressions, you will heal a good many people

For case studies that connect emotional healing with treatment plans, see:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Helping People to Use Their Minds

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?”

“Please do.”

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: