FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS A PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPIST?
WHEN SHOULD I SEEK HELP FROM A PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPIST?
A licensed pastoral psychotherapist is trained in both psychology and theology and thus can address psychological, as well as spiritual, issues. You should consider meeting with a licensed pastoral psychotherapist if you are experiencing emotional difficulties and wish to address these matters in the context of psychology and spirituality.
HOW DOES “PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPY" OR "PASTORAL COUNSELING” DIFFER FROM “COUNSELING”?
Pastoral counseling, or pastoral psychotherapy, is very much like the counseling that you would receive from any other counseling professional (psychotherapist, licensed social worker, psychologist), except that licensed pastoral counselors also have been trained in issues of spirituality and faith. When counselees seek to integrate their faith and religious understanding into how they address their problems, a licensed pastoral counselor can competently facilitate this process
ARE FEES OF PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPISTS COMPARABLE TO THOSE OF OTHER HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS?
WHEN SHOULD A PASTOR REFER A CONGREGANT TO A PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPIST?
DO PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPISTS COUNSEL PEOPLE OF FAITHS DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OWN?
Licensed pastoral counselors are found in every major Protestant denomination, as well as the Roman Catholic church and Jewish faith, and they do work with people of faiths different from their own, including serving those with no pronounced faith at all. While, in practice, clients often prefer to work with a licensed pastoral counselor who shares their faith and beliefs, the openness of the theoretical approach offered through On Purpose Coaching and Counseling has made our work more inviting for those of non-traditional or non-expressed faith traditions, as well as those who profess to be agnostic or atheistic. In initial meetings, the client is invited to inform the therapist as to what extent the client wishes to delve into spiritual matters, in order that the client and licensed pastoral counselor are comfortable with each other's perspective.
WHAT TYPE OF PERSON BECOMES A PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPIST?
Just like in other counseling professions, there isn’t a stereotype of a pastoral counselor. All licensed pastoral counselors strive to integrate psychology and spirituality into the counseling experience in order to offer a more holistic approach to healing.
DO PASTORAL COUNSELORS PREACH TO THEIR CLIENTS?
WHAT IS PASTORAL PSYCHOTHERAPY?
Pastoral counselors are clergy and others who have received graduate training in both religion and behavioral science for a clinical practice that integrates psychological and theological disciplines. A typical program includes a three-year professional degree from a seminary and a master's or doctoral degree in pastoral counseling, with supervised clinical experience and one's own personal psychotherapy. Pastoral counselors also practice in other institutions and in private offices, and they do consultations for community clergy. In most states, no license is required to perform pastoral counseling, and many persons practicing under the title are parish ministers, priests, or rabbis.
What is distinctive about pastoral counseling as a form of psychotherapy? Most pastoral counselors believe there is a God or divine power in whose image we are created. They believe that we yearn for a transforming connection with the divine and that psychotherapy can mediate the loving and healing nature of being itself. Pastoral counselors may also make therapeutic use of traditional religious resources such as prayer, Scripture reading, and participation in the worship and community life of a congregation. They often pay special attention to the religious history of the client and the client's family, noting how it may contribute either to the pathology or to the resources needed for coping.
False images of the ultimate can distort one's concept of oneself. Characteristics of a client's parents or other childhood authorities may have been projected onto a divine figure. What appears to be the voice of truth in a person's life may actually operate as an idol or false absolute. Mistaken beliefs about oneself, others, and the world may result from participation in an implicit theological drama derived from family history and erroneously supported by religious institutions.
A depressed woman who consulted a pastoral counselor felt unable to express her feelings because of a conflict that originated in her childhood. Her mother had often read to her Jesus' saying, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." But whenever she began to cry, the mother would say, "Shut up; go to your room; don't be a crybaby." She believed her scolding mother instead of the Scriptures and continued to do so into her 40s. She repressed not only sadness but most other emotions, choosing a husband who would not tolerate any expression of disappointment or anger. She was eventually able to demythologize her mother as an ultimate authority and exchange her image for that of a loving God.
A minister who sought counseling strove desperately for affection and approval and could not tolerate criticism or anger from any member of his congregation. In therapy he learned that he was the victim of a false idea of God, created in the image of his demanding, perfectionist father - an image he was finally able to dethrone.
These cases illustrate the unique orientation or listening perspective that pastoral counselors may bring to bear. One psychiatrist has called it "clinical theology" - search for a revelation of love, forgiveness, and good news to people who have been in bondage to their feelings and the past.
Reprinted from the May 1997 edition of The Harvard Mental Health Letter. This article came in response to the question posed to Merle R. Jordan, Th.D., Albert V. Danielsen Professor of Pastoral Psychology at Boston University School of Theology and a Diplomate in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.