You’ve come to a place in your life when you think you might be able to use some professional help. Perhaps a marriage that’s not doing so well. Maybe you feel depressed too often. Possibly you’ve lost someone close to you and it seems you are taking far too long to get on with life. Or perhaps you feel stuck in a job that is giving you no satisfaction. Or just maybe you have a vague sense you could be much more of a person than you are right now.
There are of course dozens of possible reasons to seek professional help. But where do you turn? Who is out there who can help you with your particular problem or concern?
The fact is that there are many persons who can provide you with assistance-psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychoanalysts, psychiatric nurses, pastoral counselors, psychotherapists, marriage and family counselors. All of these professional helpers offer counseling services. Yet each brings to the counseling different approaches and goals.
This article is an attempt to give you a clear and accurate description of only one of these helpers-the pastoral counselor who is certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.
What is Pastoral Counseling
Pastoral counseling is a form of therapy or counseling in which a pastoral counselor, as a representative of a religious tradition or community, uses the insights and principals of religion, theology and behavior sciences in working with individuals, couples, families, groups and institutions toward the achievement of wholeness and health.
An important ingredient which makes pastoral counseling different from other forms of counseling and psychotherapy is the conviction that life’s crisis and transitions are best met by both the wisdom of religious teaching and the knowledge and skills of the human sciences such as psychiatry and psychology.
Education and Training of Pastoral Counselors
Ordinarily a pastoral counselor has completed from nine to twelve years of education beyond high school–a Bachelor’s Degree from a college or university, (e.g., B.A. or B.S.), a three year professional degree from a seminary (e.g., M.Div. or B.D. ) and usually a specialized masters or doctoral degree from a graduate school or a school of theology (e.g., M.A., Th.M., PHD, D. Min,) A significant part of this advanced education is spent in some type of clinical training setting working with persons in crisis or transition (e.g., mental and general hospitals, counseling agencies). All phases of this advance teaching and learning process seeks to integrate the enduring wisdom of religious traditions with the emerging reliable insights and methodologies of the field in psychotherapy.
Although the successful completion of these degrees and educational experiences are no absolute guarantee of competency, as a consumer you have a right to such information. You ought to feel free to inquire about the education and credentials of the person to whom you may be sharing important information about yourself and others close to you.
Pastoral counselors offer a variety of ways to help you in solving your problems and in moving through life’s crises and transitions. Based on psycho-social research, religious principles, and cultural understandings, the pastoral counselor first does a careful assessment of you and your problem and then recommends one or more particular ways of helping-for example, individual counseling/psychotherapy, group therapy, couples counseling, marriage and family therapy, spiritual guidance, short-term counseling. In some instances, the pastoral counselor may feel that the help you need at this particular time in your life can best be given by some other mental health professional or some other religious professional. If that is the case, he or she will assist you in finding a more appropriate person for you to relate to. Whether the pastoral counselor provides the needed service or makes a referral, the decision is always made in consultation with you and will be based on what seems to be in your best interest.
Standards of Practice
In accordance with standards set by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, each pastoral counselor recognizes his or her areas of competence and seeks consultation, supervision, and referral whenever one or more of these aids seem appropriate. Although pastoral counselors openly acknowledge their own religious faith, heritage, and values, they are trained to be objective as well as emphatic in relating to your own racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, or cultural memberships and preferences.
Duration of Pastoral Counseling/Psychotherapy
The time required for pastoral counseling varies with each person depending on the nature of the issues your present, your personal history, personality difficulties, and the agreed upon goals. In some instances, pastoral counseling may be as brief as a few sessions; in other instances, it may require several years. As a potential consumer of pastoral counseling services, you have a right to get some idea of the probable length of the therapeutic process, keeping always in mind that such an educated guess may need to be revised as the counseling unfolds.
Cost of Pastoral Counseling
Fees for pastoral counseling are based on the amount of time involved and on the type of help needed. Ordinarily, appointments are once or twice a week and last about 50 minutes. Group therapy may go for an hour and a half. there is a range of fees. However, most pastoral counseling centers have a sliding fee scale based on your income and generally ability to pay. Some centers have special funds to assist those unable to meet the usual fee structure. And in some instances, it is possible to have psychotherapy partly covered by health insurance. You should read your insurance contract or call your insurance company to determine the extent of insurance benefits for mental health services.
The cost of your counseling should be discussed carefully at some point during your fist interview with a pastoral counselor, and a mutual agreement ought to be reached before the actual counseling begins.
Relationships with Other Professionals
At times the pastoral counselor may be consulted by other professionals (for instance, physicians, psychologists, pastors, attorneys) concerning your progress, and your pastoral counselor may consult these professionals as well, with of course your consent. It is not unusual, for example, for a pastoral counselor to consult with a psychiatrist if medication of some kind seems appropriate. Such consultations are only initiated with your full consent and after a thorough discussion of the reasons for this form of additional help
Counselors shall take into consideration any state, federal or local laws that are brought to their attention, but the Holy Scriptures (the Bible) shall be the supreme governing authority in every aspect of the conciliation process which includes privileged communication and confidentially.