The Call to Pastoral Counseling

by Rev. Catherine G. McCollough, LCSW

The Call to Pastoral Counseling

I have been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for around 22 years now.  But I have been called into a ministry of counseling for even longer than that, and I call myself a “pastoral counselor”, first and foremost.  There is not a state-recognized license for pastoral counselors where I live and work.  It isn’t a profession that all people in the counseling world recognize or understand. At least, it is not often mentioned in the counseling textbooks or training curriculum at major universities.  But it is the most valuable name for what I do, and why I do it.  

So, why do I choose to designate my work as “pastoral counseling”? Apparently, I am not alone.  Many others have chosen this pathway in their calling into a service of healing and compassion.  Places like Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia have grown up and gathered people together around this calling, offering a type of therapy and a process of healing that is nuanced in a certain unique way.  Our counselors were all drawn to work in this place because of this particular open calling into a deeper view of the meaning of existence, the nature of health and wholeness, and the character of a healing relationship.

Pastoral Counseling as an official discipline has been around for over 50 years.  But it has changed dramatically from its rather limited origins.  It used to be the domain of mostly white, male ordained clergy who had seen a need to provide pastoral care that was more relevant to the needs of struggling human beings.  These pastors had added to their traditional theological education training in secular psychological studies, and learned from the great advances in the field of psychotherapy by studying with the masters of psychoanalytic and family systems theory.  But pastoral counseling refused to be contained to white, male clergy in church-connected settings, or limited to particular secular clinical theories.  More people from different walks of life have a sense of call into this work.  More spiritual traditions than Christianity alone have insight and wisdom and compassion to share in this particular work of caring.

Pastoral counseling, even though over 50 years old, and based on the ancient traditions of spiritual healing and the Biblical imagery of Jesus “pastoring” God’s people, as a shepherd cares for the flock, is more relevant with each decade, meeting people where they are, practiced by a diverse and multicultural, multilingual, interfaith group of caring professionals.

According to a recent publication, Understanding Pastoral Counseling, edited by Elizabeth A. Maynard and Jill L. Snodgrass (Springer Publishing Company, 2015):

Pastoral counseling is “pastoral” on the basis of the training, formation, and spiritual/religious/theological orientations of pastoral counselors—that is, “who we are” and “what we do”, as well as the uniqueness of our assessments and interventions.  Pastoral counselors recognize that “whether or not we are religious, all persons inhabit a particular location relative to religions”. (Kathleen Greider, Chapter 14, p.235)

Pastoral counselors do not impose their own spiritual/religious/theological views or assessments on clients.  Rather, such wisdom is created collaboratively through critical reflection with clients and communities.

Pastoral counselors are committed to the development and safeguarding of the spiritual wholeness of their clients.

Today, a growing number of people who are trained in traditional graduate programs in mental health counseling seek additional training as pastoral counselors.  At Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia, we are blessed to have several counselors who are Residents in pastoral counseling working amongst us.  These individuals come to us with rich backgrounds and experiences in the mental health field, corporate and non-profit work, education, or in ministry. Four new and one continuing Resident will join our Training program this September, where they will participate in a monthly group seminars and clinical discussions and receive individual clinical supervision, while offering their gifts and skills to our clients in the counseling room.

According to previous colleagues, Patrice Comey comes with a commitment to service, kindness and compassion, and self-reflection.  She is “consistent in taking actions in practicing social justice issues and delivering services for people in need”, including a strong commitment to work with children who are in foster care.  ElizabethLibby” Alders is an ordained minister in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship with training and experience in psychiatric and trauma chaplaincy and feels especially called to provide counseling to the dependents of active duty military personnel.  Heidi Lindorf wants to work in an environment that is “aligned with my personal belief that emotional and cognitive healing is greatly facilitated through tapping into a client’s spiritual resources”.  She has a strong background working with children and families and a deep interest in strengthening marriages.  Tina Marie Harris is described as “unflinching in her willingness to open herself to the shared experience with the client that is the hallmark of good therapy”.  She is a nationally certified counselor who states that “a core belief of mine is that every human being has inherent goodness, and deserves unconditional acceptance for their individuality.”  Tamara Philbin “personally experienced transformational change through spiritual development” and is a believer in the power of faith.  She is passionate about helping individuals work through addiction, depression, relationships issues, PTSD, and learn to live life to the fullest.

We are excited about the future of pastoral counseling because of the dedication of these wise and compassionate women!  Watch for them on our website as they get started in their work with us.  They are ready and able to make high quality spiritual and mental health care, “pastoral counseling”, available to all people.

Catherine McCollough, M.Div., LCSW, Fellow, American Association of Pastoral Counselors

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