The Methods of Pastoral Counseling

As with all new lawyers, after I took my oath and signed the Roll of Attorneys, thereby becoming a full-fledged licensed counselor and attorney-at-law, I was so excited to begin my practice. However, little did I know that law school did not prepare me to do so! Yes, I knew the law, both substantive and procedural, but I knew nothing about the professional or “business” aspect of building my own law office. I realized that I did not know how to properly set up and conduct an interview with a prospective client and worse, I had no idea how much to charge for my services! I was so dumbfounded that I just tried calling up older and more experienced lawyers to ask them for some advice. The only thing was, there were almost as many different methods and styles as there are law practitioners. During that time, and even now after six years of law practice, I really wished that all law schools would include in their curriculum a subject on “How to Set Up and Manage a Law Office.”

Likewise, the same thing is true with regard to the practice or ministry of pastoral counseling. Fortunately for me, I am now learning in seminary the things that I should have learned in law school, particularly, how to arrange and conduct an effective client interview. According to Dr. Clyde Narramore, a renowned clinical psychologist and counselor, effective counselors are conscious of details and thus give careful thought to such arrangements as: (a) setting the appointment; (b) preparing the interview; (c) beginning the interview; (d) determining the length of the interview; (e) closing the interview; (f) recording the interview; and (g) handling persistent cases. In his seminal book, The Psychology of Counseling, he provides basic guidelines therefor. He further stressed that counseling is different from a lecture or seminar where one person merely passes on information to other people because in counseling, both the counselor and the counselee undergo a process which doesn’t necessarily end after one session.

Dr, Narramore also discussed the need for counselors to give their best attention to their clients taking into account not only the latter’s words but also their demeanor in order for the former to adequately assess and analyze the latter’s problems and hence, provide effective solutions. That is why in setting an appointment, possible distractions must be minimized if not totally eliminated so that not even the minutest detail can escape the attention of the counselor. Lastly, Dr. Narramore stressed the value of discussion. He said that contrary to popular belief that “talk is cheap,” talking actually helps a person think clearly by putting into words the concepts he has in mind. In doing so, good ideas are sifted from bad ones. It helps us define just what we really do think. It shows up the true issue and points out possible danger or good.

Due to their similarities, the lessons I am currently learning about pastoral counseling can also readily be applied to legal counseling. Observing these basic steps will certainly make one a good counselor, whether pastoral or legal.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in Counseling

Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He promised His disciples that He would not leave them orphans but would send them another Paraclete Whom He identified as the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). In English translations of the Bible, the Greek word ‘Paraclete’ in the above-cited passage is rendered either as ‘Advocate’ or ‘Helper.’ In addition to those however, the most appropriate translation of that word in the context of our topic is that of ‘Counselor.’ Although Jesus was and is definitely the Great Counselor while He walked the earth, the Counselor who remained on earth to guide Jesus’ disciples is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will remind His disciples everything that He taught them—and that includes us modern-day Christians.

In referring to the third Person of the triune God, the word ‘holy’ is most commonly used. According to Jay Adams, the Holy Spirit is called holy not only because He is to be distinguished from all other spirits, and in particular from unclean spirits, but also because He is the Source of all holiness. He further states that “the holiness of God’s people that results from their sanctification by the Holy Spirit must be attributed entirely to Him as He works through His Word.

As pastors and nouthetic counselors entrusted by Jesus to take care and watch over His flock (Acts 20:28), we are to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. We should acknowledge Him in all our ways and He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). Instead of relying on human wisdom as set forth in the various philosophical systems of the world, it is only through the help of the Holy Spirit and by our reliance on the truth of God’s Word in Sacred Scripture that we can truly be effective in guiding His people out of the problems they are facing. By being faithful to God’s calling and direction, we bring glory to His name.

The Role of the Church in Pastoral Counseling

Pastoral counseling, as its name implies, happens in the context of the church. As the pastor is the person primarily responsible for the job, his role as the leader of the flock Christ has entrusted to him is indispensable to his duty as counselor. The pastor’s knowledge of of the conduct in the church of the people under his care provides clues to a deeper understanding of their psychological and spiritual condition.

According to Samuel Southard, “One of the characteristics of the Christian church is its ability to demonstrate God’s love through human relationships. In the Christian fellowship a believer may find tangible expression of the supernatural grace that endows his life.” He further stated that the standard for the Christian’s life among men is the relationship which exists between Christ and his disciples in such a way that to walk worthy of God’s calling is to forebear one another in love and walk honorably among men. Most importantly, the church is not to be defined just in terms of relationships among men but in terms of the quality of the relationship that exists among men because they have become sons of God. The church provides a purpose for living and the fellowship through which love may be made real.

The setting and atmosphere of the church is the best condition to facilitate the effectiveness of the counseling ministry. This includes the relationship between the pastor and his flock and the flock among themselves. In fact, whenever I tell my wife that we should go and seek counseling, she would always tell me that she wants someone whom we can trust. The adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is absolutely true when it comes to counseling. Most people, especially Filipinos, will not listen to some stranger telling them how to run their lives. Instead of looking at the educational and professional attainments of the counselor—no matter how important that is—they will need someone who they trust. Someone whom they will entrust with their deepest secrets and innermost turmoils. And what better place to look for aside from one’s biological family than one’s spiritual family?

The Counselor

One of the most important elements of counseling is the counselor himself and according to Adams in his The Christian Counselor’s Manual, “While every Christian must become a counselor to his fellow Christians, the work of counseling as a special calling is assigned particularly to the pastor.”

Corollary to this is his apparent antagonism towards the “science” of psychiatry, positing that biblically, there is no warrant for acknowledging its existence as a separate and distinct discipline because there are only three specified sources of personal problems in living, namely: demonic activity, personal sin, and organic illness, and that all options are covered under these three heads, leaving no room for a fourth—non-organic mental illness. So, there is therefore no place in a biblical scheme for the psychiatrist as a separate practitioner. The same is true with respect to his view on non-directive counseling saying that those words represent a contradiction of terms.

As ordained Christian ministers are the ones specifically tasked to do the work of counseling, the qualifications of a counselor are the same as those of a minister. To be an effective nouthetic counselor, one must possess the following: (a) adequate scriptural knowledge of the will of God; (b) divine wisdom in one’s relationships to others; and (c) good will and concern for other members of the body of Christ. In short, he must be convinced that the Bible is true and be ready and able to direct others to its promises with assurance and conviction. The counselor, as an ordained man of God, exercises the full authority for counseling that Christ gave to the organized church. As such, he must also exhibit faithful obedience to God’s Word in his daily life.

Aside from the qualifications discussed above, the emotional health and attitudes of the counselor are likewise vitally important. A person who is undergoing emotional turmoil due to his own personal problems may not be in the best condition to counsel others. He will be out of focus, distracted by his own issues that he would not be able to listen attentively and effectively process the information his counselee is sharing. Moreover, the emotionally disturbed counselor’s judgment might become clouded and colored by his own biases and desired solutions to his own problems.

As the person primarily responsible in helping other people deal with their life problems and issues, the minister must see to it that before he enters the counseling room or office and meets with his counselees, his emotional and mental disposition is well-balanced and free from any distractions that may affect his performance and functions as such. To help achieve this, the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit is indispensable, which can be gained through prayer and meditation on God’s Word.

The Counselee

In reading chapter four of The Christian Counselor’s Manual by Adams, I found some important things that a Christian counselor needs to know and realize before he proceeds with the counseling proper.

The first is that as Christians who regularly read and meditate on God’s Word, we already know a lot about human nature. Even in the study of theology in seminary where the Bible is our primary and only infallible source of truth, the topic of anthropology is included. As the Bible contains the truths of God relative to His creation, coupled with intense observation of verbal and non-verbal messages put across by our counselee, we are able to effectively diagnose the main problems that commonly beset man. According to Adams, there are three sources of information available to the Christian or pastoral counselor with the first one being primary and foundational and the other two secondary and derivative, to wit: (1) the Scriptures, as mentioned above; (2) the counselor’s and others’ experiences; and (3) the dynamics of his own sinful heart. While the first source is inerrant and infallible being the Word of God, the interpretations of the second and third sources are subject to the first.

The second thing that pastoral counselors need to remember is that the Bible contains every solution to every human problem. Of course, this does not mean that it contains the solutions to every mathematical or scientific problem but that which relates to the nature of man in relation to his God. In other words, those relating to faith and morals. In fact, these are the only kinds of issues that truly have eternal significance. Jesus, being both fully God and fully human, knows and understands all the problems, difficulties, and temptations that all men face. As a man, he himself faced the same temptations and yet did not sin.

Third, in view of the foregoing, we also need to know how to properly apply the truths of Scripture to the issues of our counselees. We can do this by going through our counselee’s history so as to correctly understand his or her situation well. Otherwise, our diagnosis of the real problem may be faulty or at best, incomplete. We have to learn how to listen carefully with patient endurance guided by the Holy Spirit and the truths of Scripture in interpreting the signs.

Fourth and last, we have to take confidence that our counselees can indeed change. This is a very crucial plank in the Christian counselor’s platform. Even though modern psychologists and psychiatrists seem to have given up on a seemingly “mental” patient, we, as Christian counselors should not give up easily but instead see the root cause of the problem as it relates to our sinful nature which is not beyond the redemptive powers of the Blood of Christ. The idea itself of being “born again” signifies a radical change in our being. It not only illustrates a cleansing or repairs of a certain person but a total change of that person’s nature. Everywhere the Scriptures either demand change or assume its possibility. Knowing such truth gives the Christian counselor hope that his labor shall bear fruit because he knows that God is in the business of changing lives.