Faith and Values in Therapy

"The glory of God is the human person fully alive."   St. Irenaeus of Lyon

Someone who saw the designation "pastoral counselor" on my website asked "Oh, are there counselors especially for pastors?" This reminded me that people sometimes find the term confusing. Pastoral counselors are therapists especially trained to use the spiritual dimensions of their clients' lives as a positive resource for dealing with whatever emotional or mental-health issues they struggle with.  Although they themselves are usually members of a faith tradition (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Buddhist), or may even be members of the clergy, they are not interested in promoting any particular theology, doctrine or creed. According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, whatever the faith of the counselor, he or she is "trained to be objective as well as empathic in relating to the client's own racial, religious or cultural memberships or preferences".

To honor the spiritual life was a break with tradition in the field, since psychotherapy began as an offshoot of psychiatric medicine, and developed  into a scientific, secular discipline. Many therapists did not know what to do with the faith dimension in their clients' lives and so often ignored it, or even denigrated it. Today, however, with the resurgence of interest in religion and spirituality, and the interdenominational dialogue among various faith groups, pastoral counselors have a powerful new validation.

In general, most pastoral counselors affirm that:
*  all life, especially human life, is sacred and of infinite worth. Each life, with all its joy and suffering, has an ultimate meaning that lies within the loving heart of the universe. beyond the limitations of human consciousness
*   each human being has a divine core, the person's true self, which constantly urges the individual to live out his/her true potential in the most creative, joyful and loving way possible.
*   emotional symptoms (anxiety, depression, problems with addictions, relationship difficulties, for example) can be seen as messages from the true self to make adjustments in perspective, attitude, life situations and life patterns, in order to better grow in wisdom and in love.
*  most human beings have been wounded by living in a harsh and broken world. Working to heal those wounds so that one can live in spiritual abundance and joy is holy work for both the client and the therapist.

Some of my clients are involved with faith communities and attend houses of worship, expressing a connection with out cultural and religious heritage. Others seek connection with Spirit/God/Higher Power by meditation, prayer, yoga or other body work, or within communities such as Twelve-Step programs. Many see their vocations as callings to serve others, whether they be mothers and fathers, policemen, doctors, or performers. Some experience the divine in nature or in art. Some people talk to God as they sit on their porches and watch a storm come in. Pastoral Counselors will honor the particular spiritual expression of each client, and if spiritually is not important in a client's life, that's fine, too.

" Every blade of grass has its angel that leans over it and whispers 'Grow. Grow'."

The Talmud


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