Spotlight on Joanne Comstock, PhD

A typical therapist’s “to-do list” is often bogged down with paperwork, case consultations, licensure maintenance, and continuing education requirements. As a result, considering the spiritual and clinical implications of her work might often come in last. But since the fall, The Imago Center’s Dr. Joanne Comstock has built such reflection into her work week through her position as an affiliate professor in Loyola College’s Pastoral Counseling program. This semester she is guiding new therapists through the capstone process of integrating their personal faith journeys within a psychotherapy context. “Working with students on the integration process is interesting. They’ve gotten very detailed about their spiritual journeys – it’s an honor to read them because it’s so personal,” Comstock explains. She splits her time between teaching, working at a treatment center for Catholic Religious, and at The Imago Center’s Bethesda office. “It is an honor and a privilege to teach, and I think it does help me focus my own sense of why I do what I do,” she notes.

For Comstock, teaching others has required that she examine how she herself blends the clinical with the pastoral. “The Professional Seminar course has impacted the way that I integrate spirituality into my work. When I taught the Helping Relationship course, it forced me to go back to the beginning and really think about what makes a good clinician – the fundamental skills that, ironically, Ph.D.s lose sometimes because they get too heavy into research and can forget about the simple caring and listening to people,” she says. “Whenever you’re watching someone else’s work it forces you to think about what’s good work and what’s not, and that makes you look at your own work.”

This semester she has found herself considering more about her call to pastoral counseling. “There have been times when I’ve felt really grounded in the spiritual aspects, but then life takes over and you’re working hard, focusing on treatment and sometimes you lose sight of the larger picture,” she says. Her sister recently gave her a reading that used the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle to describe pastoral counseling. “The writer says that she sees her work with clients as putting the pieces together – she knows their stories and what they need. But she realizes that God is the only one with the picture on the box cover, that she wasn’t actually the one doing the healing. I read it to my students because it reshaped my thinking.”

Despite a busy schedule of students and clients, Comstock also strives to keep up with new research in the counseling world. “I really fight to stay abreast of the field and read and look at research, even though I’m sometimes so tired at the end of the day. I really think that that is part of being what you need to be for your clients,” she says. If the timing works out she might teach another course this summer. “My clients have to come first,” she explains.

Joanne Comstock works at The Imago Center’s Bethesda office. She may be reached at 202-449-3789 x703.