The Pastoral Conversation: Why Pastoral Counseling?

Many clients seek out pastoral counselors for the simple assurance that their spiritual faith will not be viewed as a symptom of something that is “wrong” with them. Others appreciate the specific integration of pastoral themes in their therapeutic process. Some counselors meet this need by applying “spiritual assessment techniques” that often tap into rich, new layers of insight.

Spiritual assessment techniques range from the basic – such asking simple questions about the faith journey – to the complex – in which clients might take personality-type tests to measure levels of spiritual interest. For example, a spirituality timeline is a simple tool for helping a client begin a conversation about her faith journey. A counselor might assign the timeline as homework or help the client construct it during a session, pausing to consider any patterns or themes revealed in the process. Other methods include self-awareness checklists, family-tree mapping, and faith-journey narratives.

More and more therapy-seekers are open to this sort of spiritual discussion. A survey commissioned by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and the Samaritan Institute in 2000 found that 83 percent of Americans believe their spiritual faith and religious beliefs are closely tied to their mental and emotional health. Further, 75 percent of respondents said it is important to see a professional counselor who integrates their values and beliefs into the counseling process.

Amid the increasing interest in bringing spiritual assessment into counseling, professionals also must recognize the unique nuances associated with a client’s own intimate spiritual understanding. One individual’s experience is almost always different from that of another, and it is vital to follow the client’s lead when considering spiritual discussion as a part of psychotherapy. The use of spiritual assessment in counseling is never an occasion for proselytizing, but rather an opportunity to deepen a client’s insight and ultimate experience.