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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Pastoral Counselor or Spiritual Director?

Wounded and Healing would appreciate your feedback on a question. For those of you who may not know her, she says "I started this blog in January 2009 as a way of healing from an absolutely disastrous experience as a first-time pastor."

It has become clear to me that I need someone to talk to on a regular basis, someone who can help me discern and sort and wrestle with what I hear God telling me, and who can help me work through the challenges and struggles that life brings me. While I have been meeting with Mac (the pastor of the church she is attending -ed.) every 2-4 weeks, and will continue to do so, I would rather use that time to pick his brain about other things AND possibly be available for him, if the opportunity arises. There are also issues that I would rather not discuss with Mac; not because I don't trust him, but for other reasons.

I came to this realization (that I need help, that I need an additional resource) on Tuesday night. It had been a busy week and weekend. I worked 13.5 hours on Saturday, was then on-call Saturday night (and received two pages), attended church (where the special music and accompanying video made me cry), went to two different potlucks, and was then on-call again on Monday night (when I got yet another page). By Tuesday, I was exhausted. By Tuesday afternoon, I was sobbing on and off, and realized that I could not attend the very important campaign meeting that evening, simply because of my mental state.

I called Mac on Wednesday, and he made time for me on Friday, and we discussed self-care strategies and I shared that I clearly need help with self-management (such as knowing when I need to rest before things reach a critical point, building rest and care into my schedule, etc). He shared with me some of the strategies he uses, and invited me to share some of those (a small group, a clergy discussion group).

So, I'm going to use the next few months to build a support network for myself, with the hope that I'll be appointed in this area and will have these resources in place. My first step is what I mentioned before: someone who I can talk to, who can help me sort through my thoughts, and who will aid me in discovering and following God's will in my life.

The two clearest options for the sort of resource I'm describing are either a spiritual director or a pastoral counselor. I live in an area where either are readily available, and even have the number for several pastoral counselors. I cannot utilize both at this time, for financial reasons. My insurance would pay for the pastoral counselor, but I would probably need to pay out of pocket for the spiritual director, and I don't know how much that would cost.

I'm leaning towards the pastoral counseling option, but I wanted to hear your thoughts. Which have you found most helpful?
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  1. How lovely and surprising to wake up and discover a question about one of my favorite topics. Let's see whether I can discipline myself to write about spiritual direction a nutshell! I will leave the discussion of pastoral counseling to others.

    SD might be described as the ancient art of spiritual companionship. Its twin aims incorporate the deepening one's life of prayer and the sharpening one's capacity for discernment. Perhaps the most important aspect of the practice of SD is the recognition that the Spirit is always present and laboring as the third person in the conversation.

    SD is not so much about problem solving or life coaching (although those things tend to happen as well) as about growth in one's capacity and willingness to hear the voice of God and to become increasingly generous and available to God's desires for and invitations to us.

    As a SD, I see people who also see therapists, psychiatrists, pastoral counselors, grief counselors, their own pastors and priests, etc., for various reasons. SD tends to be the place in which they talk about their lives of prayer and in which they hope and expect to be encouraged and supported in opening their hearts and minds to God's movement in their lives.

    As someone who has been in SD for six years, including the last three of great trauma, I can say that it has completely changed my prayer, has made it possible for me to survive, in the most literal sense of that word, and also to change and grow tremendously in recognizing and responding to God.

    As far as the practical question of $$ is concerned, some people who come to see me pay nothing; most pay from $20-$50. When I was in a SD training program, our instructor saw payment as a matter of fairness and social justice. Most SDs invest a great deal of time and $$ in training and continuing education; in addition, those who are, for instance, members of religious communities, are expected to contribute earnings to the support of their communities. I have received a lot of SD for free, which I try in my small way to repay by being generous with my own time. My present director is a member of a religious order and a parish priest; I make a contribution to his order or parish church each month.

    I hope that this offers you some ways of thinking about what you want to do!

  2. I second, third,and fourth...what Robin said.

    I, too have been the recipient of a sliding scale for spiritual direction and provide the same for my directees as well.

    SD has helped me see more clearly the places where I have intentionally blocked the Spirit and it has helped me to be more compassionate.

    I was trained in the contemplative method and it is the listening (above, around, through, and under) for the movement of the Spirit...for we are just the vessels/containers in which the Holy works.

    Kudos to you for recognizing and searching out information which will aid in your healing. Blessings upon you.

  3. I echo the above. Not every spiritual director charges. None of the three that I have journeyed with have. It seems it may be helpful to utilize both a spiritual director and a pastoral counselor since their functions differ so much. Blessings as you continue to take care of yourself.

  4. I've gone with Spiritual Directors in the past, as well as a good Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. The combination brought together beautifully the spiritual and the practical.

    The SD reminded me to ask (constantly) "Where is God in this? and perhaps more importantly "What is God's will for you in this?"

    The CBT psychologist asked more pragmatic questions. For example, as I read through your last weekend, I couldn't help but wonder if it is a requirement of your call that you be "on call" (which I'm thinking is hospital duty). If so, not much you can do.

    On the other hand, we have volunteer clergy from the community who take call on weekends for the hospital chaplains so that they can have the weekend free.

    One of the first thing my CBT therapist suggested was that I take myself off that list immediately. "Others can cover for now. At some point, you can go back - but right now - you need to look after your own needs."

    Both reminded me of that old saying, "If I don't take care of Me, I'm not going to be much good for We."

  5. Wounded and Healing, in the best of all possible worlds, the broadest combination of healing support helps the most--a circle of good friends who understand and love you, a trusted colleague who knows the craziness possible in the churches and chaplaincies that make up our world, a spiritual director who can walk along side you, and a pastoral counselor or therapist who can work with you in healing you from the trauma your first call inflicted.

    It sounds to me like you are already taking many important steps in the healing process and understand the importance of healing work on many fronts.

    Blessings and prayers.

  6. Full disclosure: my husband is a pastoral counselor. I am a priest who is currently in spiritual direction with a wonderful SD and who participates in a colleague group which is facilitated by a trained therapist.

    It seems that either option would provide you some support and healing as you recover from what sounds like a very painful time in your life.

    That said, they provide two somewhat different and ultimately complementary ways to the "cure of the soul."

    Pastoral counseling generally follows a clinical therapeutic model, with one's spiritual life and relationship to God as a part of that therapeutic conversation. Those who are pastoral counselors usually meet clients where they are - that is, the focus on the spiritual life of the person is really driven by how much the person wants to have that as part of the conversation. This is in contrast to spiritual direction, where the very nature of the work assumes that the focus will be on one's relationship with God. I love Robin's comment about SD not being about problem solving or life coaching, but about hearing God's voice or opening oneself to hearing God's voice. Pastoral counseling may evolve into problem solving or coaching in some cases; it may focus on understanding what got a person to this point in their lives and where they feel stuck (perhaps family of origin issues, culture context, hopes and dreams met and unmet); it may be deep analysis or short-term crisis management. As I said, it usually follows a clinical therapeutic model. Most pastoral counseling agencies offer a sliding scale, as do many of the spiritual directors I know.

    Do not be afraid to ask what kinds of sliding scales a practitioner offers.

    YMMV on this, but for me, I found SD to be a joy and my ongoing accountability for maintaining my dialogue with God. Pastoral counseling or other therapy was a tool when I felt broken or stuck and needed to unpack what was happening in a way that respected my understanding of my relationship with God as well as my relationship with the folks around me.

    $$? Around my neck of the woods, SDs ask for $20-35 but will sometimes waive the fee. Pastoral counselors around here work on sliding scales based on clients' income, and the low end is usually $30 an hour, but some will waive in special circumstances. If there is a pastoral counseling agency in your area that has a residency program for PCs in training, often the resident fees are lower, and they are under the supervision of the senior folks, so they do quality work. Don't be shy about asking for a fee break if you need one.

    Hope this is helpful! You're in my prayers as you walk back to a place of peaceful heart.

  7. What a great discussion. Thanks to everyone for participating...wonderful information here.

  8. A great resource: "Listening for the Soul: Pastoral Care and Spiritual Direction" by Jean Stairs.

  9. Purple: Dr. Stairs is the principal of Queen's Theological College where I got my MDiv. She was my field education director and is wonderful as well as being very wise.

    Good call on that book! Actually, I just spotted it on my shelf after I read your post and thought "Must read that one again." :)

    The other book I would highly recommend is one that Songbird told me about years ago. It's called "Rest in the Storm" by Kirk Byron Jones.

  10. Sue, I often think of that book! I recently found and am following him on Twitter, where he is @kirkbyronjones.

  11. I saw a counselor for a few years who happened to be a former RCC priest. He was great at understanding some of the stressors that my vocation contributed to.

    Having said that, there was a time in our work together when he began bringing God up an awful lot, which felt to me like SD and not what I needed in that moment. (I have nothing but the utmost respect for SD, it just wasn't what I needed in those particular 50 minutes).

    I remember telling him that God had a claim on me more than 50 hours a week, but that in that one hour, I wanted top billing. It marked a turning point in our work, for the better.

    I like the idea of you finding and utilizing a circle of care, that might include counseling to get you over this hump, SD for the long haul, and understanding friends and colleagues for the day-to-day stuff of life.

    Blessings! Realizing that you need to reach out is often the hardest step for us clergy to take.

  12. Thank you so much for your comments, everyone! I greatly appreciate your input!

  13. Kudos for the courage to say "I need help" because so many do not want to admit it... I am seeing a Spiritual Director and her support and insightful questions have helped me face down a couple of major dragons in my life.

    If you have ANY kind of denominational support, I would encourage you to talk with someone there as well. They may have insights that you are able (and ready) to here after some distance and healing. No view of a situation is 100% accurate, but I found (for me) that retracing my vocational steps and going back to talk things through was very healing. I went WITH SUPPORT so that someone could validate my memories of the situation.

    May the ministering love of the Holy Spirit surround you as only She can.

  14. I would recommend a book also called Second-Guessing God by Brian Jones. It helped me through a period of spiritual depression and doubts about my calling. I read it in community.

    The other book I'll recommend (I am only about a month into it) is a book called "Shepherd's Balm" ( it's intent is to offer encouragement for the pastor/shepherd on Monday morning when things are at the lowest emotionally and spiritually after a busy weekend. I read it on Sunday evenings to rejuvenate me for the week ahead.

    Praying God's peace for you...

  15. Wounded and Healing, blessings to you on the journey. And to everyone, thanks for the discussion. Just last week I made an appointment to begin spiritual direction (again). Now I'm even more excited to get started than I was before!

  16. I'm very fortunate to have access to a spiritual direction program that works on a suggested donation basis -- in my case, #10 per monthly session. (A kind benefactor endowed an Episcopal church in my area with the money for a spiritual institute that supports spiritual direction for interested individuals and also hosts classes in various spirituality topics.) You may be able to find a similar setup in your area/region. (My SD is a half-hour away from me.)


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