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Pastoral Counselling

By Morgan Derham.

The choice of Richard Baxter as figurehead for this new Institute for Ministry is both significant and challenging; it has certainly thereby set itself a very high standard. In particular Richard Baxter is a role-model of devoted and thorough pastoral counselling. That was the primary ministerial method by which he brought about a total transformation of the life of Kidderminster and made it famous throughout the kingdom for godliness and sobriety.

'Pastoral counselling'? Surely that strikes a modern note? Counselling is a growth industry in our world, and there are centres of pastoral counselling in many towns and cities. I myself lead training groups for the Writtle Pastoral Foundation, an associate of the Westminster Pastoral Foundation which is the centre of a national network of similar bodies. Many ministers are being drawn into the counselling ministry, and churches are adding counselling departments to their total programme. It all looks very positive and attractive. But is it as straightforward as it seems? This article opens up some of the issues which are being raised by this development.

It must be pointed out straight away that the kind of pastoral counselling which Richard Baxter practised was far removed from what is going on in counsellors' consulting rooms nowadays. He met with families by appointment (in his study) and his chief instrument was the catechism, which he applied to them without fear or favour. He aimed to lead them on, in his own words, to `a right knowledge and belief, and subjection in love to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and love to all men, and to concord with the church and one another...' A far cry from the humanist Rogerian `client-centred' counselling which is widely practised today! The use of the word `pastoral' is partly to blame for the confusion; `pastoral' implies the existence of a specific flock which is in the care of a particular shepherd: clients who are referred to me for psychotherapy by the local GP are not members of anyone's `flock', and I am not their `shepherd', though they may come to feel that way with time.

Before a minister gets directly involved in counselling himself, or contemplates adding a counselling ministry to the programme of his church, there are important issues to be considered; this article is intended to provide some of the raw material for such decision-making. The apparent similarities between pastoral care and counselling can easily seduce a practising minister into Bypath Meadow - if not Doubting Castle itself. I write as one who, after retirement from the ministry and from missionary administration, has found a new vocation as a professional counsellor and trainer of counsellors, so I have a fair idea of both sides of the question.

What then are the issues?

1. The Underlying Philosophy of Modern Counselling

There are of course, many `schools' of psychotherapy and the `splits' which are a feature of that world make the divisions within Christianity look relatively tame. Nevertheless there is a kind of humanist consensus which undergirds the work of the different `gurus', beginning of course with Freud He was heavily influenced by 19th century scientific secularism, and the theme continues on through Rogers, Skinner, Perls and others. For example, Albert Ellis, founder of Rational-Emotive Therapy', which is gaining ground just now, declares, 'I do not, as a psychologist, believe that we can have any absolute, final or God-given standards of morals or ethics'. More than that, within some schools of thought religion of any kind is seen as a hindrance rather than a help; it is said to get in the way of the client's ability to face reality (it sometimes does, of course). Virtually all counsellors, christian or not, have to take on board the basic concepts of humanistic psychology as part of their training; even Frank Lake's Clinical Theology, an avowedly christian system, incorporates the psychodynamic theories of the neo-Freudians, including Klein, Winnicott and Fairbaim. If a minister intends to encourage a member of his flock to train in psychotherapy with a view to operating as part of the church team, he should take into account the fact that the person concerned needs to have the spiritual maturity and biblical understanding to enable him or her to cope with strong and subtle challenges to faith. And ministers themselves should remember what Paul has to say about those who `think they stand'.

2. The Radically Different Goal of Modern Counselling

There was no doubt about what Richard Baxter's aim was in his dealings with people (see above), and it still holds good for the ministry today. But what is the aim of counselling today? Val Potter, an experienced Christian counsellor, puts it thus: `To enable their clients to reach a state of emotional health from which they can live more creatively'- a definition which would probably be accepted by very many therapists. At once we observe a significant omission-it sees life as a two-dimensional affair and no more. A favourite description of the process is Rogers' `non-directive, client-centred' approach as part of the overall helping process; it can be a very effective way of opening up a person to the realities of his or her experience.

But the phrase `non-directive' is deceptive. It suggests that the counsellor is not in any way imposing his or her views on the client. But is this really so? In actual fact even the secular counsellor is not

value-free; it is simply that the counsellor is accepting and subtly promoting the prevailing values of a liberal and utilitarian society. A good test case arises when a marriage is threatened with break-up; is the counsellor's primary aim to preserve the marriage or to ease the pain of the break-up? Is marriage understood as a human contract or a sacrament? This is not to say that break-up may not have to be accepted as inevitable, but the two different approaches surely affect the counselling process. `Acceptance' is the in-word; but it is more loaded with judgement than appears at first sight; `I accept' may well be taken as meaning `I approve', and that is judgemental. `Be ye reconciled to God' cannot really be equated with `Be ye reconciled to contemporary cultural norms'.

3. The Processes of Modern Counselling

The basic assumption of humanist psychology is that the resources for a person's `healing' lie within that person, and cannot be injected from outside. With that in mind, the task is to `open up' the person's understanding of themselves, to make connections between the present symptoms and past experiences, going back to infancy (or in the case of Frank Lake's `maternal-foetal distress syndrome', to the womb) by various means: the interpreting of dreams; free association; re-living primal experiences. The therapist probes the unconscious for clues as to where the roots of the trouble lie. Some of the more recent schools of thought, such as the rational-emotive, are much more directive. As Ellis puts it, he uses `techniques of confrontation, confutation, de-indoctrination, and re-education'. But the basic assumption in them all is that the therapist's task is to open the way for the client's own corrective or healing potential to be released. Hypnosis offers a deceptively quick and direct way to reach those hidden depths. Over and above all this, however, the Christian therapist is aware of resources beyond his own and maybe as yet unfamiliar to the client - resources in God made available in his word and through his Spirit. This fundamental difference is bound to affect his work. It can be looked at another way with a comment of Gill Russell's, `Counsellor and client can assume that because they know something about how to take the mechanism apart, they can make it go.' In fact my experience as a therapist leads me to say that `taking it apart' is the easy part of the task; `making it go' is very much more difficult. All this may sound very negative, but it is not meant to be so. My aim is to show the importance of defining of boundaries and

holding to them. As a therapist working as part of a GP practice, I operate mainly in the secular mode; I have no right to impose my specifically Christian viewpoint on my clients, any more than the doctor does when they go to him for treatment. (Even so there nearly always come moments when it is appropriate to introduce some `three-dimensional' thinking, and that can be very rewarding.) But if I were operating in a specifically Christian setting, such as a church's Drop-in' centre, I would assume that those who came for

help knew where they were and what to expect. Their very coming is a tacit acceptance of the Christian intention of the counsellor. In fact, expectations are a major factor in this whole matter. I prefer not to do personal counselling for patients of our local GP in his Medical Centre, because I feel that the expectations with which they go to see him are so different from those which apply to the counselling relationship (I don't deal in `medicines' or `cures') that it is-important to keep them separate.

So what special considerations affect a counselling ministry in a church setting.

First, I believe, counselling should not be done by the minister. His ministry as a Christian pastor is a distinctive one, with spiritual concerns controlling the way he deals with people. It may help us if we note the difference between `wholeness' and 'holiness'. The secular counsellor aims at wholeness,

Which is fair enough; but the christian pastor is concerned for holiness, which is a very different objective, though it may well include wholeness. And it should certainly lot be done by well-meaning but untrained members of a his church. There are pitfalls in plenty - in this world, and counsellor and client can be badly damaged by unskilled intervention. There are plenty of training courses available, so there is no excuse. And those who do the counselling must be regularly supervised by an experienced (and preferably qualified) person.

Second, firm boundaries of responsibility must be established, particularly in order that absolute confidentiality may be observed. Church communities are notorious for gossip, and if there is any hint of `leakage', the counselling relationship is undermined. Not even the pastor has the right to know what goes on in the counselling relationship; the only exception to this rule is, of course, the counsellor's supervisor. `All secrets and no secrets' is the rule-all that goes on between counsellor and client is confidential to them alone; but between them there are to be no secrets; everything must be open to view. It is important that deacons and elders are given firm guidance on this matter; they must not put the counsellor under pressure to discuss particular cases.

Third, any publicity that is given to the project must be very carefully worded so that people's expectations are not distorted. Thus, if it is a `Christian' counselling service aimed at meeting the needs of the church family and those who are seeking specifically Christian guidance, this should be made plain. And since this is in any case very much part of the pastor's domain, he should be kept in touch with what is going on. This need not break the confidentiality rule mentioned above; the counsellor can get permission from the client to `inform the minister that we are having sessions, and let him know what the basic problem is, without going into details'.

If the counselling service is planned as a service to the community in general -and such a service can be a very useful outworking of a Christian concern-it should be made clear that it is not an evangelistic programme designed to make converts, and that people are not going to be pressured; moreover, the counsellor or counsellors may need to be protected from zealous church members whose understanding of the doctrine of common grace is a little deficient (!), and who are looking for `results'.

In short, I am positing a distinction between a 'christian counsellor' and a 'counsellor who is a Christian'. One person may well operate in both roles, but not at the same time, and he or she needs to be aware of the boundaries.

In all the above I have assumed that there will be a counselling process which makes some attempt to diagnose the psycho-spiritual causes which lie behind the client's condition; this means that we have not considered the outright `charismatic' approach to neurotic illness which plunges straight in with laying on of hands and expectation of miraculous deliverance; or which, in its more extreme forms, attributes all such ills to various forms of demonic activity and specialises in casting out evil spirits. Those who believe in and practise such `healings' are not likely to be troubled by the kind of issues which we have been considering above. They may well have problems with their `failures', who tend to find their way into the consulting rooms of more earthbound counsellors, but that is not an issue which can be dealt with in this article.

The emergence of the Association of Christian Counsellors has provided a useful resource for those who are interested in specifically Christian counselling; it may be contacted at Kings House, 175 Wokingham Road, Reading, Berkshire RG6 1LU. For those interested in counselling in the wider context, the appropriate body is the Association for Pastoral Care and Counselling which can be contacted c/o British Association for Counselling, 1 Regent Place, Rugby, Warwickshire. CV21 2PJ. Information about training courses is available from either of these bodies. And for a well-informed appraisal of the different `schools' of therapy looked at from a sympathetic Christian point of view, Roger Hurding's book `Roots and Shoots', published by Hodder and Stoughton (1986) is particularly valuable.

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You are reading Pastoral Counselling by Morgan Derham, part of Issue 2 of Ministry Today, published in September 1994.

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