Is there value in pastoral counseling?
Pastoral counseling can help people in many ways. To be clear, pastoral counseling is not the same as professional counseling with a licensed therapist. Instead, a pastoral counseling session is generally focused on the biblical principles related to a person's situation and intended to offer spiritual support that includes prayer and accountability for change.
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First and foremost, a pastor's counsel can include instruction from God's Word. Once the pastor and individual(s) involved identify the problem, the appropriate principles from Scripture can be shared to assist in the situation. While there may be other physical or psychological issues that require additional assistance by another type of counseling, a pastor can offer the biblical principles that apply to assist in godly change.
Second, a pastor can pray for and with individuals regarding their problems. Praying aloud during a counseling session is sometimes unique to pastoral counseling and allows those involved to intercede for God's assistance and solution to problems.
Third, pastoral counseling can include biblical study in the area of certain problems. For example, if a couple comes to a pastor with concerns about their marriage, they can meet over multiple sessions and include a discussion of biblical concepts about marriage as part of their counseling. Through this study, the couple can gain insight regarding the practices of biblical marriage and improve their relationship with one another.
Fourth, pastoral counseling can include accountability toward change. For instance, if a person is seeking help to stop gossiping, a pastor can ask the person to write down each time they have gossiped over the past week. They can then look for the contexts in which this is taking place, offer suggestions for change, and meet together in the future to evaluate progress.
While pastoral counseling can offer tremendous help to individuals and couples, there are also inherent weaknesses. First, most pastors are burdened with far more work than can be accomplished in a given day or week, leaving inadequate time for regular counseling. As a result, pastoral counseling typically offers more limited availability than professional counseling.
In addition, there are potential dangers to the pastor in counseling situations. These include knowledge of confidential information or concerns regarding intimate relationships. Further, some counseling situations are beyond what a pastor should be expected to handle, such as cases involving addiction issues or mental health complications, and can be better handled by experts in these areas regarding the non-spiritual aspects. Overall, the pastor can offer much help through counsel, yet must watch for limitations and concerns to help guard himself and to help individuals receive the help they need to grow.
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