“Do we hafta pray?”
“I’ve never found religion all that useful.”
“What’s that mean . . . pastoral counseling?”
“I don’t need God. God won’t pay my rent!”
These are composite statements and attitudes of some clients who have come to me for counseling. Here are my witty responses:
“Would you like to pray?”
“What do you find useful?”
“What does it mean to you?”
“Maybe if you asked nice He would.”
Okay. I really didn’t use that last one.
My clinical internship is supported by an on-site pastoral care department. They promote my presence as being that of a pastoral counselor. Some people seek me out because they want a spiritual component to their counseling. Others come to me wanting counseling, but expressing reluctance or outright refusal to being “pastoralized” (<–not a real word).
Life in my little counseling room is easy when clients intentionally walk with God or any belief in spirituality or a higher power. At Loyola, I’ve learned to meet my clients where they are at and talk the common theme of spirituality regardless of religion. With non-God/non-spiritual clients, my pastoral presence struggles a bit. Wanting to respect their boundaries, God, Jesus, spirit, and prayer become secrets that I hide in my mental closet.
Meeting the non-spiritual client where he or she is at is challenging because I cannot be a non-spiritual counselor. Like breathing, my spirituality is both a voluntary and involuntary response. Even if I choose not to speak of it in session, my spiritual presence is still very active, humming along in the background, influencing my way of being, and scanning the surface for a chance to connect with the client.
Sometimes, my Type A pastoral presence wants to bop non-spiritual clients on the head and say: “How can you NOT realize and attend to your spirit???!!!” My more reasonable, compromising pastoral presence has come to rely on the concept of Namaste: recognizing the “Divine spark” that lives in all of us.
Silently present, Namaste acknowledges the divine within non-God/non-spiritual clients. It waits with eternal patience at the closed door where their spirituality lives.
Namaste knows there is always somebody home.