Seeking Advice: The Joys & Challenges of Counseling

In my Introduction to Pastoral Counseling class this past fall, Dr. Dee Preston Dillon asked the class to consider what is the “best and the worst” of being a pastoral counselor.  My greatest challenge is having feelings of inadequacy to provide support and guidance to my clients. Related to this challenge is also what I believe to be the greatest opportunity, the possibility of healing for my clients through grace. My counseling can serve as medium for that grace.

I have continued to reflect on this question. Taking a page out of David Letterman’s Top Ten, I’ve started the conversation with my own Top Three. I welcome my colleagues to comment on my post naming their own “challenges” and “joys.” 


3. Value Dissonance
In my Human Development class this spring we discussed what happens when clients’
personal values are not aligned with our own and their choices do not appear to serve in their best interest. . My role as a counselor is to help clients define their intentions in seeking counseling and to be ethical in helping them make choices which are congruent with their intentions, regardless of what those choices may be. I realize this is easier said than done and welcome advice from my colleagues on this issue.
2. Lack of self-awareness
Self-awareness is a life-long process and as frustrating as it is to discover new “blindspots.” These are the experiences that provide opportunities for the greatest learning and growth.
1. Being able to keep the faith
I imagine there will be many days when I will question my abilities as a counselor. I hope that I can seek support from good colleagues and be open to God’s grace in getting me through these times.

3. The ability to both be a travel companion and a wayfinder for clients.
We are all on a journey and it is the role of the Pastoral Counselor to walk with our clients while also helping them discern their path.
2. “Aha!” moments
Just like the name of this blog, we are “meaning makers.”  I look forward to the first time I realize when I facilitated an “Aha!” moment for a client.
1. Transformative relationships
Pastoral counselors can help transform their clients’ lives. As I hope for the possibility of transformation for my clients, I know that my relationships with them will also be transformative for me, thus deepening my own spiritual development.

From Brokenness to Healing

I have started on a new path.   A few years ago, I was meeting with a spiritual director to discuss a possible change in vocation. When I discussed my interests in working with counseling and spirituality, she mentioned the Pastoral Counseling Program at Loyola.  I have been receiving mailings from the program for the past few years and decided this was the year for me to start. I connected the start of this journey with the start of another one, when my wife and I were searching for a church home. We found it at St. Marks Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill. It practices an open communion. Every Sunday our clergy state the following:  “No matter where you are on your faith journey, no matter what you believe or do not believe, you are welcome to eat at God’s table.” Admittedly, my wife and I were taken aback when we first visited the church, mostly because the openness we experienced felt so different from any type of church culture in which we grew up. We came back and have stayed for almost ten years because we love the community, and its values resonate with what we want for our family.

In addition to the openness of St. Mark’s, I felt a connected to the idea of “brokenness” that often is the topic of sermons. I grew up Catholic and many of my church memories connected to the feelings of guilt and shame that individuals were meant to bear privately as a result of sins they committed. At St. Mark’s we talk about “brokenness” as those parts of our lives that prevent us from becoming the people we are called to be.  Instead of feeling like our brokenness needs to be hidden in the shadows, I have learned that it is through greater examination of these parts of our lives and the process of bringing them into the light that we get closer to understanding ourselves and enhancing our relationships with others. This is where I find the most meaning of what it means for me to be a pastoral counselor. How can I serve others helping them work through some of the brokenness in their lives, and also by continuing to work on my own?

This is the big question that serves as my compass at the start of my journey in the Master of Science in Pastoral Counseling program.  It has served me well, along with the phenomenal faculty, like Dr. Elizabeth Maynard and Dr. Dee Preston-Dillon, and students I have encountered in the Human Development and Introduction to Pastoral Counseling classes. I am not sure where this path will lead me, but that’s okay for now. It has been a rich and rewarding experience thus far.