Counseling Programs: Secular or Pastoral?

Shared Counseling Program Experiences—“Something Beautiful for God”

By: Tara Mastoris

My boyfriend, Anthony, and I are both in graduate counseling programs. Anthony does not go to Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program. He attends another school’s clinical counseling program. I thought it would be interesting to share Anthony’s experience of being a faithful person in a secular program versus my experience of being a faithful person in a faith-based program.

Some difficulties Anthony finds being in a secular program:

1. It can be frustrating at times going to school with people who do not turn to faith in the counseling process (mentioning God and/or a Higher Power in counseling conversations seemed so foreign in the classroom environment).
2.  Anthony expected faith to be incorporated more into the classroom than it is. This became especially obvious when one of his professors discouraged prayer and talking about prayer with clients.

Some benefits Anthony finds in his program:
1.  Though faith is not prominently discussed, Anthony is encouraged by the informal discussions about faith among his classmates.
2.  In our conversations, Anthony has begun to discover more about the pastoral side of counseling. In his future practice, God will be the center of the therapeutic relationship between him and his clients.
3.  Anthony believes he is more aware of God’s presence in the counseling process because he has a growing awareness of the absense of faith discussions in classes.

Some of the benefits of a pastoral program for me:
1. I love that prayer is an integral part of the classroom discussion.
2.  Prayer has served as a vehicle to learn more about my classmates. Through conversation and prayer, I have been able to participate in their journeys.
3.  The faculty is committed to integrating spirituality and counseling.
4.  I am able to evaluate my progress not just as an academic student, but I am also able to reflect upon my spiritual growth.

I love Mother Teresa’s following words: “You can do what I can’t do. I can do what you can’t do. Together we can do something beautiful for God.” Anthony and I have discovered that the differences in our counseling programs have allowed us further reflection on the types of counselors we hope to be.  

When we share our different experiences and use our strengths and gifts to the fullest in whatever we pursue, we can “do something beautiful for God.”

A Heart Burning with Love

I have always loved Blessed Mother Teresa’s quote: “A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.” Prior to starting college, I knew that living my dream would bring me a joyful heart, which I would be able to shine on others. My dream was to be a doctor of nutrition. I was also an avid high school runner, so I looked at many different colleges based on my future career interest and my running passion. Loyola was the last of twelve schools that I explored, and despite the school not having a nutrition major and it being too late to explore an athletic scholarship, Loyola College just felt like home. I remember following the student tour guide on a sunny spring day with a cool gentle breeze and just feeling very at peace with myself and one with God. After a short tour, I already knew the campus; I knew the campus because in my heart I knew it was going to be my new home.

After graduating from Loyola University Maryland last May, I can proudly say that Loyola is still my home as a graduate student. I pursued a different path in my undergraduate education shifting from a Biology major to an Interdisciplinary Writing/Biology major, as well as a Theology major. I felt blessed enough to have had many friends and even a close mentor and role model come to me in college when going through trying and difficult times saying that of all people they could talk to, they felt comfortable talking to me. Further, they felt warmed talking to me because of how important faith is to me; thus, they felt that by talking to me, they could incorporate faith into whatever they were going through.  

God’s light and love were truly working through me while listening to my friends and mentor and encouraging them because I not only enjoyed being on the journey with my friends and mentor, but I also felt closely connected to God seeing Him in the experiences. I thought that with studying Biology, Writing, and Theology in college, I would pursue a career in one of those strict disciplines. However, God had other plans, which I am so thankful for.

About the same time I was enjoying being there for my friends and mentor, I heard about Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program. When I saw in the brochure that this Pastoral program was advertised as a “journey” and a “calling,” I felt a pull in my heart that God was leading me on a new path in my life—not as a nutritionist, biologist, theologian, or even an all-star runner, but as a pastoral counselor—a path in which I could use my gifts of being empathetic, restorative, caring and a good listener—a path in which I could live my faith by serving others.

I am so blessed to still call Loyola my home being a graduate student, but I am even more blessed to call the journey in Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program my heart—my heart filled with joy.