Unlike pastoral counselors who use a therapeutic method based on a theory such as: Adlerian, Freudian, Person-Centered, Gestalt, or Cognitive Behavioral, spiritual directors are much more free-form. We generally do not give homework to our directees, nor do we set goals for them. We are taught that the directee sets the agenda. Our job is to listen for the Holy Spirit, discern God’s action, and to assist in cooperating with it. The Holy Spirit is the actual spiritual director.
We say things like: “What do you think God is inviting you to in that situation?” “Where is evidence of God acting there?” “Have you prayed about it?” “Why do you perceive that God is not responding to you?” and “What do you discern when you pay attention to your interior movements?”
During my spiritual direction internship, we (my spiritual directees and I) had an education process to go through and a steep learning curve. Some of them discontinued the process, and others never were really engaged in it at all. Perhaps spiritual direction was not what they expected? Analogous to when Vernon Ware lamented about his counselees in his excellent article “The Nerve of Some Clients,” perhaps my directees had one idea of what their experience of spiritual direction should be and I had another.
I am in my last semester in the M.A. in Spiritual and Pastoral Care program on the spiritual direction track. I am in the throes of writing my professional seminar paper and working out how I will respond to resistance in spiritual direction . . . more to come on that subject in an upcoming blog article.
I am far from having all the answers, but what I do know is that I want to meet my spiritual directees in the middle somewhere so that we can take each others’ hands, and together navigate that sometimes arduous journey of the spiritual life. I want us all to one day see God’s loving face smiling back at us. After all, isn’t that the purpose of why we are here in the first place?
JoAnn: How did you find your calling to Loyola?
Deb: While working with a special family – members of my Unitarian Universalist congregation – I learned pursuing pastoral care with greater commitment was my path. My minister recognized it before I did. When I thank her, she denies that she deserves the credit. At first, I could not use the word “calling.” I kept saying “no” until finally I couldn’t any longer. I stumbled upon Loyola’s program. It was the perfect fit for me.
JoAnn: What is your lasting impression of Loyola?
Deb: Spiritual and Pastoral Care with Fr. Kevin Gillespie shaped me as a caregiver. He taught us Care of the Entire Person or Cura personalis and – “where there is a story, there is hope.” Being present to someone listening to their story is the foundation of how I do pastoral care. When you are really attentive to the story, the heart of the matter is revealed. That is where God is! I come to it with the skills that I need and God does the rest.
JoAnn: How is God found in your work?
Deb: When I have the right words for someone that aren’t mine – during a baptism a Scripture verse comes to me that I didn’t even know I knew, or miraculously I run into someone and events just fall into place so that I am able to meet a need.
JoAnn: How do you use your education in your work?
JoAnn: Since graduating from Loyola what have you been up to?
Deb: Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I did one unit each at the Hebrew Home, Sinai Hospital and now Johns Hopkins. I have had different supervisors, groups, and clinical components and learned a variety of skills. Typically, someone does a full-time chaplaincy residency in the same place for all four units. It is 60 hours a week – physically and emotionally intense. That was not the correct path for me. I have Muscular Dystrophy and I was not sure that I could handle it physically.
JoAnn: In your work in CPE, have you worked with people of various faiths?
Deb: Yes! My current supervisor is a ṣūfī, my supervisor-in-training is Episcopalian, and I had a Jewish Rabbi supervisor. I am comfortable praying with people of all faiths. I am leading the worship service at Johns Hopkins every other Sunday, and it is a surprise to me how much I love it.
JoAnn: Do you like your work?
Deb: Oh yes! I am where I am supposed to be. People ask: how can you do it? It is so sad to see people suffering. I think how lucky am I to be able to do the work that I do!
Who is someone that you look up to as a counselor? Adler, Frankl, Freud, Perls (yes, Fritz and Laura), Ellis, Beck, May? The list of names goes on and on, but I wanted to suggest one name that you might not have considered. Jesus. One of the many titles that is conferred upon Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) and I would hope that at least being “good” counselors is something that all of us have as a goal. So with that in mind, I wondered this simple question, WWJP? What Would Jesus Practice? Can we look at the life of Jesus and detect a partiality to a specific theory of counseling?
Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) when he counseled a rich young ruler to consider giving up all of his riches to the poor, so that he could truly be fulfilled?
Would Jesus’s time with his disciples be considered a very intensive Reality therapy session since Jesus asked them to make the choice to be in relationship with him and the other disciples to change their lives?
Would Jesus be considered a proponent of Person-centered therapy because of his brief group therapy session with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) and the men who accused her, where he asked very few questions but changed the behaviors of both the men and the woman?
Would Jesus be considered an Adlerian because of his transformative meeting with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9)? Jesus met with someone who was hated, even by himself, and in one conversation changed his thinking about himself and fostered Zacchaeus’ social interest so much that Zacchaeus said that he would repay those he had cheated four times over.
Jesus broke many of the conventions of that time: working on the Sabbath, having conversations with women and having connection with Gentiles, just to name a few. So could we conclude that he was a proponent of the Existential approach since he championed the freedom of persons to choose their own direction in life?
And while it is uncomfortable for me to put Jesus and Sigmund Freud in the same sentence, I do have to admit that Jesus did have a skill at getting through other’s Ego-defense Mechanisms.
There is obviously much more that can be said on this topic and I hope that you will respond and do just that! I would love to hear your feedback and get your answer to WWJP – What Would Jesus Practice?
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40
It might have been my first year in the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland, when a professor asked what type of client we would not want to treat. I thought for a moment, and then proceeded to conjure up the most depraved type I could imagine. Several of us raised our hands to share our opinions. I do not recall any answers being validated, and as the class progressed, it occurred to me that it was a trick question. As counselors we are called to be healers, and it is not our role to determine who might be worthy of counseling. What a valuable lesson I learned that day.
Many other lessons were learned since, some tangible, and some not. Among them was the manifestation of God’s grace in the counseling environment. As a pastoral counselor, I have the added benefit of incorporating spirituality in my work. This is not an alien concept, especially since many clients have a spiritual foundation, even if they are not actively involved in a faith community. In my experience, incorporating spirituality in my work enhances the healing process. It also allows me to experience God’s grace through my clients.
Even as I offer the thought of experiencing God’s grace, I realize the intangible nature of this statement. Grace is a gift that is freely given by God. We cannot earn it, and we cannot claim to deserve it. We also cannot touch it or present it concretely. It manifests as awareness, and I have found it to be present in the therapeutic environment. Each client has her own special manifestation of grace. It might be the hope she feels at the end of a particularly intense session, or it can be a feeling of peace that accompanies sacred silence during counseling. Each manifestation is unique.
I have wondered who benefits from God’s grace during therapy, and I realize that both client and counselor do. God provides what is needed when we acknowledge Him in the counseling environment. He supplies the counselor tools to facilitate healing, and offers the client the ability to receive and integrate the treatment. Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program encourages and expects its graduates to invite God into the therapy room. In so doing, we should have no reservations about treating all clients with respect and compassion, regardless of who they are, and what their circumstance is.
JoAnn: What led you to Loyola’s Department of Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care?
Tiffany: I got my undergraduate degree from Mt. Saint Mary’s and knew I wanted to stay in Maryland. While looking for graduate programs in Clinical Psychology, I saw Pastoral Counseling, but I had no idea what it was. I researched it, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized that it was the perfect fit for me with its blend of psychology and spirituality. I was not comfortable pushing aside my faith in my career path. I discerned Loyola was a good fit for me.
JoAnn: How was it at Loyola?
Tiffany: I loved Loyola from day one! Starting class with a prayer, meeting people from different faith backgrounds, experiencing everyone’s passion to help other people, and the way they integrate spirituality into their work was so inspiring for me from my first class to my last and now.
JoAnn: What were your most memorable experiences?
Tiffany: Dr. Sharon Cheston’s and Dr. Frank Richardson’s classes stood out for me. Family Counseling and Pastoral Integration were my favorite classes. The clinical portions of my studies were meaningful for me. Getting hands-on experience with different supervisors was extremely helpful. Two years of internship gave me the confidence to go out into the workforce and know that I was ready.
JoAnn: Where did you do your internships?
Tiffany: My first one was at St. Francis Academy, a Catholic High School in Baltimore, and the second year I was at Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. I had a practicum supervisor, an on-site supervisor, and a small group supervisor in my first internship and two supervisors in my second. I learned so much from all of them and would advise students to make the most of the supervision that they receive.
JoAnn: I heard you got married, bought a new house, went on your first ever cruise for a honeymoon, got a new dog, wrote the Professional Seminar paper, and got a new job! How did you juggle it all?
Tiffany: Through the grace of God! And, with very supportive family/friends and self-care. I did a lot of knitting and crocheting blankets/scarves. I prayed and journaled. I had a “keep my eyes on the prize” mentality. Everything that happened, while stressful, was a positive thing, so that helped. Knowing that I was called to be a counselor helped me to get through the program.
JoAnn: How was the job hunting process?
Tiffany: I started job hunting my second to last semester before I graduated. Perhaps I was a bit pre-emptive, but I am glad I did. The process was frustrating and discouraging! I put out so many resumes and only got only two bites. I was in a catch-22 situation. I had not yet graduated or gotten my license. I interviewed with Contemporary Family Services. I told them I wanted to be a school-based counselor and they were looking for a counselor for their charter schools in Baltimore. They offered me the job on the spot! I will start as soon as my LGPC (Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor) certification is completed.
JoAnn: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Tiffany: I am thankful, grateful, and blessed to have gone through the program, graduated, and to be where I am now. I enjoyed my years at Loyola in the PC
Program and I miss it much more than I thought I would.
The phrase “disordered affections” captured my attention while I was reading James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. St. Ignatius of Loyola first described disordered affections in his Spiritual Exercises as whatever keeps us from being free. It is an “affection” because we find it appealing. We are drawn to it. It satisfies a hunger – a need within us, and, after a while, it becomes an “attachment.” We think we cannot live without it. Thus, it is “disordered” because it is not “life giving.”
As I chased down its meaning, I uncovered how I use disordered affections in my life to distract myself from my path and growing closer to God. In pastoral counseling, it is easy to identify the disordered affections and attachments that are obviously not “life giving” and cause harm: substance abuse, alcoholism, hoarding, obsessive-compulsive disorder. But what about those disordered affections that are seemingly harmless like watching television, the Internet, reading, exercise, work, and, um, chocolate?
So, I did a little research and found a definition on This Ignatian Life :
“Disordered attachments are those things (objects, experiences, activities, even other people) who become the focus of our desires and, consequently our time on this earth, rather than seeking the will and companionship of God.”
Hmmm. This might mean that my job qualifies as a disordered affection . . . but we’ll deal with that later. Here are some questions This Ignatian Life recommends we ask to identify disordered affections:
- Does the object of your affection distract you from your focus to be closer to God? (Only after lunch and only when it involves chocolate.)
- Is more of your time spent attending to these affections rather than the work you need to be doing? (No, I can eat chocolate and answer e-mail at the same time.)
- Do you have a fear of feeling empty if you do not attend to your affections? (Darn it . . . yes! Only chocolate will fill that emptiness!)
- Is your time spent trying to accumulate more time with or material objects surrounding your affections? (Hmm. I purchased the party-size bag of M&M’s® and carry it with me. At first, I thought I would just carry a serving size but what if it was not enough and I want more? It doesn’t make sense to BUY more when I already have $11.99 worth at home.)
Interestingly, St. Ignatius offers a way to overcome disordered attachments that might sound a little familiar to pastoral counselors:
- Begin by naming the disorder. (Chocoholism.)
- Admit that the disorder impacts your life and relationships. (Sigh . . . see the 3 out of 4 “yes” answers above.)
- Remember your desire to move closer to God and your commitment to serve others. (St. Ignatius also reminded me that my desire is also God’s desire to be closer to me, and I never share my M&M’s® with anyone.)
- Seek the grace to be strong and committed to your path. Rather than completely deny the object of your attachment, seek only to hold it openly, in ways that free your soul from fear. (I was inspired to purchase an M&M® dispenser and place it on the desk in my office. Now, people trickle in for a handful of candy and stay and chat for a minute or two.)
Ignatian spirituality calls for us to find God in all things. Even within a disordered affection, if I seek to find God and His grace, I will find my freedom and perhaps a few other souls along the way.
I am a person who doesn’t like to be around people who are like me, but instead different. I have always sought out friendships and experiences that expand my understanding and love for people, and I’m often marveled at how our heavenly Father beautifully crafted us together. So when I first began Loyola University’s career development class, I felt like a fawn frolicking amongst a meadow of diversity. My class represented a variety of religious beliefs, nationalities, sex, ethnicity, professions and talents. But as the class came to an end, I found myself less amazed by our differences, and more in tune with our commonalities – our personhood – the very life, breath, and heart of God’s creation.
Our final assignment was a demonstration from each student expressing his/her personal life path and addressing the question of identity, “Who am I?” Sharing of the “self” is not easy or comfortable for many. However, each student was given the creative liberty to demonstrate meaningful moments, persons, or experiences that have helped shape their identity. In my personal journey, for example, I’ve come to realize that my life isn’t really about “who am I?” For me it’s about, “knowing who He is – knowing Jesus.” Instead of what I know or do, it’s about Who I know and what He does. It has especially been through my struggles and weaknesses that God has proven faithful and strong.
My peers expressed themselves through drama, sand art, music, poetry, pottery, film, media, and scrapbooks. It was a beautiful moment of how sharing of the “self” causes all other differences to become less definitive of “who we are.” As my classmates grew increasingly comfortable sharing their stories with one another, I witnessed a group of people become “one” — I believe just as God describes in 1 Cor. 12:12-14. It wasn’t our stories of success, achievement, or credentials that united us, but it was our openness about life’s failures, hurts, and mistakes. To be open and allow others to see “you” — each one a masterpiece, yet also so human, fragile, and dependent on Christ — unveils all differences. We are what I like to call, “commonly different.”
It was as though God intentionally pulled pieces from his human fabric – my peers — from across the globe to weave together one majestic tapestry. Each thread so unique and exquisite, yet when hidden or separated, unable to fulfill God’s common purpose and good.
As counselors, I believe it’s so very important that we embrace diversity and extend compassion to people from all walks of life. But, beyond diversity, are hearts and souls … the highest calling for Pastoral Counselors.
by Karla Wynn
One of the things that struck me as a new student in the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care Department at Loyola was the welcome that I received from the faculty, staff, and students. However, upon embarking on my first semester here at Loyola, aside from my professor of Human Development, Frank Richardson, Jr. Ph.D., few of my professors and the vast majority of my academic colleagues never heard of Bahá’u'lláh, the Bahá’í Faith or Its Teachings. Most of the time, when introducing myself as a Bahá’í, the usual responses received are blank stares, or “forgive my ignorance, but I have never heard of this before. How do Ba-what did you say, yes, Bahá’ís feel about Jesus?”
Here is my short description: the Bahá’í Faith (www.bahai.org; www.bahai.us) is the latest chapter in the Eternal Book of God’s Revelation, and was founded by Bahá’u'lláh (1817-1892). As Bahá’ís, we believe that He is the Mouthpiece of God for the time in which we live and that He is the Return of Christ, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth come in the Glory of the Father (John 16:7, John, 16:13, Mt, 25:31, KJV). Hence, Bahá’u'lláh, is one of the many Divine Messengers, Teachers, and Manifestations of the God that include Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad.
Our core beliefs are that there is One God, that there is One Eternal Faith of God, and that Humanity shares One Common Ancestry. Bahá’u'lláh teaches that humanity is in its turbulent adolescence and is in the process of entering a stage of adulthood that includes the unification of the entire human race under one spiritual umbrella. However, in order to achieve unity of the entire human race, the Bahá’í Faith promotes these principles – which we wholeheartedly believe are spiritual principles: the abandonment of all forms of prejudice; the assurance to women of full equality of opportunity with men; the recognition of the unity and relativity of religious truth; the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the realization of universal education; the responsibility of each person to independently search for truth; the establishment of a global commonwealth of nations; and the recognition that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge (http://info.bahai.org, 2010).
My personal encounter with the Bahá’í Faith happened in 1976 when I was 12, and a neighbor in my native Brooklyn, New York neighborhood, introduced my mother, younger sister and me to the Teachings of Bahá’u'lláh at a dinner meeting that was held at her home. There, we met some people whom I thought were a “new brand of Puerto Ricans who ate green rice.” Since that night, we began attending Sunday Public Meetings at the New York City Bahá’í Center in Manhattan, and eventually my mother joined the Faith. I followed suit on the eve of my 17th birthday in June of 1981. My sister did the same in 1985.
What attracted me to the Faith, initially were not the teachings – per se, but the early history of the Faith itself through the pages of a book called The Dawn Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, 1887-1888, (Trans. from the Original Persian and Edited by Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL). Following that, my interest in the Bahá’í Teachings remained alive by the principles of the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the eradication of racism, the equality of women with men, and the need for universal education for everyone regardless of socio-economic class, ethnicity, gender or the like – all spiritual teachings in the Bahá’í Faith that others consider to be “social justice issues.” Incidentally, the Bahá’ís in Iran where the Faith was born, are being denied basic human rights and I wish to direct your attention to the documentary entitled “Education Under Fire” at http://educationunderfire.com/.
Inasmuch as there is limited space elaborate on the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the following websites for more information: www.bahai.org, www.bahai.us, http://bahhai.org, and a recent CBS News broadcast “What they Believe: Zoroastrians, Hindus and Bahá’ís” at: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7405258n&tag=api.
When feeling bad is good for you
Just as our bodies signal us to tend to our physical well-being, so our emotions act like messengers to mind our emotional well-being. When we are rested and energized, we can take on life’s challenges with ease. Feeling tired indicates we need to retreat and relax. Likewise, feelings of joy, contentment, and love say “everything is fine” while feeling angry, anxious, or depressed make us uncomfortable and think “something is wrong.”
The happiness road beckons all of us yet trying to follow that path by avoiding painful emotions is a gateway to living a less-than-authentic life. Meeting difficult emotions face-to-face is the foundation of resilience and can help guide our lives. When struck by a spark of rage or held immobile by despair or fear, we must ask ourselves: What purpose does this emotion serve for me? What am I trying to tell myself? How can this emotion best guide my decisions and actions in the next moments?
In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, author James Martin points out that any emotion can overwhelm us. We might feel a joy out of proportion to a particular event or moved to tears for something insignificant and wonder: What is wrong with me? In those distinct moments, we don’t quite feel right. There is a certain emptiness, a longing, a desire to connect with a larger understanding that seems just outside of our reach. Martin calls those moments invitations from God asking us to communicate with the greater power of our origination. And if we connect with the power that gave us this life – the power that wants us to have a good life – we know we are getting the best counseling available.
I frequent a blog, Domini Canes, where a recent post reminded me that we look to God for answers through prayer, but prayer is not a man-made action. Rather, prayer is a gift, a door eternally open to connection with God. We are both the seeker and the sought.
Our lives shout at us through our feelings and in the silent circumstances of our deeds. Your emotions will tell you everything you need to know about your journey. As you sift through the results of your decisions and actions, look at how your trials made meaning in your life and know the presence of God within you.