Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Hanging on a wall in my office, is a glass picture etched with the first four lines of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. At the end of each group session, my clients and I hold hands and recite the prayer together. As they leave, I pray that serenity, courage, and wisdom inform their decisions as they tend to their daily lives.

On Saturday, May 18, 2013, Loyola University Maryland held its 161st commencement ceremony. Among its graduates were members of the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care Department. As they transition from the role of student to that of helping professional, I pray that serenity, courage, and wisdom inform their decisions as they tend to their clients.

The Pastoral Counseling program offers skills that graduates bring to the workforce. When they enter the world of work, they may realize that even with excellent skills, difficulties arise. Sometimes the difficulties are due to agency culture, or clients may not be motivated to change. During those occasions, we ask God to grant them the serenity to accept the things they cannot change.

For what can be changed, extra effort may be necessary. Pastoral Counselors are called to be advocates for clients. We hold hope and provide reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As clients respond to treatment, their accomplishments may radiate into our lives. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda stated that “when one takes action for others, one’s own suffering is transformed into the energy that can keep one moving forward; a light of hope illuminating a new tomorrow for oneself and others is kindled.”  Recognizing the value of advocacy, we pray that God grant them the courage to change the things that they can.

The third attribute recalls Solomon’s response to God’s magnanimous offer to give him anything that he wanted.  Solomon replied “give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9).  In essence, Solomon requested wisdom, and God, delighting in his selfless request, made him the wisest man who ever lived.

Socrates stated that “wisdom begins in wonder.” As Pastoral Counselors enter the workforce filled with hope, wonder, and a burning desire for excellence, my prayer is for a spirit of discernment to accompany them so they recognize the times when change is not possible, and be at peace. For those times when they can facilitate change, they should have the courage to advocate for their clients. Yet most importantly, they should trust God for the wisdom to know the difference.

Our work as Pastoral Counselors requires us to facilitate change, advocate for our clients, and be discerning about their needs. The class of 2013 is equipped for these tasks, and I am convinced that the counseling profession has received a gift with the addition of these new graduates to their rolls.

Don’t Say Goodbye . . . Say Thank You

Another semester is almost over and the familiar routine begins. The furious rush to finish all papers, projects, and assignments that you knew about from week one. Then, that oft-repeated vow: that you will never wait so late start . . . again. The perfunctory filling out of class evaluations that you know you should spend more time on, but you don’t, and the lightning-fast goodbyes that we give to teachers and students alike as we dash toward the parking lot.

It is the last part of the routine that I take issue with. We say goodbye too easily. We often talk about “terminating” with clients and how much care is needed because of the emotional bonds that have been created. Yet what about the bonds created with that person who sat beside you for countless morning and evening hours? Saying goodbye to them should not be so easy. Take the time to thank them for their presence, their camaraderie, for their commiseration with you about the long nights, for their listening ear about the woes of your internship. And, of course, thank them for all the times that they agreed with you that your paper did deserve a better grade. Don’t just say goodbye, say thank you.

If the events in our country over the last few weeks have taught us anything, it is that life is precious and every day is a gift. Just like we can’t take life for granted, we also can’t take the relationships with our classmates for granted either. These are our present peers and our future colleagues, fostering and maintaining relationships with at least a few persons will produce unimagined benefits.

I have heard it said that part of what makes Loyola great is the students, and I would definitely agree. Even the students that I have disagreed with have added something to me. They have helped to clarify my voice, my views, and my beliefs and, in some cases, even my faith. That is a gift and I am thankful for it. And, to you who are reading this blog, I thank you as well for journeying with me and all the other writers as we have shared with you.

To the students I have met, the professors who challenged me to grow, and the friends I have made, I have been blessed by the gift of your presence.

I am not saying goodbye. I am saying thank you.

Deb Rollison: When Spirit talked, she listened

Deb Rollison in her classroom

Barbara:          Deb, you are a graduate of the MS/PhD program – why did you choose Loyola and pastoral counseling?

Deb:    Since 2004, I had been engaged in the work of career counseling. As a career coach, I helped dozens of people find work that honored their skills, passions, and hopes. I worked with people once they were past the disruptive, unhappy parts of losing a job. As needed, I would refer distressed people to a counselor and sometimes see them after that counseling to help them find a new job. I wanted to apply a more holistic, broad spectrum approach to helping people, but I found myself mostly working on resume and interviewing skills.

I grew restless with the repetition.  Relying on my Catholic faith, I prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of vocations, and I asked: “Where is my own calling at this time in my life?” A friend, who is a career counselor, asked me: “Have you thought about pastoral counseling?” I didn’t think much about it at the time, but then I went to a national career development conference and listened to Richard Bolles (author of the well-know career guide, What Color Is Your Parachute?) talk about his own learning and journey following an illness. He said something to the effect, “If you hear something once, you might pay attention, but if you hear something twice, that may be Spirit talking.”

Amazing! That very morning I had had breakfast with another friend, who also suggested I consider pastoral counseling. This time, I listened. As soon as I got home, I got on the Internet, found Loyola, and knew that I had a clear calling. God led me to Loyola. I always wanted a PhD in clinical psychology, but I had to spend many years in between learning that I did not want to be a PhD, I wanted to have a PhD, so I could do important and caring things for people.

Barbara:          One of the important and caring things you do is teach here at Loyola. What is your teaching philosophy?

Deb:    My philosophy is to teach people to reach out to others in a larger way. I am your co-learner, I am alongside you, this is something we get to share. You teach me as much or more as I teach you. I feel very privileged and honored to be affiliate faculty. Teaching charges me up. I get “in the flow” and feel graced whenever I am in the classroom. What an adventure! What more important work is there than helping people create the work they were meant to do?

Barbara:          How do you incorporate spirituality into your curriculum?

Deb:    I ask students to start each class with a prayer or moment of silence. In each assignment, I invite students to reflect upon the pastoral dimensions of a theory, website, an interview, or reading. Because most of these are secular, students have to stretch their ideas and imaginations. For example, in career development, we work to relate each career theory in a pastoral way and how to adapt it in a pastoral context. I encourage students to add a spiritual assessment to every profession.

Barbara:          Speaking of professions, how can students use a pastoral counseling degree?

Deb:    I was fortunate to have Dr. Joe Ciarrocchi as my instructor in several classes. He said you can do so much with a pastoral counseling degree, and I so agree. Students learn skills that transfer in all job arenas. They get training in analytical thinking, the ability to write well, and interpersonal skills. The Loyola program enhances a student’s ability to reach out in all professions, blending technical skill with personal caring.