Monday, January 1, 2007

What is the Role of Pastoral Counseling?

(in Pastoral Counseling: A National Mental Health Resource)

Religious communities are major gateways for those seeking relief from human suffering and from the mental and emotional illness which is often its byproduct. Millions of Americans attend their places of worship on a regular basis and millions more attend infrequently. In addition, there are those who suddenly and desperately turn to a religious institution as a possible solution to their problems - the everyday problems that beset today's society: alcoholism and drug abuse, child and spousal abuse, family and societal violence, suicide, homelessness, AIDS, alienation, family conflict, depression, and anxiety. Religious communities have traditionally sought to provide spiritually-based solutions for those in trouble. Clergy have listened intently to personal problems for centuries, and have cultivated a spiritual counseling response to those suffering from mental and emotional disorders.

This spiritual counseling, an important ministry of the faith community, has given rise to a recognized and certified discipline in the mental health field which integrates theology with the behavioral sciences. This discipline is known as Pastoral Counseling or pastoral psychotherapy. Many who seek help from ministers, priests, and rabbis are suffering from mental and emotional illness. Traditional spiritual counseling continues to help many of these people. It was recognized long ago, however, that in many cases specialized professional care was necessary for effective treatment.

Though psychotropic drugs have provided significant advances in the treatment of serious mental illness, a wide range of mental and emotional disorders Require psychotherapy. U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and a psychiatrist by profession, stated, "The chance to help patients by prescribing drugs represents a major advance in the treatment of mental illness, but it is no substitute for the caring and concern every doctor should show for every patient, or for the nonmedical services patients often need in order to achieve real health."

For many, pastoral psychotherapy is the treatment of choice.In the 1920's, The Reverend Anton Boisen, Father of the Clinical Pastoral Education movement, revived the important role of clergy in the treatment of mental illness by placing theological students in supervised contact with patients in mental hospitals. This innovative educational program brought disciplined training to the historical linkage between faith and mental health.

The integration of religion and psychology for psychotherapeutic purposes began in the 1930's with the collaboration of Norman Vincent Peale, a renowned minister, and Smiley Blanton, a psychiatrist, to form the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, now the Institutes of Religion and Health.

The role of pastoral counseling has, therefore, evolved through the years from religious or spiritual counseling to pastoral psychotherapy which integrates theology and the behavioral sciences.

Pastoral counseling has now become a major provider of mental health services in this country, accounting for over 3 million hours of treatment annually in both institutional and private settings, offering individual, group, marital, and family therapy.