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On Faith: Pastoral counseling can be a great comfort

February 19, 2011|By The Rev. Deborah Barrett

Many people today are unaffiliated with religious organizations and are searching for alternatives for support, inspiration and growth. It can be a burden to feel alone with the challenges, worries and disappointments in life. Even those who are actively involved in a church, synagogue or temple — or those who have family and friends — may yearn for a more profound connection.

Spiritual counseling, also known as pastoral counseling, provides a unique setting to explore the ultimate purpose of life, to clarify values and to develop spiritual maturity. Private sessions provide the opportunity to dialogue in a more personal way and to consider the applications of spirituality to one's daily life and specific issues.

It can involve a few sessions or it can be ongoing. Counseling may deal with the usual range of concerns such as grief, aging, anger, career dissatisfaction, parenting and relationships. It can also focus on how to make steady progress in one's spiritual life, for example, to cultivate compassion, wisdom and the capacity to serve others. In the Christian tradition, this spiritual companion is sometimes referred to as a spiritual director or confessor. Often people believe counseling is only for those who have a serious mental illness, but spiritual counseling provides an opportunity for anyone to better utilize his or her gifts.

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Professionals in pastoral counseling work with those who have no particular affiliation, those who have left a religious tradition or those who are very actively involved in their religious tradition. They are also a resource for those who are angry about their past religious experiences or have suffered abuse.

Pastoral counselors are sensitive to the universal dimensions of human experience that bridge denominational differences. They respect all religious traditions and are involved in interfaith projects, but they are required to have expertise in one religion, which is usually evidenced by a master's in theology, seminary training or other post-graduate religious education. However, their work is not limited to those from their own faith tradition.

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