Recently assembled a set of thoughts on pastoral counseling based on a few years of experience practicing it. I wonder... when and for what do you seek out counseling from clergy? What kind of pastoral counseling do you practice? Would you share your insights in the comments?
1) Pastoral counseling defined as counseling like other counseling, a one hour scheduled session, is less frequent than other kinds of pastoral counseling. I think this surprises pastors early on, then they get used to it.
2) I think you get more pastoral counseling requests the longer you are in a parish. People are waiting to see if you will be around, build trust, etc. I feel like it ramps up significantly in the third or fourth year.
3) This is the best resource on the most common kind of pastoral counseling, which is brief. People come with a solution-focused problem they want to work through. http://amzn.to/1UI3ENL
4) If people ask for a sit-down session that is scheduled, solution-focused counseling is typically less important. People simply want to be heard.
5) If you so desire, you can build a reputation for being available for certain kinds of counseling. Just like any other therapist, people will come to you because of the approach you take, or the areas you work on. I, for example, try to be especially available for marriage coaching and vocational counseling.
6) If I were to force rank the topics people come with, it goes: family problems, vocational crisis, addiction issues, grief, stress.
7) Referrals are great, and sending people to experts is often wise, but for quite a lot of counseling, don't underestimate the extent to which people simply need a listening ear, and clergy tend to have ears.
8) Some people won't go to the pastor for counseling because they don't want them to know about their struggles. This is okay. It's kind of a natural feeling. Don't be surprised if you do a good amount of counseling for parishioners from other congregations. This is a way of helping folks not be embarrassed around their actual pastor.
9) A lot of pastoral counseling now happens via digital social media. Anticipate and plan for this.
Finally, I would add the hardest thing about counseling is the presence of the counselor in the counseling relationship. In other words, it is less often the case that somebody brings something especially hard to talk about. It's that we as counselors sometimes get in the way of being a helpful presence if we aren't actively working on our own stuff. For that reason, I find it essential that I keep working on issues of self-differentiation and family systems, in order to continually grow as a pastoral presence. I'm embarrassed to say that in my mid-40s, I'm still much less mature than I'd like to be. But then I don't think I'm alone in this.