It is a common impression that Pastoral Counseling is something new—a new dimension in the work of the ministry. In some ways it is new, but essentially it is as old as the Church. Pastors have always been concerned about the problems of their individual congregants. The minister occupies a unique position in the lives of his people. He is a significant person at many important stages of their lives, from birth and baptism, through confirmation and marriage, to their last sickness and death. His office and function are conducive to the establishment of an intimate bond with his people on the deeper level, and it is quite natural that they should turn to him when troubles arise, when sickness brings anxiety, when guilt burdens the heart, when a marriage becomes shaky, when children cause parental concern, and so many more “natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Fast Tempo And Isolation

Several reasons may be given for a growing emphasis on pastoral counseling. Most commonly suggested is the tempo of modern life. We are living at too fast a pace, life is anything but leisurely, and we are caught in a mad whirl. The individual is moving so fast and is distracted in so many ways that the bond with his fellow man, which makes for greater stability, is weakened. His fast pace isolates him, gives him less opportunity for interpersonal living, less opportunity for the discipline and growth inherent in community with others. The individual is less a concern of society because society itself has lost so much of its cohesion, being composed of fast-moving individuals.

A person may feel less social restraint, may feel more of what he calls “freedom to live his own life,” but the result is also more isolation. An unwed mother or a divorcee may be less censured in modern society not because society has learned to be more compassionate, but rather because society cares less, has less compassion, has not learned the unstrained quality of mercy, and has no genuine concern for the individual. More hospitals, clinics, social agencies do not necessarily mean that society has a greater concern for its members as human beings. Its motivation may be economic. It is cheaper to help people before or in the early stages of their breakdown than to have them as permanent unproductive burdens. It is a characteristic of modern Western culture that greater individual freedom has also brought greater individual isolation. Interpersonal relations have broken down, and the result is loneliness. Our materialistic hopes, too, are shaky as we think of increasing inflation and greater longevity, if a catastrophe does not destroy us. A person still has to live with himself, and it is there in his inner conflicts that the need for counseling exists. Our divorce rate, alcoholism, juvenile problems, anxieties of every sort, the census of our prisons and mental hospitals all tell the story of the individual’s struggle in the complex society of this generation.

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Influence Of Freud

Another reason for the growth of Pastoral Counseling are the new insights and techniques of psychology and psychiatry. Careful study and research are directed toward a better understanding of man and his society, the way a human personality develops, the interaction with his culture, the tension inherent in growing up, the meaning of behavior, and the influence of unconscious forces. Much of the impetus for this study of the human psyche is undoubtedly due to the influence of Sigmund Freud. While his views were unacceptable to his scientific colleagues as well as to the Christian community of his day, they have stimulated a great deal of thought and research in the study of man. His avowed irreligion and his “discoveries” of infant sexuality met insurmountable barriers in the moral tone and thought patterns of his time. But it is now generally recognized by religious leaders as well as those in the psychiatric professions that Freud made important contributions to the understanding of man and his problems in life.

Psycho-analysis does not have all the right answers, nor can it solve all problems (many cannot afford this type of service anyway), but it does have some answers and has taught some techniques for helping man in trouble with himself. Freud modified both his own theories and techniques, and this modifying process is continuing after Freud. Orthodox analysis with its sexualized unconscious, Oedipus complex, analyst’s couch, and so forth, is gradually giving way to new theories and techniques. The minister can learn some things from the analyst, especially the importance of listening, of trying to understand a fellow man, to feel with him, to make available to him an accepting heart, a warmth to which he can relate and with which he can feel community, a bond to decrease his isolation and loneliness, and a “healthy” human ally who enters the struggle with him.

Era Of Social Gospel

Another reason for the new emphasis on Pastoral Counseling is the continuing shift away from preaching. In former times preaching was the minister’s first duty. His primary calling was the preaching and teaching of the Bible, the infallible Word of God. While he was always the pastor, the shepherd of souls, this function was subordinate to his authoritative declaration of the truth of God in the tradition of the prophets and apostles. At the turn of the century, under the influence of a new vogue in philosophy and theology, the church and the minister began to develop a greater interest in man’s present life situation. It was the era of the social gospel, and it is still very much with us. The shift in emphasis was away from theology toward sociology. The slogan was, “Christianity is a life, not a doctrine.” The church became less concerned with the cleansing power of the Gospel, and more concerned with the cleansing power of a good broom. The slums, saloons, and other areas of social filth had to be cleaned up so that man would have a chance to develop his “natural potential as a child of God.” The “kingdom of God” was defined in terms of the earthly good life, and it was to be built here and now. This interest in community betterment is good in itself but, from an evangelical viewpoint, it is evil insofar as it becomes a substitute for the preaching of the Gospel.

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It is only a small step from this interest in the community as a whole and its problems to an interest in the individual of the community and his problems. In fact, this step is inevitable as a further implimentation of the social gospel; and with the new developments in psychology, this dealing with the individual has become a big new field for pastoral activity. Of this, too, it must be said that it is good insofar as it is not a substitute for the preaching of the Gospel.

Mental Illness

It is well known that many patients who come to a physician do not have a physical disorder as the primary cause of their symptoms. While the physical symptoms, such as peptic ulcer, colitis, asthma, and migraine need medical treatment, the real cause of trouble is inner conflict, emotional upheaval, and immaturity. These patients need more than medicine or surgery. Then there are those who are sure they have cancer, tuberculosis, or some other dread disease, who go from one doctor to another, and cannot be convinced by clinical evidence that they have no disease. Add to such people the multitude who are “maladjusted,” “nervous,” and “neurotic,” who are in constant conflict with their social group, family, school, or job, the neurotic parents, delinquent children, alcoholics, and so forth—and we see that mental illness is an immense field, no longer the exclusive domain of doctors and psychiatrists. A team approach, interdisciplinary therapy, is more and more being recommended in which several professionally trained people contribute the insights of their own field—psychiatry, psychology, medicine, anthropology, sociology, and religion. This has led to a greater use of ministers as chaplain-counselors in both general and mental hospitals, counselor training for military chaplains, and a closer cooperation generally between doctor and pastor.

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Proper Boundaries

The whole situation raises the problem of professional boundary lines. The minister is not a psychiatrist and will do damage if he attempts to be an amateur one. On the other hand, the psychiatrist may not assume that guilt feelings are neurotic per se, and that Christian moral standards are too rigid for healthy living. People turn to their minister because he is their religious leader and represents spiritual forces which they believe can help them with their troubles. Their “image” of the doctor or psychiatrist is a different one; he represents the knowledge and skills of medical science. These two are not mutually exclusive, but complementary and must cooperate in the closest possible way. From an evangelical point of view this cooperation is very difficult, if not impossible, with many psychiatrists and psycho-analysts because of their non-Christian preconceptions, and this is the primary reason for the existence of Christian mental hospitals. The pastor-counselor should know enough about mental health to distinguish between normal and neurotic manifestations of anxiety, guilt, grief, and so forth, between symptoms which indicate the need for psychiatric treatment, and those which can yield to a counseling program. He must also guard against the assumption that the religious or moral problem presented by his counselee is necessarily the real one. The unique contribution of the minister toward personality wholeness, integration, and purposeful living is to relate his counselee to God who has made man to live at full capacity in total commitment to Him.

Objectives In Treatment

The problem is also raised with regard to goals in treatment and counseling. The minister must maintain his pastoral function and direct his efforts toward the goals associated with his office, training, and personal commitment. The psychiatrist and psychoanalyst are concerned with helping a patient to achieve such equilibrium and stability that he can function reasonably well in his own setting, family, job, social, and cultural milieu. The social worker is similarly interested in the client’s human relationships, his ability to adjust to his own situation, and to affect changes in his situation to ease tension. Ostensibly these professions are not concerned with religio-philosophical matters. They claim to be neutral and permissive not only in the counseling interview but also with respect to the counselee’s Weltanschauung (at least insofar as it does not interfere with acceptable behavior).

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The scope of this paper does not allow for a discussion of such alleged “neutrality,” but it should be borne in mind that no one is neutral, least of all in a counseling situation where one person tries to relate to another. This is not to say that a pastor-counselor must force his own ideals, moral standards, tenets of faith, and ultimate goals on the person who comes to him with emotional problems. He must still use good counseling techniques. But this means that the pastor may not, indeed cannot, abandon his religion’s concepts of mental health and personality wholeness, as these are bound up with God-relatedness. In the last analysis this is what the office of the minister exists for—to help man achieve and maintain his most fundamental and significant relationship, his bond with his Maker; to help man to be what God made him and wants him to be in this life upon earth.

Lack Of Literature

Precisely at this point the evangelical pastor finds a lack in much writing on modern psychology and counseling. To many the goal of pastoral counseling seems no higher than that of the psychotherapist who helps the patient to understand himself enough that he can function in his own setting, and so that he can relate acceptably to his fellow man and to his own conception of Deity. In this scheme the related human beings and cultural milieu are real enough, but God is an abstraction, a symbol, or projection. An example of the modern concept of “wholeness” or “mental health” without reference to man’s relation to God is a recent study, Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health, by Marie Jahoda. Its potential influence may be surmised from its Foreword: “This is the first of a series of monographs to be published by the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health as part of a national mental health survey that will culminate in a final report containing findings and recommendations for a national health program.” Various criteria for mental health are discussed at some length, but there is only a passing reference to religion, “A Unifying Outlook on Life,” as a “sign of maturity.”

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Modern psychology studies the “existential” man who is assumed to know truth only in his own experience and action. But existentialism and phenomenology, while they claim to be ontological and genuinely interested in “being, have no interest in real Being, the Absolute, the Triune God, the Urwelt, and therefore have no ultimate reference or relationship for man. They cannot understand Augustine’s statement that “the heart of man is restless until it rests in God.” But this is precisely the “rest” that is the pastor’s concern. If he can help a man be a better husband, if he can help a husband and wife lift their marriage to a higher and more stable level, if he can help an alcoholic to stay sober, he has done a worthwhile job in terms of the present socio-cultural situation. The psychoanalyst attacks these problems on a deeper level of instinctual drives, infantile experience, interpersonal relations, and self-awareness. But the pastor goes still deeper, or higher, in his attempt to relate a person to his source and reason for being as a creature and child of the Triune God. The evangelical pastor’s efforts are directed to this life and beyond, to man’s eternal “health,” to his salvation, and “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Depth psychology assumes that the resources for healthy life are inherent in man. The evangelical pastor believes in scientific technique and therapy, but he also believes in “miracle,” in direct divine intervention for the redemption of man, for new motivation and direction. He holds with the biblical imperative, “ye must be born again,” and that in the radical biblical sense men may become “new creatures in Christ.” A new principle of “being and becoming” must be implanted from outside of man by the Holy Spirit in order for man to have “rest” and “wholeness.” The “becoming,” growth, maturing, sanctification still involves many problems and normal anxiety, and the need for deep soul searching, for the exposure of personal hypocricies and neurotic defenses. But the frame of reference must be established in which a man can find health in the fullest sense.

Faith Healing

Pastoral counselors must take divine intervention much more seriously than they have done. The charismata, the special healing gifts of the early Church, may no longer be in our possession, but that does not limit the power of God to heal today as he did then. It is a lesson of church history that when a particular doctrine or practice is neglected by the Church, that doctrine or practice becomes the occasion for a new sect which takes it out of context and raises it to a position of central importance. That has happened with “faith healing.” There is a biblical faith healing which some have perverted to a sensationalism and quackery. Prayer for the sick is not a sentimentality or futile ritual; it is thoroughly biblical and we must do it with the same confidence of faith with which we pray for bread. The bond between body and soul is so intimate that the distinction is actually formal. Man is a whole, and healing influences are never limited to a part. Health is wholeness, and in a real sense prayer ministers to the whole man more directly than medicine.

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A word of caution is needed at this point. A sick person, somatic or psychic, saved or unsaved, is not necessarily a greater sinner than a healthy person. Illness is not necessarily due to personal wickedness, not necessarily and basically a personal moral problem. Job’s friends thought so but God said they were wrong. It is true that sinlessness is health, wholeness, heaven. But earthly “health” exists in spite of sin, even gross sin. One person becomes “sick” because of dishonesty involving 10 dollars, while another stays “healthy” in spite of dishonesty involving thousands. One breaks down under emotional tension occasioned by masturbation, while another is a “healthy” fornicator. Sin and sickness are connected in the life of mankind and often in the individual. But individual health is no proof of virtue, and individual sickness is no proof of sin. It may be that the sick one is more sensitive, more easily affected by his sin; that the healthy one is more hardened, indifferent, better able to cover his sin, a more clever hypocrite.

Analysis Of Self

Psychoanalysis has taught us, among other things, the health-inducing power of honesty, realism, and the importance of searching below man’s confessions and professions for the springs of personality. It has taught us to think dynamically when dealing with human problems, to probe into the reasons for behavior, to uncover the deep motivations of which a person is mostly unconscious. To prepare himself for such analysis of another human being, the analyst is required to undergo personal therapy. He must be made aware of his own deep motivations and neurotic defenses, and to achieve the maximum “health” for himself. He has to know his own “blind spots” which could limit the effectiveness of his therapeutic practice. “Physician heal thyself” is a proverb taken seriously by the analyst, and the pastor-counselor can do no less. He should be rid of any illusions of his own omnipotence and perfection. He must be thoroughly and honestly human, while at the same time knowing “rebirth” and conversion as a genuine personal experience. He must be honest and realistic with himself before he can help others.

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Theodore J. Jansma is Chaplain-Counselor of the Christian Sanatorium of Wyckoff, New Jersey. He holds the A.B. degree from Calvin College in Grand Rapids and the Th.B. degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is also a minister of the Reformed Church in America.

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