When people had personal problems, only 28 per cent went to professional counselors or clinics; 29 per cent consulted their family physician, and 42 per cent sought help from a clergyman. These were some of the findings of a survey made in the late fifties by the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health. Although the figures are now out of date, it still is accurate to conclude that pastors are called upon to do much of the counseling that is done in this country. A second conclusion follows from this: the theological seminary has the duty of equipping pastors for this important part of their ministry.
In one sense, pastoral counseling has been with us for centuries. The Old Testament is filled with accounts of godly men and women who were used by the Holy Spirit to encourage, guide, support, confront, advise, and in other ways help those in need. Jesus was described as a “Wonderful Counselor,” and his followers were appointed not only to preach but to deal with the people’s spiritual and psychological needs (Matt. 10:7, 8). Later, the New Testament epistles gave great insight into the counseling techniques of their inspired writers. Throughout the Christian era church leaders have engaged in what have been called the four pastoral functions: healing, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling.
What we now know as the pastoral counseling movement, however, was begun by some pastors and physicians about fifty years ago. Perhaps the best known of the founding fathers was Anton T. Boisen, a minister and writer who during the first sixty years of his long life experienced a number of psychotic breakdowns, three of which led to confinement in mental institutions. Boisen became convinced of the need to train seminary students for ...1
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