A More in Depth Description

Pastoral Psychotherapy is a form of therapy in which the therapist is conversant with and expert in both worlds, spirituality and psychotherapy, and utilizes both disciplines in the practice of the art of healing. Whether the one seeking wholeness is an individual, couple, family, group, or institution, the pastoral therapist acknowledges and honors the role of Spirit in the movement toward health and wholeness. The pastoral therapist tries to help in the healing process and is not focused on conversion, or teaching dogma or getting people to believe or to agree theologically. The therapeutic task is to struggle with and resolve problems, so that people can live happier and more meaningful lives. The pastoral therapist affirms that a person's spirituality can be a real help in the struggle to overcome poor self-image and to come to love oneself, that spirituality can be a vital part of the search for integrity and meaning in living, and an important dimension of working on better relatedness and community. Since a seeker's spirituality can help immensely in psychological healing, a focus of pastoral counseling is the integration of spirituality and psychotherapy.

The pastoral therapist also is a part of and represents a community of seekers that affirms the importance of one's spirituality on the therapeutic journey and that affirms the pastoral therapist as a healer and pastoral therapy as a pilgrimage of growth.

The Client as Colleague in Pastoral Psychotherapy

In pastoral psychotherapy, the therapist views the client as a colleague on the therapeutic journey. While there are clear differences in roles and responsibilities, there are ways in which these two are fellow pilgrims, together on a journey of self-confrontation and healing. It can be a journey of mutual respect with a covenant that the client is in charge of one's life and the therapist is in charge of the therapeutic process. They will work together only as long as and to the depth that the client wishes.

The client in pastoral psychotherapy is a colleague because both therapist and client are wounded. Neither has escaped woundedness, but the therapist has already taken responsibility for his or her wounds by working in therapy on them and thus has become a wounded healer. Respect for the wounds of the client is essential, yet the pastoral therapist cannot give them too much power. Wounds can be healed and one's life must go on without being defined by the past. Both are called to grow as the wounds of the client are uncovered, felt, and as the healing happens.

It is also in the telling of the story that both therapist and client know that they are fellow seekers on a spiritual as well as a psychological quest. In the client's story, in the mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary, with all its pain, betrayal, anger, joy, love and sorrow, lies the hope of pushing through to new life, for in the telling comes a collegiality, a relationship, a trust that is mutual, and a recognition of the healing power of the relationship. When appropriate and useful, the therapist can share his or her own story as a recognition of their common humanity and pain.

The colleagueship of the client in pastoral therapy is also revealed in the emphasis upon shared power versus power over. Power over the client has no place on the collegial and companionate journey and the therapist must be vigilant in the responsible use of power so that it can be healing, not destructive. The therapist tries to help the client claim one's own power, feelings, responsibility and life. Shared power is a spiritual endeavor that each client in therapy needs to experience and Martin Buber's I-Thou relationship is a good model for this healing alliance between wounded healer and wounded seeker. This kind of relationship makes of therapy a spiritual discipline for both persons. BPI's logo: two equal persons facing each other, connected, yet separate, is our effort to visualize such an I-Thou therapeutic relationship.

To be sure, the pastoral psychotherapist takes full responsibility for maintaining healthy boundaries, keeping clear roles, and being professionally ethical in the helping relationship. But being professionally responsible does not mean that the therapist is remote, unfeeling, uncaring. It does not mean that the client is anything less than a fellow pilgrim and colleague.