Pastoral Care: A Guide

In searching for more information while helping an individual through some difficult days, I was able to get information from the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. I have presented some of their public information available through their-above titled brochure. For further information please call John Schatzlein of Catholic Charities at 651-215-2216 or the Association at 703-385-6967.

Faith and Despair

Depression has been a part of the human condition since the beginning of time, and evidence of the illness appears even in Scripture. The Bible is a veritable casebook of characters of enormous faith who suffered from overwhelming depression. Jeremiah, in his anguish, speaks the classic words of a seriously depressed person in saying, “Is it nothing to all of you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me” Lamentations 1:12. The grief and despair expressed by Elijah, Job, Ecclesiastes, and the psalmists captures the struggle of the soul suffering from serious depression.

Whereas the faith of biblical figures was not a shield from profound feelings of despair,. it fortified their courage and motivated their recovery, enabling them to move forward redemptively with their lives. It is important that you understand the important healing role of faith in recovery so that it is neither neglected as a resource nor abused as an avoidance of treatment and a simplistic response to a complex medical, psycho-social and spiritual problem.

Faith and Sin

Some people who suffer from depression may specifically seek counsel from a member of the clergy because they related their suffering to concerns about faith and sin. When counseling clinically depressed persons, it is important for you to remember that clinical depression is a medical illness involving unbalances in brain chemistry and cannot be reduced to “sinful behavior,” personal weakness, or “not being a good Christian or Jew.”

Many people believe in the power of prayer to treat depression. The NMHA public opinion poll revealed that 19 percent of adults surveyed believe that depression can be successfully treated through prayer alone in almost all cases. While prayer and a strong faith can be powerful dynamics in managing depression, they are best practiced in concert with professional care and not as a substitute for it.

Unique Challenges

Managing depression may involve a combination of spiritual, interpersonal, and psychological care, as well as medication. While your care will be instrumental in helping people with depression through the recovery process, additional care by certified mental health professionals and physicians is often needed.

In a recent Gallop Poll, 66 percent of people surveyed responded that, if suffering from depression, they would seek help from a “professional counselor who represents spiritual values, and beliefs.” In addition, another 8 1 percent responded that they would prefer a professional counselor who would integrate their values and beliefs into the counseling process.

There are any number of reasons why a person suffering from depression will choose to confide in a pastor or other religious counselor-many people are accustomed to discussing their personal difficulties with members of the clergy and already have a high level of trust in them. For others, clergy are the only affordable means of confidential counseling available. For still others, the idea of seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist is simply too frightening or embarrassing.

Role of the Clergy

Multiple forms of therapeutic care will probably be needed to help an individual overcome a persistent and severe depression. Your careful listening, encouragement, and assistance in obtaining proper treatment are crucial aspects of the individual’s therapeutic process. After you have referred people with clinical depression to a certified mental health professional, such as a certified pastoral counselor, you can also provide pastoral care to family members or support services to help them with household chores, errands, or transportation to therapy sessions.

You can also help by familiarizing yourself with the causes of clinical depression, as well as the types of psychotherapy and medication frequently used to treat the illness. Your knowledge will be a source of hope and comfort to patients and their families. In addition, you can be instrumental in encouraging patients to take their medication as directed and attend therapy sessions.

Members of the clergy who specialize in pastoral counseling of persons with depression and other disorders are those certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC). They combine their pastoral identity with psychotherapeutic competence and integrate the theological and psychological dynamics in therapy. They also have direct access to the larger medical/psychological referral network when needed. Many pastoral counseling centers offer continuing education and supervision/consultation for parish clergy.

Pastoral counselors are dedicated to the healing of the mind, spirit, and human relationships through the integration of spiritual values and behavioral sciences.

In accordance with standards set by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, each pastoral counselor recognizes his or her areas of competence and seeks consultation, supervision, and referral whenever one or more of these aids seem appropriate. Although pastoral counselors openly acknowledge their own religious faith, heritage, and values, they are trained to be objective as well as empathetic in relating to the client’s own racial, religious, ethnic, or cultural memberships and preferences.