What is pastoral counselling?

Pastoral and spiritual care was described by Prof. Callie Hugo in 2010 as being rooted in a historical tradition dating back “to one of the oldest forms of social care for individuals in need.” Care takes place within different faith traditions or faith communities such as Christian (as does this practice), Jewish, Mulsim, and other. Prof. Hugo said:

The problems presented by care seekers to the pastoral/spiritual counsellor, are in many cases the same problems, which would be presented to another type of counsellor e.g. psychologist or social worker. These include loss, grief, guilt, meaninglessness, alienation, injustice, addiction, depression, violence, ageing, and death. The pastoral worker explores the possibility and implications of a religious and spiritual definition of their situation. The religious and spiritual definitions however does not entail confessional definitions but is interpreted as vital forces for personal and social development. A religious and spiritual definition of their situation refers to beliefs, practices and groupings oriented to transcendental or supernatural reality. Beliefs about God and the supernatural order often have profound consequences for human social interactions and relationships.

Pastoral and spiritual care has, on the one hand, much in common with other “helping professions”. On the other hand it has unique dimensions not addressed in these professions. Pastoral work falls within the health services sphere because it deals with the vital connections between religious belief-systems and mental health. In South Africa, as a developing nation, many people are caught between the dilemma of identification with a group or community, while striving for individual autonomy. As pastoral and spiritual care embraces both dimensions from the perspective of values, beliefs and faith (faith not interpreted as confessional faith but as a dimension of human existence) it has the unique opportunity to be constructively involved. The focus of pastoral care is therefore not only the “troubled” individual, but the individual-society nexus, as it impacts on the vulnerable and suffering.

Pastoral and spiritual work is care, counselling and therapy by an appropriately qualified counsellor, who utilises the dimensions of existential faith, spirituality, religion and value clarification, and who is competently trained in counselling skills to intervene to guide people towards an adequate definition of their life situations. The goal of pastoral care is to bring about holistic healing of individuals, groups and communities.

Within this practice of Karen and Harry, pastoral counselling is anchored within the Christian faith and forms part of pastoral science in the field of theology. Pastoral Science is defined by Breed (2013:6) as the scientific study of the Word of God, human beings, reality and applicable sciences, in order to find biblical principles and develop pastoral models. These models have the goal of guiding believers through the work of the Holy Spirit, to a deeper knowledge of God and themselves and to grow in faith. The goal is that they may handle life’s crisis’ with peace, to the glory of God and to further maturity, within the community of believers.

Pastoral counselling is defined as a helping relationship in which a pastor / pastoral counsellor through structured pastoral counselling within a helping relationship of mutual trust aims to guide the counselee to faith development, spiritual growth and maturity (Benner, 2003: 24-25). Christian counselling should according to Clinton & Ohlschlager (2002: 51) be a Biblical clinical process to facilitate the counselling process. It should be based on the fundamental basis of Scripture, be dependent on the inspired guidance of the Holy Spirit and make use of the best helping ministry resources.

Bearing in mind that the word “therapy” is deemed within the field psychology in South Africa as relating to the profession of psychology only, the following international definition of pastoral therapy is given:

Pastoral therapy is a process that focuses on the fundamental change of the client’s way of being, spiritual values and ways of thinking (see Collins, 2005:4; De Jongh Van Arkel, 2000:163). Pastoral therapy belongs to specially trained professionals who specialises in strategies to help clients remove impediments of the past that impacts current behaviours and spiritual growth (Smith, 2014:178). The objective of pastoral therapy is healing through pastoral encounters (with the help of the Word, prayer and sacraments) to promote the client’s faith maturity and spirituality. Change in pastoral therapy occurs through the redeeming mercy of Christ (cf. Smith, 2014:178):

  1. to make responsible, moral and ethical choices;

  2. to increase in holiness;

  3. to expect the eternal future and hope; and

  4. live in interconnectedness and community with fellow believers.

Karen is registered with The Southern African Association for Pastoral Work (SAAP) as a Pastoral Therapist in the 5th category: Specialist level (SAQA NQF level 7-8). SAAP has been seeking professionalization through the Health professions council or social work over the years. This would have led to pastoral counselling being a recognized profession with standard training criteria and medical aid covering. Unfortunately these efforts did not meet with success and “pastoral counselling” thus has no legalized or formal status in our nation, as yet. Currently SAAP is involved in efforts to register a profession through SAQA. (Extracts from the SAAP Annual report of 2015 can be found under “documents” FYI).

Both Karen and Harry utilize basic counselling skills alongside prayer ministry and work with the human spirit.

Reference list:

Benner, D. 2004. The gift of being yourself: the sacred call to self-discovery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Breed, G. 2013. Metateorietiese vertrekpunte ten opsitgte van wetenskaplike navorsing in die Pastorale Wetenskap. In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi, 47(1):1-8.

Clinton, T. & Ohlschlager, G., eds. 2002. Competent Christian counseling. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press.

Collins, G.R. 2005. Die A tot Z van berading. Kaapstad: Struik Christelike Boeke.

De Jongh van Arkel, J.T. 2000. Recent movements in pastoral theology. Religion & Theology, 7(2):142-168.

Smith, M. 2014. Lewensbegeleiding tot hoopvolle aftrede : ʼn pastorale studie. Potchefstroom: NWU. (Dissertation - MA).

How do I know that I need counselling?

There are various reasons for seeking counselling. Interpersonal (social)-, intra-personal (psychological) -, and spiritual health lie on a wide continuum from very pathologically disturbed (mental illness) to a state of health, characterized by:

  1. ability to relate to God intimately;

  2. healthy interdependent relationships with others (neither overly dependent, nor overly independent);

  3. healthy self-esteem (neither too high or low);

  4. a sense of not being controlled by family or others - without trying to control aspects of the environment or other people, that you have no control over;

  5. ability to experience joy as well tolerating a reasonable amount of stress or pain that life on earth brings;

  6. ability to experience and express joy;

  7. ability to manage and meet your needs and wants in a balanced manner - incl. your finances, diet, work, relaxation, etc.;

  8. ability to experience and express emotions;

  9. and an awareness and use of boundaries (saying no when you want /need to as well as the ability to say yes to love, i.e. to receive love), and manage your boundaries in various environments.

Holistic wellbeing includes an alignment of one’s spirit, soul, body, birthright (calling) and the offices one is called to, according to God’s design for an individual. It also involves a healthy relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit from the positions of both a “son of God” and “bride of Christ” (for both men and women).

That means that all people are continuously growing and could benefit from counselling if they have any difficulties in any of these areas. We can always grow towards living a fuller life.

What about more serious disturbed / wounded people and counselling?

Depending on the levels of people's struggles, they may need treatment from various different professionals over a long period, to gain healing. This may include psychiatric care (medication), psychological therapy and rehabilitation center care in the case of dependencies such as to drugs or alcohol. Some people need hospitalized care at times.

In such cases a counsellor can be part of a larger team, and provide spiritual support and guidance for instance. For a portion of these people, the relationship courses can be very benefitial in addition to their therapy with psychologists.

What is the difference between different counsellors and psychologists, etc.?

Most lay counsellors in churches have completed different counselling courses - often linked to their denomination or a specific ministry they are involved in. There are also lay counsellors in different fields such as addictions, etc. Some of them have some training in psychology.

Registered Counsellors refer to a new category in the Mental Health Professions. These counsellors have obtained a basic degree in which they majored in Psychology, as well as a B.Psych (post graduate / practical degree) in Psychology. Karen completed this degree through the Institute of Christian Psychology (ICP) in 2008, and have also completed an Academic Honours Degree in Psychology.

Psychologists are professionals registered at the HPCSA, and have completed a basic degree majoring in Psychology, an Honours as well as a Masters Degree in Psychology. Many psychologists have also completed a PhD in Psychology. See the letter "Finding the right therapist" for more details, as psychologists' training varies depending on their field of study.

Psychiatrists are medical professionals specializing in psychiatric disorders and medication.

If you are involved in any legal court cases (i.e. custody, abuse, etc.) - you need to have evaluations from a psychologist / social worker who has training and experience in forensic psychology.

Did you know that by law all of us have to report known / suspected abuse when children or others are endangered?

How do you handle fees, payments and cancellations?

Payments can be made in cash or through EFT transfers on the day of your appointment. If you belong to a medical aid, you can claim these fees back (yourself).

Please remember that you remain liable for payment of sessions not cancelled at least 24 hours / 1 working day in advance.