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Welcome to a practical pastoral counseling site of Dr. Harold L. White

 Every pastor can be a valued and competent counselor.

Pastor As Counselor

The pastor, as counselor, performs the following functions:
He listens to the counselee -- lets the counselee ventilate.
He helps the counselee gain insight.
He helps the counselee formulate a specific plan of action.


Simply talking to a another person often relieves a person's problem.
The pastor counselor must truly care for the counselee.
Caring is usually sensed by people, and especially those with problems.
People will gravitate toward those individuals who are warm, understanding, accepting,
and personal, and who will listen to them. 

If a caring relationship with a counselor develops, people are more motivated to change.
Listening is one of the best ways to express concern or caring.

Good listening can be learned.
For example, when working with two people at once, try to talk to only one person
at a time and not engage in two conversations.
It is also important to avoid interrupting any person who is speaking.
A good listener does not tune in to only part of the conversation, and does not
argue mentally while the other person is talking and doesn’t jump to any conclusion
before that person finishes.

The counselor must not appear restless or disinterested.
A counselor must not let his own biases affect the therapy.

Helping People Gain Insight

Counseling should help a counselee gain insight.
Once a person gains inside into the true nature of their problem, much of the problem
may resolve itself.
A counselor can help by maintaining a balance between the focus on the past
and attention to the present, by clarifying the difference between feelings and behavior,
and by using directive and non directive techniques appropriately.

Christian counseling attempts to deal with present behavior, but there are times
when it is appropriate to do something about unresolved issues from the past.
Taking a balanced view tends to work best.

For a Christian, the past is forgiven when they have confessed their sins.
(1 John 1: 9) and (Isaiah 43:25)
Although the past is forgiven by God, guilt from the past may still haunt and trouble
an individual consciously or subconsciously, and so it must be dealt with in counseling.

Feelings versus Behavior

Although one extreme in counseling focuses entirely on feelings and another entirely on behavior, Christian counseling must read both as important.
Remember to let counselees talk out their feelings for this helps them to cope with
the internalize anger that causes depression and helps to bring their anxiety from
the subconscious to the conscious, where it can be dealt with appropriately.

It helps counselees to feel that the counselor cares for them and understands them.
However the counselor must move beyond attention to feelings and deal with behavior.
People have little direct control over their feelings, but they have maximum control
over their behavior.

Directive versus Non-directive Techniques

Two broad divisions of counseling are directive and non-directive.
Conventional psychiatry is essentially non-directive.
In this the therapist does not attempt to tell patients what they should do,
but operates on the principle that once patients understand why things
have gone wrong, they will change.
In this technique, insight supposedly leads to changed behavior.

Directive counseling attempts to teach patients better ways to fulfill their needs.
If counselors are too directive, they will defeat their own purpose because only decisions
that are personal convictions will last.
But counseling that is not sufficiently directive will also confuse counselees
if they are left with very few guidelines to follow.

Christian counseling generally uses an approach called " indirect-directive."
The Christian counselor should be able to recognize an individual's problem,
and then guide him or her in solving it.

Because the Bible serves as the standard of authority, Christian counseling is directive.
The goal of Christian counseling is to help counselees solve their problems
in accordance with the will of God and to help them grow spiritually.

The preferred approach is direct because the counselor generally uses indirect techniques
(questions, suggestive statements, listening) to help the counselee reach appropriate decisions.
The Christian counselor uses indirect techniques for a directed end.

Jesus was directed at times and non-directive at other times, as in His use of parables.
He helped others obtain valuable insights through both statements and questions.
His statements were stern and rebuking at times, but kind and gentle at other times.

The Gospel of Mark records approximately 20 questions asked by Jesus.
Some of those questions were matter-of-fact, intending to teach others or help them gain insight.
But at least five of them were rebuking in nature (three directed at the Pharisees
and two at the disciples).
Questions often force people to think and reach their own conclusions.
Questions are valuable tools for an experienced counselor.

Formulating a Plan

After being a good listener and guiding individuals in discerning the nature of their problems,
a counselor should assist them in formulating a specific plan to help them deal with those problems.
Troubled individuals seldom realize that their subconscious brain may have planned out
in great detail a course of action destined to destroy them.

For instance, the book, Introduction To Psychology And Counseling, tells of how
one counselee's daily life seemed to be based on the following plan for dealing with his depression.

1. Stay in bed most of the day.
2. Drink a lot of alcohol (a depressant).
3. Get no exercise.
4. Have little, if any, social contact.
5. Remain overweight.
6. Look terrible in personal appearance.
7. Feel sorry for himself.

The counselee had never thought of those things being a plan for dealing with his depression.
Yet, that was what he was doing in reality, so that had been his plan.
Obviously, he needed a new plan.

In formulating a new plan, counselees should make a list of alternatives for dealing
with their problem and for being mentally healthy.
To foster creativity, evaluation should be done only after the list is completed.
After considering as many as a dozen alternatives -- even the crazy ones -- a specific plan
of action should be drawn up consisting of five to ten of the best alternatives.

It is important that the counselee make a commitment to the specific plan and stick to it
for a period of time.
As goals are met and problems are solved, feelings will change.

In helping a counselee formulate a plan, the decision-making process must be given some thought.
The three criteria for making a right decision are our feelings, logic, and God's Word.
Many faulty decisions are made because feelings are considered first, logic second,
and God's Word last.

Although feelings are the most unstable, unreliable, and changeable standards,
many individuals live their entire lives on that basis.
Logic, far more stable than feelings, should be relied on by Christians for the many areas
of decisions not spoken of specifically in the Bible.

God gave us logic and wants us to use it.
The danger with logic is that people are basically selfish, so that without the guidance
of the Holy Spirit, people tend to choose a selfish course.
The best criterion for making decisions is God's Word (used in conjunction with prayer),
the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and advice from godly individuals.

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