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Definition: Pastoral Counseling from The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

A subfield of the counseling profession, in which clergy of various types provide mental health services by combining religiously based teachings and ministering with counseling/psychotherapy techniques derived from the secular-scientific com munity. Pastoral counseling is limited by its frequent lack of recognition by state licensure boards and insurance companies.

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Summary Article: Pastoral Care and Counseling
from The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

Pastoral care and counseling implies people caring for others in a manner which mirrors the way Jesus cared for people and taught his disciples to do the same. It is not just about caring for people who are in crisis and despair, but also about empowering people to be able to live life to its fullest, all the while leaning on the hope that can be given through the resurrection story. Pastoral care and counseling involves the members of the church congregation caring for people within the congregation and the surrounding community. Caring for the surrounding community gives the church and the congregation the opportunity to make known the salvific story, which is the basis for pastoral care and counseling. In the early years of pastoral care and counseling it was thought that pastoral care was only carried out by ordained clergy. Furthermore, for some time pastoral care and counseling were only carried out by ordained clergy. However, in the postmodern world pastoral care and counseling are being rendered by clergy and laity working side by side, meeting the needs of those within the congregation who are hurting, discouraged, and in need of healing. The ordained clergy are training those lay members who feel the call to assist others within the congregation and community in need of care and counseling. Pastoral care and counseling are promoted by professionals and individuals who make it their business to intentionally care for others.

Ministry of Pastoral Care and Counseling

Pastoral care and counseling involves hearing and listening to what the person is saying and responding in an appropriate manner. The hearing is not just hearing what the person is saying but having the skills and the ability to hear what is not being said, but what is being felt by the individual coming to the pastoral care provider for assistance. People usually seek pastoral care and counseling during crisis periods within their lives. They come to seek relief and comfort from their pain and anguish. The pastoral care provider is usually a person in whom the one seeking counsel has confidence. They feel the pastoral counselor can be trusted and also that they will be able to find some relief from their pain and anguish. It is an opportunity for the pastoral care provider to bring theology into a psychological situation and bring the two disciplines together in a way that is beneficial in the counseling sessions. Even if the one receiving counseling is unaware of the story, the pastoral care provider is given the opportunity to present it to the individual in a manner that will aid in their counseling. It must always be taken into consideration that there is a story that the pastoral care counselor will be using as a basis for the counseling. The center of pastoral care and counseling is the Christian story. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the story that is the most important part of pastoral care and counseling. The story of Christ must be the foundation of pastoral care and counseling, because it gives individuals hope in the time of crisis and despair. In order to be effective in pastoral care and counseling the counselor must be willing to empower the person in counseling. Knowledge of the story of salvation is a must for those working in pastoral care and counseling. The purpose of pastoral care and counseling is for the provider to empower the individual toward healing and growth. The pastoral care provider looks outside of self to meet the needs of one who is suffering, hurt, and discouraged.


Pastoral care and counseling are unique in that theology and psychology come together for the healing of those who are wounded and hurting. This allows the clinical aspects of psychology to be used with a theological basis. The link between psychology and theology permits the salvation story to be put to the best possible use when counseling individuals. Because theology and psychology can be united together, the pastoral care provider must be aware that there is not one specific methodology for doing pastoral care and counseling. However, it is to the benefit of the pastor that training be received so that pastors can train others who have the ministry of caring, to assist those who are hurting and suffering. It is of the greatest importance that the method an individual care provider uses for pastoral care and counseling is one that meets the needs of the individual. It is of equal importance that the methodology be one that the provider is comfortable in using. A pastor or layperson working in pastoral care and counseling must allow their life to be part of the counseling technique. In other words, transparency with the person seeking care and counseling is essential because it allows the one who is being counseled to know that there is truly hope in their particular situation. The pastoral care giver must be willing to share life's experience with those who are in need of knowing that there are others who are experiencing suffering and anguish, but have used the story of salvation as the foundation by which they have coped with the situation. When it comes to choosing a method of counseling for the person in need, flexibility is a must. The methods taught within psychology are beneficial is assisting the pastoral care provider with an array of methods for counseling. Where one method will cause one person to open up and communicate, the same method may cause another individual to shut down and not be able to communicate. Listening to the person can make a significant difference when it comes to choosing a methodology that will benefit the person counseling and allow the person receiving counseling the benefit of the best methodology for their situation.

SEE ALSO: Psychology and Christianity

References and Suggested Readings
  • Bridger, F.; Atkinson, D. (1998). Counseling in context: Developing a theological framework. London. Darton, Longman & Todd.
  • Clinebell, H. (1984). Basic types of pastoral care and counseling: Resources for the ministry of healing and growth. Abingdon Press Nashville, TN.
  • Miller, W. R.; Jackson, K. A. (1995). Practical psychology for pastors. Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Patton, J. (1993). Pastoral care in context: An introduction to pastoral care. Westminister/John Knox Press Louisville, KY.
  • van Deusen Hunsinger, D. (1995). Theology and pastoral counseling: A new interdisciplinary approach. Eerdmans Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Candace C. Shields
    Wiley ©2012

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