Ministerial counseling is counseling in a religious setting. It is one of the oldest as well as one of the newer fields of counseling. Most of the books on pastoral counseling date from about 1936. However, in 1656, in England, a Reverend Richard Baxter wrote a book entitled The Reformed Pastor. This book shows that he had a definite pastoral counseling program. He visited each family in his parish periodically. He talked with each member of the family individually. He also opened his home to his parishioners every Thursday evening and encouraged them to come there to discuss their problems.
The more recent developments in pastoral counseling are apparent from the books that have been published. In 1936 Dr. Richard Cabot, M.D., and Dr. Russell Dicks, D.D., published a book for the clergy entitled The Art of Ministering to the Sick. In 1937 Henry Link published The Return to Religion. In 1938 Boswell published a book entitled Pastoral Psychiatry. Each year there has been an increasing number of books bearing similar titles. In checking over a bibliography, I found listed books with such titles as Pastoral Care, Pastoral Counseling, Pastoral Psychology, et cetera.
There seems to have been an almost simultaneous awareness by psychologists and by the clergy that people need religion for happy, useful living; and that pastors need a knowledge of human nature and of the techniques for helping people with their problems. More recently we find that the medical field has developed a realization of the fact that religion has a favorable effect on the emotional factors that are involved in illness.
All of this has produced a new viewpoint in pastoral work. The theologian is taught that the "individual in need" is his first responsibility and that all the church program should be seen from the standpoint of human need and personality.
The pastor has always been called on to help people when they are confronted with vital needs. It is stated that 80 per cent of the people first bring their problems to the pastor, not to the physician or the psychiatrist.
From a Biblical background, the earliest reference to pastoral counseling is found in Exodus 18:13-23. Here we are told that Moses "judged" the people. As the volume of work became too great for Moses to handle alone, he appointed judges. These men handled groups of various sizes; some were placed over a group of 1,000, some had a group of 100, and some had a group of 10. This judging was not from a legal aspect, but rather the people brought their problems to the judges. If it was something more than they could handle, it was then referred to Moses.
Today theological schools endeavor to prepare the students for counseling. Theoretical courses include such subjects as pastoral case work, mental hygiene, pastoral counseling, and pastoral psychology.
There has been a collaboration of physicians and ministers. This has resulted in clinical programs that give practical experience in helping people. Some theological schools require clinical experience prior to graduation. There are about fifteen hospitals and ninety-eight seminaries that cooperate in this training program. There are two national organizations that sponsor this educational program. They are the Institute of Pastoral Care, in Boston, and the Council for Clinical Training, in New York.
The first clinical program was given at Worcester State Hospital, Massachusetts, in 1925. Then in 1927 the Federal Council of Churches set up a Department of Pastoral Services. This began as a joint committee on religion and medicine and was held at the New York Academy of Medicine.
However, real progress began in 1944, when a doctor, Richard Cabot, and a clergyman, Russell Dicks, led out in a clinical program at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Both of these men were inspired by Dr. Anton Boisen, who saw a need for religious ministry in hospitals, mental institutions, prisons, and reformatories. He felt that institutional chaplains needed special training and understanding.
This clinical training is usually a three-month course, for which the student receives twelve hours of university credit. The clergymen live with the interns and residents. This is done to encourage mutual friendship and understanding. The theoretical courses include anatomy and physiology, diseases of various origins, such as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, nervous, psychosomatic. The ministers learn that each type of disease has specific emotional symptoms as well as physical symptoms. They learn to expect these symptoms and also learn how to deal with them. Interviews with patients that have been recorded are studied. The students also hold interviews with patients. The pastor is also taught to be conscious of, and to cooperate with, other agencies and individuals in the community who help people with problems, such as doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, social workers, court officers, and lawyers.
An article recently indicated that there is study being given to the idea of having psychoanalysis of theological students prior to graduation. The writer stated that a person's own background has an effect on the success of his work, and that, therefore, unresolved hostilities of childhood color his attitude so that he may tend to be too directive, and thus thwart rather than develop maturity in his parishioners.
The minister is taught to regard himself primarily as a pastor, not as an amateur psychologist, that he is not to go beyond the areas in which he is trained. He is to go beyond physical health and social adjustment; he should help his parishioners to live lives that are rich and useful, and to put them in a personal relation with God.
Ministerial counseling is conducted in a variety of areas that touch human needs. These include:
1. Church pastoral work. Here the pastor conducts a positive program through public work such as preaching, and through his contacts with the various organizations within his church. He also carries on a program of personal work. He may visit his parishioners at home, and he may have specific hours for counseling at his office. He must be prepared to deal with specific problems that deal with death, marriage, divorce, loss of employment, alcoholism, sickness, and old age.
2. Hospital chaplain. This may be in a general hospital, a psychiatric hospital, or a tuberculosis hospital. He may conduct vesper programs, church services, and visit patients personally.
3. Institutional chaplains. This would include prisons and reformatories.
4. Armed forces. World War II popularized the work of the chaplain.
Perhaps the newest area of pastoral counseling is in the medical setting. There is a growing awareness that religion has a positive effect on emotional life and that spiritual guidance can accelerate recovery and also help patients to accept disease.
The director of professional services at Veterans Hospital, New Jersey, Dr. J. A. Rosenkrantz, makes this statement in the magazine Hospitals: "The patient often needs someone who is concerned with more than a specific disease. He needs someone who is interested in his total personality, in his fears and his aspirations, one who can help him to adjust to new circumstances and to the emotions evoked by hospital life."—November, 1955.
Another statement says: "The chaplain comes to the patient as a friend. He is not identified with the scientific mysteries of the medical profession, nor does he give the personal service of a nurse. He can come to the patient on a different level. He represents values that are significant to the patient. He assists in the total well-being of the patient."
The same statements apply to ministerial counseling in general. The pastor is interested in the total personality, the fears and aspirations, the total well-being of his parishioners. He has as a motivating factor the fact that God, too, is interested in him and in his parishioner.