Confessional Lutherans have what I would call a hate-grudging respect-hate-sometimes love relationship with counselors. Older pastors were taught to one degree or another that they are the “counselor” to their people. Being a pastor means one-on-one, make sure you have the kleenex handy conversations with your flock. If you don’t do that, you are either insensitive, don’t “love your people”, or are somehow deficient in your view of the pastoral office.
But for younger pastors (by this I mean men who graduated from the sem within the last 15-20 years, particularly the last 10-15) counseling has a different connotation. Sometime in the early 90s the LCMS decided that seminary students needed to undergo various levels of psychological evaluations while at seminary in order to graduate. You can imagine the joy that ensued among students. Some loved it. Others hated it. Some (particularly those who had worked in the business world, government or military) simply knew how to “beat it” and didn’t care. But regardless, that forced relationship with a counselor shaped the views of many pastors toward counseling and psychotherapy. As you can tell, it was mostly negative. Counseling was something to be endured, a hoop to jump through, a barrier to be overcome, or a battle to be fought with the “administration”.
It is no wonder that pastors are either envious of trained counselors or leery of them.
But what does a pastor do when his mind doesn’t work? What does he do when he walks through a fog, or does things compulsively that nothing can rationally explain, or becomes terrified of the very things that made him want to become a pastor? What does the pastor do when he needs help, real help.
We’ve already talked about medication, we have and will continue to discuss the need for a Father Confessor and to seek out the Ministry of the Church. But we need to talk about counseling.
Here are a few of my obvservations to get things going. They are in no particular order, and are really meant to encourage conversation, and perhaps get my slightly addled brain going in more directions. Talk amongst yourselves:
- Not all counselors are created equal. It is easy to get the false view that all counselors (secular, Christian, whatever) are all relativists, want to undermine and downplay sin, place blame somewhere else, and generally engage in psychobabble that is of no real benefit. This was my view all through seminary, and all of my experience with counselors reinforced this view. However, a good counselor may serve as an advocate dealing with insurance matters or your congregation, help you to think more clearly and make decisions when your brain simply doesn’t want to function, serve as a sounding board as you weave your way through the trials that you face without any vested interest, and in many other capacities. We’ll talk about different counseling methods later. In other words, a good counselor may be of great benefit, entirely apart from the Christian faith. In the same way, a bad counselor will only make things worse. Just like doctors, pastors, auto mechanics, and everyone else in the world.
- Pastors can be “psychologic’ly disturbed“. It is a good thing, not a bad thing, to seek help where help is needed. It isn’t a sign of unusual weakness or character flaws or anything to that effect. It is the result of sin, just as is every disease since the Fall. Whether you go the medical route, the psychological route, a combination, or simply try to tough it out on your own (a dumb idea, imho), this is what people do to get better. It’s okay.
- Christian counselors are a mixed bag. Just like Christianity of all stripes. I am very blessed to have a confessional Lutheran counselor. I think there are about 4 in the world. Lutheran Social Services has a cadre of counselors, and I have heard of many having good success that route. Oftentimes people that put up the shingle as a “Christian” counselor are evangelicals or social liberals. Frankly, you don’t want to have to debate every question about sin and weakenss with your counselor. Yet it’s hard not to when the come from a fundamentally different worldview. But that brings us to the bottom line…
- Find a counselor your can trust. Christian or secular, evangelical or Roman Catholic or whatever, the foundation of your relationship with a counselor is one of truth. If you don’t trust them (and that is something that takes time and is earned), then you will have a difficult time building a repore. But without that basic trust, little will be accomplished.
Those are a few of my initial thoughts on the subject. It’s tough. I know. I can’t tell you how blessed I am to have a LUTHERAN counselor I can trust, that gets the theology of the cross. But that is rare. You probably won’t find one. It is my hope that perhaps we can start to build a network of Lutheran counselors down the road, ones who understand the theology of the cross and the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which comes so much into play here.
But I know this, friends. Without my counselor, helping me to see the decisions I needed to make, running interference with Concordia/Broadspire/AETNA/Value Options, my congregation, and everyone else, including keeping my family together, and just being there week in week out, well, I’m not sure if I would be alive otherwise.
So don’t rule it out because of bad previous experience. Take your time. Dig around. Ask other pastors you trust. Email me if you want. If I can help, I will. But you all have my prayers . I know what you’re going through. So do many others, chief of which is our Lord Himself, who carries our sorrows and bears our griefs.