What to Expect in Counseling


By Rev. Dr. Curt Keller

PCC Board Member
Seminaries tend to expect graduates to have taken at least a basic course in pastoral care and/or counseling. I am sure that much of what is taught in such classes have changed since I took one a few years ago. Providing counseling from the position of a pastor tends to be different than that of those who are professional counselors. And the practice of counseling/therapy has been changing over the years. What has pushed most of these changes is a focus within the field of using evidence based practices. This means that there has been a large focus on using techniques that have been proven to work in clinical trials rather than that which is based on theory and should work according to the theory. Brain research has also been helpful to show what can work and what will probably not be effective.
Older counseling models were designed so that the first few sessions were so that the counselor/therapist and the clients would get to know each other and have a connection so that the real work could begin. Often it was labeled as building trust. However, today models are used that start with the real work in the first session with an expectation that positive change in the lives can begin quickly. It is no longer assumed that it took years to get to where we are and it can take years to change. We may have had a life time to get to where we are, but we do not need another lifetime to change.
In our clergy assistance program, like in most therapy programs, the client can expect to not only meet the therapist/counselor during the first session and begin building some trust, but can expect that the counselor will begin helping the client make changes during the first session. Clients should not be using this program with the attitude that we only have 6 sessions and what can be done within those six sessions, rather the attitude should be that we have 6 sessions and hopefully we will not need to use them. Counseling is an interactive intervention. I have worked with several different employee assistance programs (another name for our CAP) which had fewer than 6 sessions available to the employees and it is amazing how much can be accomplished in just a few sessions when all involved set a goal of trying to get the presenting issue resolved in those few sessions. You should expect a counselor who wants to help you resolve your issues as quickly as possible who will be asking you to do certain things to help you achieve the changes you want. The assignments will attempt to help make positive changes that will continue well after the therapy is finished.
One of the mistakes that we can make going into the therapy setting is thinking that we have the answers as to what needs to be done. If we had the answers, we would not need to go to therapy. Counselors are trained to listen to us, but look for other solutions than what the client brings into therapy, because if the client had the answers the issues would have been resolved long ago. Not all counselors will be a good match for all clients, even though counselors and therapists are trained to work with all people. Sometimes it just does not work, but remember that this tends to be the exception not the rule.
Sometimes clients are looking for specific types of counselors, such as those who specialize in EMDR or label themselves as Christian counselors. If a certain specialty is needed in your case and who you are seeing does not have that, then you and the counselor can discuss that and you can be referred to someone who does have that specialty. However, most often this is not the case and the counselor being seen can handle your issues. Just because we have heard of a certain technique or orientation in counseling does not mean that such is beneficial for us or any more beneficial than the evidence based method that is being used with our current therapist.
In using our clergy assistance program, we should expect to be guided toward solutions beginning in the first session from a counselor who has been trained to work with a large variety of people and can handle the concerns and values we clergy bring into the session.