This article by Katelyn McWilliams originally ran as part of a special edition of the Fellowship! magazine highlighting CBF chaplains and pastoral counselors. To read additional stories in this edition click here.
Dan was a successful musician until he was diagnosed with a serious mental illness. “Dan was one of the first clients I ever saw when I came to the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee (PCCT ) as a trainee,” said Chris O’Rear, PCCT executive director and a CBF-endorsed pastoral counselor. Dan sought out the PCCT because he wanted counseling that would reflect his love of God. “Early in my work with Dan, he was very focused on his own needs and had a very limited way of looking at the world,” O’Rear said. “As we talked through the years, he would sometimes tell me of a dark time in his life when he was not medicated for his mental illness and when he often used illegal drugs and alcohol.”
He missed music, but Dan would not play his guitar because he associated it with darker times. O’Rear began helping Dan think of ways God could redeem his guitar and take it back from those dark places. “We talked about how his guitar could be a way of mediating God in his life, and how the creativity of playing could connect him to God’s creativity,” O’Rear said.
O’Rear, a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, understands pastoral counseling as an extension of the local church — integrating psychology and theology. Along with graduate level training in counseling and theology, most pastoral counselors are ordained ministers. They seek to discern the client’s understanding of God and how that is influenced by and influences a person’s history, psychological and emotional state. “We seek to offer unconditional love to someone who feels they are unlovable, and we may seek to subtly challenge someone who feels they have no need of anything beyond themselves,” O’Rear explained. “Pastoral counselors seek to draw attention to the deeper issues and spiritual aspects of the client’s story. In this way, it is like Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery.”
Ministering to clients ranging from teens to adults, O’Rear counsels in areas of chronic mental illness, relationship issues, grief, life changes and spiritual issues. In the last years of Dan’s life, he began to focus less on himself and expressed a desire to learn how to love others and share his music with them. When Dan contracted a serious medical condition, he feared God’s grace would not cover him because of untold sins. He confessed three things he never told O’Rear in all the years of counseling. “We talked that day about Scriptures of forgiveness that he knew, and I prayed with him that God would forgive and comfort him. I got a call a few weeks later that Dan had died. I felt sure that Dan had died with a bit more peace than he had lived with in his life.”
O’Rear’s involvement with CBF has been beneficial for him in finding a community of support and fellowship of like-minded believers. “I am proud of the fact that I was one of the first five people to be endorsed by CBF. This identity remains important to me because it signifies something about who I am as a Christian and how I carry my faith.”