By Chris O’Rear
The work of CBF-Endorsed Pastoral Counselors is rarely the headline of CBF communications, as the work of the pastoral counselor is confidential and usually occurs behind closed doors. We are not able to share much about our clients and their stories and we do not share photos of us doing our work. (Any such photos shared are usually staged for illustrative purposes.)
In the past few years, the profession of pastoral counseling has been evolving. The profession is now more likely to include licensed therapists of various types with specialized training in dealing with a client’s spirituality in psychotherapy.
However, those who were trained as I was, were generally theologically trained and ordained ministers who had specialized training to integrate the theological understanding into clinical practice. On any given day, pastoral counseling looks a lot like psychotherapy of any stripe.
As I often say, “Good therapy is good therapy.”
Yet because of their identity and training, pastoral counselors utilize theological reflection to conceptualize the explicit and implicit spiritual themes present in a client’s story and presenting problems. Some clients want to talk about these things, and some do not. Some of my clients have a strong church or faith background and some do not. Some who come to see me have been deeply hurt by their faith tradition.
My own view of God is that God always sees in us the fullness of our potential and continually calls to the best in us. In this way, God hurts when we fall short of that potential and seeks to encourage us to continue.
In my practice, I seek to embody this for my clients by being open and accepting of them where they are in their life. I seek to help them identify places in which they are not living into that fullness and ways that they have been stuck in patterns that are hurtful to themselves or others. Sometimes these are by willful choice, but more often people are acting out of maladaptive ways of coping with difficulty and lack understanding of alternatives. I also seek to build on the existing strengths that I find in each client.
I seek to embody the compassion of God that offers guidance and encouragement towards health wholeness; freeing people to be all that God intended for them to be. My goal is never to try to guide a client to think like me, believe like me, or worship like me. My goal is to give the tools and framework to allow clients to find their own path and relationship with God. Sometimes that movement is overt and explicit and sometimes that movement is implicit and hidden. A statement that is often attributed to Carl Jung but was Jung’s use of a Latin phrase from Erasmus says, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” This embodies my understanding of the work of pastoral counselor.
While denominational endorsement is now not required for all pastoral counselors, I have been endorsed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship since early in my training. I believe I was the 5th person to be endorsed after CBF made the decision to become an endorsing body. Being a part of the fellowship has been a support and a blessing to me in my work. I have been honored to serve within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at both the state and national levels and considered it a blessing to serve on the Council for Endorsement.
The staff of the Fellowship, the ministers in the churches within the Fellowship, and other CBF pastoral care givers, have been a source of friendship and support over the years. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the ministry of the CBF as I meet with my clients every day.
Chris O’Rear is a CBF-Endorsed Pastoral Counselor and has a private practice called The Counseling Center, PLLC that operates counseling offices in partnership with 3 congregations in middle Tennessee.