Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counselling, Howard Clinebell, SCM Press, 1984.

A very interesting and helpful book – quite daunting in many ways, but very illuminating as to the particular pastoral role that clergy have, and the crisis points that we all face in life. This is clearly a book that needs proper study to get the most from it, as it is fairly practical. There are a number of techniques presented on how to listen and counsel effectively, and good ideas for practical responses in a church setting. These include;

  • The “six dimensions of wholeness” – Mind, body, intimate relationships, relationship with nature, institutional-societal liberation, relationship with God.
  • The different counselor responses (EISPUA – Evaluative, Interpretive, Supportive, Probing, Understanding, Advising). Knowing these different responses can help us spot any “lopsidedness” in how we respond, and also help us assess which responses are most appropriate.
  • The “ABCD method” of helping in a crisis: Achieving a relationship, Boil down the problem, Challenge the individual to take constructive action, and Develop an ongoing growrth-action plan.

And many others; indeed this book is full of 8 or 9 point lists/breakdowns.

However, I had several problems with it. Firstly, I found it one-dimensional to a fault about the role of the pastor. The author seemed to say by far the most important – if not only role – of a pastor was in pastoral care and counselling. Of course this was a book on pastoral care, so this emphasis is expected – and I suspect he is right in saying this is a vital aspect of ordainded ministry that must be taken seriously and training sought.

Secondly, the author seemed to have bought wholesale into secular pyschotherapy without really balancing the need for personal wholeness against the fact we serve a holy God who depands holiness. This comes across most clearly in the area of sex, where he is apparently saying any committed relationship (co-habiting, homosexual, etc) is morally equivalent to marriage. I may have got the wrong end of the stick, and he was rather emphasising the important of uncritical acceptance of the person when counselling. My over-riding impression was more along the lines of “isn’t it great we’re free from the oppression of traditional hetreosexual monogamous relationships”, although I’m very much putting words in his mouth. Another example is actively encouraging “Eastern body disciplines” – e.g. yoga, T’ai chi, without any hint there may be an unhealthy spiritual dimension to these activities.

My last reservation is he seemed to drift off into “mumbo-jumbo”. Easiest to quote here:

The self of everyday experience is not our ultimate identity. It is a reflection of our transpersonal Self. Pyschosynthesis regards this higher Self as our creative center and essence. Making this true Self the integrating center for our being is the primary goal of therapy. The fundamental resources for growth come from the higher Self, which has potent superconcious spiritual energies, with a transforming, regenerating influence on the whole personality. The Self is the source of inner wisdom and the therapist’s main ally.
(ch 15, pg 388)

and again

Finally, it is liberating to remember that all healing and all growth are gifts of the creative Spirit of life whom we call God.
… at best a counselor is a finite and often fractured channel for the healing power of the universe!
(ch 17, pg 429).

Of course this perspective is coloured by my own prejudices, and I could hardly review a book that majors on self-awareness without acknowledging this – but it still made my spirit uncomfortable.

Nevertheless a very insightful and useful book that has broadened my understanding of pastoral care and counselling, and the very special role the church has in ministering to a broken world.