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The Guide To Pastoral Counseling And Care

Essential Theory and Technique.
Cast your mind back to a moment of pain or confusion. Then begin to imagine how you would tell your story in words to someone else. If you spend 5 minutes on this, you start to realize that words are conveying less-and more-than the story you meant to tell. You have come face-to-face with the dilemma confronting every client in counseling. It is not that the words are wrong or unclear (“I’ve been having some problems at home. getting angry at little things; I’ve never hit little Eric before last). Yet the story that was planned begins to expand and change shape. (“Well once, a few years ago”). Perhaps it goes in unexpected direction (“But that was right after my mom died”). It becomes more fragmented (“I never liked my mother – she drank – but that’s not why I’m here”). Unexpected emotions begin to surface(“I don’t know why I should start crying about her now”). Past and present begin to intertwine (“At least she never hit us when we were kids”). Seemingly simple facts are no longer so easy to distinguish from fantasies (“I mean, I’ve lever remembered her hitting us, but now I’m not so sure”). Before long, most clients find themselves unwrapping a personal story so complicated by emerging thoughts and feelings that they reach the most unexpected dilemma of all: “I just don’t know what to say.”

Now the road is narrow and will determine whether the pastor is a genuine counselor or merely well intentioned, but lacking clinical skill. This book is addressed to congregational clergy who have less than 3 years of intensive ‘postgraduate’ training in pastoral counseling. It presents practical guidelines for ministry to individuals, families, and congregations. Seminarians will find a foundation for clinical thinking which won ‘t have to be unearned later. Seasoned pastoral counselors and chaplains can th umb these chapters as a reference guide in difficult situations. Even so, no book can substitute for the insights offered by your journey into personal psychotherapy and the benefits of working with a clinical supervisor. As the saying goes, anyone with intelligence can be taught theory, but sitting in the client’s chair is the most effective method of expanding your personal talent in understanding and responding to others. Whether you are a seminarian, a congregational pastor, or an “old pro” at pastoral counseling, clinical ministry begins by remembering-this basic premise: No client can tell the whole story right from the start.

Pastors who remember this can grow in sensitivity and skill to become helpful counselors. Pastors who forget will jump in too soon and make a mess. If you remember your own difficultIes telling a story of personal pain – and if you never forget that these difficulties apply to all clients, patients, congregants and persons – then this book will enable you to be effective in clinical ministry. Four terms have specialized definitions in this volume: A client is someone with whom you have a formal counseling relationship; a patient is someone being treated in a hospital; a congregant is any member of your religious community whether a counseling client or not; a person is anyone to whom you offer a clinical ministry, whether a client, congregant, or someone met only once on an airplane. Clinical implications may vary depending on which term an author has used.

Ethical Foundations
When you offer to undertake the role of counselor, you are implicitly accepting a responsibility different from the rest of your duties as preacher, teacher, and community leader. In your usual public duties, you may well try to persuade others to come around to your point of view. “Thus says the Lord, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned.” But when you close your office door and sit as counselor, this orientation is reversed. Now your first responsibility is to open yourself to someone else’s way of thinking, enter into the client’s framework, and commit yourself to understanding a different point of view. You cannot be expected to speak before being able to hear. You cannot offer commentary until you have understood what contribution will truly-benefit the client. No one claims to be perfect at this, yet this commitment to openness lies at the heart of a counselor’s ethical responsibility,

Why is this an ethical matter? The second Great Commandment, known as the Golden Rule, has always contained a twist. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you does not mean foisting upon others a view that appeals to you. It means doing unto others what you would want them to do if you were living their lives in their shoes. Everyone on the planet believes that others should think and feel the way they do; that’s easy, but it’s the opposite of the Golden Rule. If you tell me a problem where I mean to help you grow in your own thinking and feeling, now I must understand your pain, your worries, your options, your perspectives – not mine. As a pastoral counselor, you can’t know what to say unless you first understand what the client’s shoes feel like. Here are some different shoes that are not so easy to understand at a glance: “I love my wife but the thought of sex, well, I just can’t stand it.” “I’m enraged at my boss, but still, she hasn’t really done anything so terrible” “I keep worrying that mother can’t breathe in her grave”

In such situations anyone could i say “Well, this is unrealistic.”These clients know that they are being unrealistic, which is why they have come for counseling in the first place. Repeating standard views does no good. Clients are never in your office because they are stupid, and to think so is always a mistake. They face issues not governed by ordinary logic. They are expressing turmoil that strikes at the heart of interior feelings, even though this is not easy for any counselor to grasp right away. In keeping with the Golden-Rule, all of us facing conflict would want to be heard. None of us would accept guidance before our stories have been understood. (The man in the first quote turned out to be afraid of his own sexual appetites, having nothing to do with his wife). The error of Job’s comforters is that they were more interested in displaying their own ideas than understanding Job. The essence of your ethical quest consists of efforts to make the world a better place – at least the part of it you can touch in the counseling room – by treating your clients individuality with the same respect you would want shown to your own individuality.

This means you must value difference, not simply tolerate it. Oath -Above all do no harm – means here that you will not take on a guiding role until you have come to understand a client’s differences. Further spiritual dimensions of this commitment are presented in chapters 2 5 8 and 10.

Getting Started – Or May Be Not
Most clergy live with the occupational hazard of feeling dissatisfied with the results of their clinical work. This is not a moonier matter, considering that an average of 15% of your ministry may be spent in counseling (American Psychological Association, 1998). No doubt growth in skill is important, but there is another side to this story. Many congregators who approach you are not genuine candidates for pastoral counseling in the first place. Non candidates fall into three categories: (1) those whose disturbances in psychological functioning are so complex that your role as pastoral counselor will be insufficient to their needs; (2) those who have not implicitly taken on the client’s role and invited you to become their counselor; (3) congregants with whom you feel a reluctance to speak freely lest your comments cause trouble for your ministry to the whole congregation. Your overall responsibility for your congregation’s pastoral care, discussed in chapters 3 and 7, is often the best reason to refer a congregant to an outside therapist.

In these unsuitable situations, you will still have various ministry roles, but not those of primary caregiver or counselor, Wisdom resides in being able to tell the difference between a suitable and unsuitable candidate. The price of ignoring this distinction is wheel-spinning: You seem to work harder and harder with no beneficial results. Your other congregational responsibilities suffer. Your schedule is wrecked and goodwill drained. Sooner or later the client disappears in a whirlwind of frustration, accusation, and misunderstanding, tempting you to draw the conclusion that your skills were deficient – they weren’t. This was not a failure of sensitivity or courage on your part, merely failure to recognize (from the start that pastoral counseling was not a suitable avenue.

Warning Signs
Persons too disturbed to be suitable candidates for pastoral counseling give off signs. Recognizing these signs requires discernment (aided by a few instructive mistakes). Warning signs come in whispers, not shouts, and they go by quickly. The signs listed below ‘may seem arbitrary, and open to debate on philosophical or theological grounds. Certainly no one means to label people on the basis of limited information. The point is that these signs contain psychological disturbances in miniature in a situation where the person is on their best behavior with you. Time will bring these disturbances to full force and wreck the good intentions you both had at the start. For the sake of the congregants as well as your own schedule, sanity, and overall ministry, discerning the warning signs should alert you to making a referral to a professional equipped to deal with major psychological disturbances. Blatant red flags include:

(1) previous hospitalization for mental illness; (2) hallucinations or delusions; (3) the use of major psychoactive medications; (4) severe substance abuse; (5) previous or ongoing psychotherapy (in which case, the person has already embarked on a treatment approach more intensive than you can or should provide as a pastoral counselor.

Softer signs require more sophisticated discernment and may threaten to seduce you into ignoring them. Do not ignore them if you recognize more than one of these: (1) The method of reaching you: Was it haphazard or thoughtful? Calling you out of the phone book or walking in from the neighborhood are signals that the person acts impulsively and/or does not have the psychological stability to guide their own life in a thoughtful way. (2) History: A disastrous work history, a string of failed relationships or no relationships at all, indicate that this person has not been able to manage life and will need more intensive treatment than counseling can provide. (3) Emotions: No emotions, an eruption of uncontrollable emotions, or emotions unmatched to the material, are signals that psychological maturity has bit occurred and will require intensive treatment. (4) Feeling slightly threatened or abused yourself: Your personal feeling that you are in minor danger, have been insulted or devalued, is a sign that the other person has long standing personality problems that will require more than pastoral counseling. The same applies if you find that the person objects to virtually everything you say. (5) Feeling slightly crazy yourself: Odd feeling states within you – fluctuating moments of disorientation – usually arise because the other person is managing to communicate inner fragmentation. You own inner state is often a reliable guide when you discover that you do not seem able to think clearly, or find yourself speaking or acting in an uncharacteristic manner. Chapter 4 discusses these signs in detail, along with methods of assessing psychological pathology .

Even after-counseling has begun, signs that can alert you to shift course and make a referral include (1) meeting 3 to 4 times and still being at square one; (2) finding that the problem keeps changing; (3) excessive phone calls or cancellations; and (4) counseling the person for longer than 3 months. There is a distinction between short-term, supportive, problem-oriented pastoral counseling, as discussed in this book, and the field of pastoral psychotherapy, which requires many years of specialized training, personal psychotherapy, and supervision,

Unsuitable Attempts to Counsel a “Nonclient”
Most interactions with congregants, including many that are intense and personal, do not qualify as counseling, and will never qualify no matter how long they go on. You are not engaged in pastoral counseling unless the other person has taken on the client’s role and implicitly asked you to be a counselor. Otherwise, you must accept that your own counseling goals will fall flat, no matter how hard you try. Here are examples of moments when you may feel like offering counseling, even though there is no evidence that the other person accepts the client’s role: “My sister’s about to go off to college, and I wonder if you could offer her some advice about staying away from drugs. ” Here the person in the room with you is making a valid request, but the topic pertains to a third party, a sister you are not speaking to now. As yet, there is no indication that the speaker has asked you to begin a counseling dialogue between the two of you in the room. You cannot counsel a problem you cannot touch (since it pertains to someone else outside your reach) .

“Did you see the story on the news? Now they’re proposing special rights for illegal immigrants!” Strong feelings are being aimed at you, but there is no evidence that this congregant wants to explore anything personal or has asked for your input about interior conflicts.

“I just heard that you supported the vote to increase our day-care budget. I want you to know that I’m angry about that.” An interpersonal clash is occurring here, one which calls for sensitivity and political skill. Even so, this clash does not mean that this congregant has credited you with the counselor’s mantle or wants guidance from you.

In these examples, there is still hope that you might enable these congregants to become counseling clients by showing openness that could lead them to express more personal feelings bout drugs, immigrants, or working mothers, and implicitly ask for your guidance. Very well, but if they don’t, then mistaken efforts on your part to plow ahead into counseling will waste your and energy and lead to no benefit to the other person. This would not mean that your counseling skills were deficient, only that no client was present in the first place.

Some congregants will approach you without being sure of their intentions. They want to see you but are not directly aware of their wish to be concealed. They will begin with a tangential matter.Without realizing it, they are trying to edge themselves into counseling, which also means that they are prepared to be edged out, depending on how you handle the situation. If you find that your congregants are making little use of you as a counselor, your counseling ministry will double if you follow this maxim: A congregant who disguises the wish to begin counseling will drop this disguise and enter counseling provided you (1) make no comments about the overt issue (e.g. immigrants; daycare); and (2) restrict your comments to feelings they have and your interest in hearing more. No matter what external issue or third party arises as the opening topic, focus your replies on the feelings of the person who is in the room:

“My sister’s about to go off to college, and I wonder if you could offer her some advice about staying away from drugs.”
“You must be very concerned.”
“Well sure, that’s the sort of thing that can ruin your life.”
“So you have a lot of feelings about this.”
“Yeah. I started smoking pot in my sophomore year, but that was in the past.” “Except for your worries. ”
“Well, I guess I am worried, sort of, But it wasn’t drugs. It’s that, well, when I was smoking pot I did some things. I wouldn’t want this to happen to my sister.”
“Especially because you do have these worries-about you. ”
“Probably, I don’t know. This is kind of silly, I’m sure it was the pot, but do you think it’s weird, you know, to fool around with someone who’s – you know – not the opposite sex, even if you don’t mean it?”
“It’s been on your mind .”
“Yeah, but I’ve never told anybody before. I think about it all the time”
” Tell me more about it. ”
“Well, it wasn’t just that one time …. ”

Now a bona fide counseling encounter has been established. The point is that a congregant who initially focused on a third party and prepared to walk away from counseling has become a bona fide client. This occurred because this congregant did want help, albeit reluctantly, and because the pastor stayed focused on the feelings in the room, not drugs or the sister.

Moments with a Bona Fide Client
“It’s taken me a long time to get myself here and I have a lot to say: Let me begin by mentioning that my mother died last year… ” In these opening moments, Maxine has implicitly requested you to become her counselor (“get myself here” means to “counseling”), and has implicitly taken on the client’s role by embarking on a personal story. You now have two aims: (1) You want Maxine to feel the freedom to talk and talk; it is impossible to overestimate the benefit clients receive from putting into words thoughts and feelings that have remained silent until now. (2) You need to be educated to the nature of Maxine’s concerns, even though you know that she will only be able to do this slowly, in fragments and with detours. You want to remove the expectation that she should pause to let you talk or that counseling is a conventional conversation.

Three simple yet powerful tools are available: (1) The use of “Uh-huh.” (2) “Tell me more about it.” (3) “Do you have an example?” It may take you a while to appreciate these tools. Outsiders joke about this if they have never sat in the client’s chair. These comments in no way mean that you are play-acting a formulaic role or trying to sidestep the client’s concerns. They are the means of educating you to the nature of the trouble while enabling clients to experience the exhilarating freedom to talk more.

Except for a meeting in which you are explicitly conducting a diagnostic interview (chapter 4), questions are the enemy. Since it’s obvious that you can’t understand Maxine’s problems right away, it’s equally obvious that you can’t know the relevant questions. Questions are an interference, asked mistakenly when pastors think that factual data will make them feel more in charge. Questions set up an interrogatory style and deprive both client and counselor of knowing what was really on the client’s mind. To Maxine’s comment about her mother’s death, questions like, “What did she die of?” or “Were you there when it happened?” interfere with Maxine’s story and contribute nothing. You may ask a question if you’re truly befuddled or can’t follow the client’s grammar. Yet 99 times out of 100, the question you’re about to ask is a change of subject and not one you need an answer to. If the relevant story happens to involve witnessing a mother’s traumatic death, Maxine will soon tell you this without your having to ask. Actually, she was feeling guilty about how gleeful she was to inherit her mother’s money. Asking “Were you there?” would have intensified her guilt and short-circuited her story. When in doubt, when tempted to ask a question, remember that every question is better rephrased as a statement: The question, “Were you there?” is better transformed into the statement, “I’m not clear how important it was to you to be there.” This statement happened to allow Maxine to expand the theme of guilt by saying, “I didn’t think so at the time, but now it’s haunting me…”

THE FUNDAMENTAL COUNSELING STANCE
What makes counseling different from ordinary conversation or exchanging personal opinions? The fundamental counseling stance consists of undivided attention to the client’s concerns within an atmosphere of benign benevolence.

Undivided Attention
This is not a utopian ideal. It refers first to your obligation to conduct counseling at times and in places where you are not burdened by distractions. This means that counseling cannot routinely occur in hallways, while you are eating lunch, or in the 5 minutes before you’re presenting a controversial budget to the Board of Trustees. No doubt congregants may approach you at such moments, but this only underscores your responsibility to make sure that a stone is not offered for bread, to make sure that a few words spoken at an inopportune moment are not allowed to become a substitute for genuine counseling.

Congregants are not expected to intuit the importance of a safe, quiet space unless you show the way. They may believe that a seemingly small problem is only worth 2 minutes of your time in a crowded hallway-in which case you must awaken them to the value you place on meeting privately in your office and encourage them to make an appointment. Congregants who approach you at inopportune moments may be doing so precisely because they do not intend to explore their problems, figuring instead that a minute or two will allow them to feel that they have gotten it over with. You may gain greater appreciation for how pernicious and crafty the enemy of anxiety can be as some congregants approach you numerous times at inopportune moments before taking the step of calling for an appointment. If you do succumb to the temptation to counsel at an inopportune moment, you need not he surprised to find that your congregant brings up more complicated matters than intended and then stops because of lack of privacy or time.

Your own interior will signal when you yourself are preoccupied and unable to offer undivided attention. If you’ve just received word that your child has been in an accident or water is leaking through the ceiling in the secretary’s office, awareness of your temporary distractibility and unsuitability to act as a counselor is a strength, not a weakness. Since clients cannot be expected to intuit your mental state, it becomes your responsibility to recognize when you cannot in good faith offer your undivided attention.

Counseling offers you a welcome break from the petty burdens of an ordinary day. Most counselors will acknowledge that they owe their clients a debt of gratitude for authentic human encounters that brought meaning and enjoyment, while providing a break from lesser worries and chores. When you think about it, most of your daily concerns can’t be resolved right now anyway. Counseling offers an opportunity to put these aside in favor of an hour of more substance and purpose. Undivided attention means that your usual worries lose their grip on you because interaction with a client truly is more interesting, invigorating, and satisfying.

Pastor Alan awoke to an early morning phone call telling him that his father had just died. In the midst of his distress, he booked passage on a late afternoon flight and canceled his schedule for the week. He discovered that he was unable to reach the client scheduled to see him at 1:00 p.m. Alan had two choices. It would be understandable if he decided to tell the client at 1 :00 p.m. that counseling would have to be rescheduled. By about noontime, however, it became clear to him that he would only be spending his afternoon waiting for his plane to take off, staring at his shoes in unfocused grief and agitation. It was plausible to suppose that between 1:00 and 1:45 p.m., a client’s concerns would take precedence and remove him from this essentially useless inner state. There is no right or wrong solution. Alan had to decide for himself, based on his assessment of his ability to give attention to the client instead of himself. “It suddenly came clear to me,” he said, “that when I’m counseling I’m counseling, and when I’m grieving I’m grieving.” He decided to keep the appointment and, indeed, found it to be a worthwhile session as well as a 45-minute respite when he was taken away from personal distress and able to focus on someone else.

A Benign Atmosphere, Proper and Improper Advice
Clients have your implicit guarantee that you will not do anything to them. They will not be accosted or seduced. Besides these extremes, a benign atmosphere guarantees that clients who venture to tell their stories will have no consequences forced upon them in response. Unwitting attempts to foist consequences include (1) insisting that a client should or should not have an abortion; (2) asserting that the client should leave or stay in a relationship; (3) requiring the client to undertake specific outside activities; (4) panicking, or becoming depressed or angry, in the face of the client’s material, thereby requiring the client to counsel you. These examples illustrate more than poor technique. They are harmful because they contradict the implicit assurance of emotional safety (see chapter 6). They invade the client’s freedom and intrude on the right to self-determination. They violate the implicit guarantee that clients may speak openly without fear that a counselor will try to take over, come at them, retaliate, Impose demands, or do anything whatsoever to them. As illustration, how many males avoid going to physicians or asking travel directions lest someone else dictate what they have to do?

Frank was adamant about his plan to commit suicide. Nothing the pastor said seemed to make any difference. In desperation and fear for the client’s safety, the pastor finally insisted that the two of them would have to go to the Emergency Room. “Oh, no,” said Frank, “I want to watch the game tonight.” Here was evidence that Frank intended to remain alive. Although this vignette omits a full discussion of dangers yet to be handled in cases of suicidal threats (see chapters 8 and 11), it suffices here to illustrate how a healthy side of Frank’s psyche came to life in face of the possibility that the pastor was going to “do” something to him.

Contained within this promise of a benign atmosphere is a puzzle regarding the offering of advice. Like a stick of dynamite, advice is a powerful tool that can be used for good or ill. The proper use of advice consists of pointing to, highlighting, and emphasizing a theme in the material which clients have already implied but brushed off without realizing it. You are advising them to take seriously something they have communicated but seem to be ignoring. Improper advice is discussed shortly. For now the point is that clients in short-term counseling do need to hear that pathways for problem solving are open to them, not because you are wiser than they, but because you have been able to read their road maps where they have been unable to do so. When this happens, do not withhold your guidance. Or, to borrow from Martin Luther, “Advise boldly!” Just as Luther’s famous dictum, “Sin boldly!” did not refer to challenging God-he meant that attempts to walk with God required wholeheartedness, regardless of our imperfections-likewise timidity and withholding are enemies when you do understand where your client is stuck.

Lisa subscribes to a conglomeration of New Age theories, including questionable approaches to self-care. She mentions that during one of her frequent headaches, she finally gave in to her husband, took two aspirin, and felt surprisingly better. Your advice, “Do what has worked for you-and keep doing it,” is not a personal (or medical) opinion; it fortifies a pathway that, according to Lisa herself, made life better. Ken is troubled that his friendship with George seems to have soured. While exploring confusing feelings about this, he alludes to lending George money, wonders if this could have anything to do with it, but then goes back to his position of confusion. Your advice, “Bring up the money with George and see if the two of you can clear the air,” may or may not solve the problem in this specific case, but for two reasons it cannot be improper: You are advising the use of words, and you are advising Ken to focus on a clue in his own material which he is tending to disregard. Maria and Tony separated 2 months ago. Since then they miss each other, spend a lot of time together, but end up arguing when they do. Should they go ahead with a divorce or plan to stay married? Your advice, “When in doubt, do nothing,” is valid guidance that emphasizes continuing to struggle with the ambiguous evidence they themselves presented to you. Such advice would be crucial in helping them avoid premature action while working toward a genuine solution.

Proper advice has two distinguishing benchmarks: (1) Your meeting with the client should lead to a single idea containing guidance you believe will help. The temptation to offer five different types of advice at once indicates that you and the client are still exploring but have not uncovered a pathway that warrants any advice. (2) You should be able to offer advice clearly in a sentence or two. If you find yourself saying, “How about this … what about that?” you need to change your style to avoid using suggestion instead of forthrightness. A vague or vacillating style plays to the client’s suggestibility, as if the wish for someone to be omniscient has finally come true. Clients will assume that you are prescient about their lives and offering hints that they are supposed to decode on their own.

Improper advice consists of inserting your limited understanding of the world-how to bake bread, run a railroad, achieve true love, understand the ways of God-phrased as if your views are more perceptive than the client’s. Remember that clients want your views to be more perceptive, and therein lies the rub. Experience shows that stepping forth with your opinions leads to a polite meeting (“Thanks, pastor, I know you’ve helped a lot”) but no substantive follow-through ever materializes. Why would this be? No matter how painful the client’s situation, it is even more ominous to contemplate giving up a personal compass and deferring to someone else’s instructions. Beneath the stated wish for guidance, all clients are subliminally aware of the importance of keeping control over their own lives, aware of the danger of putting their eggs in someone else’s basket.

This is a good moment to remember the maxim, “You can only offer advice if you’re prepared to take responsibility for the consequences.” What if you’re wrong? What will clients do next, now that they have given up efforts to be responsible for their own paths? Even the most troubled clients usually retain a healthy interior pocket that knows that no one else can live their lives for them, take responsibility, or guarantee outcomes. Virtually all of us realize that abdicating our capacity for self-guidance places us in a most vulnerable, infantile position that is not easily reverse? While it may be true that We might sometimes be better off listening to someone else, we can’t know in advance when to do this and when to keep our own counsel. Our only option is dialogue, in which another’s counsel may eventually be embraced as a personal path.

At the core of a benign atmosphere is your belief in the value of combatting problems through words. If you are fortunate enough to have had a meaningful experience in personal therapy, then you need no warnings about how readily the urge to act plays tricks, invokes pseudosolutions, and sabotages growth. It’s far less important that either party knows what to do next than that both keep using words until clarity emerges. Thus a benign style is not vacuous or wishy_washy, it conveys faith in the importance of human dialogue. ‘this faith endures and cannot be diminished by the magnitude of the problems.

“My secretary, I must be some kind of idiot. We close this deal and everybody goes Ol.l.t for a drink. I don’t remember all of this exactly, but I left to get her a cab, and I call my wife and tell her I’m on my way home. So then what? She comes out and instead of getting into a cab – Ach! – we just go behind this building. And, well, we have sex.” A benign approach allows the pastor to say, “So now’s a moment to get your bearings, take a deef breath, and explore what s been going on with you.” Since this client has been acting instead of talking, he must be helped to reverse this. A benign atmosphere guarantees that the counselor is not going to be horrified, disgusted, pruriently intrigued, or assault the client with a lecture.

Benevolence
A counselor’s motives and focus center on the client’s best interests. This does not mean mindless “supportiveness,” agreeing with everything, or making all material seem “positive.” It means that you harbor no agenda different from the client’s growth and well-being. Benevolence precludes acting as the voice of the law or representative of community standards. Wayne has taken to embezzling; eventually he will need to be confronted with internal and external dangers that could bring about the ruination of a career, family, and perhaps the whole fabric of his life-but this is different from simply emphasizing that the law must be upheld. Sheila is struggling with drug abuse and will need to be confronted with issues such as the diminution of life that comes from living in an altered mental state-but this is different from promoting your personal view that “taking drugs is bad.” (Incidentally, such a high-minded view announces your lack of savvy; drugs get abused because taking them does not feel “bad,” quite the opposite.) A benevolent stance means that the well-being of the client’s spouse, parents, employer, neighbors, or children cannot be your main focus. This may seem to conflict with your sense of obligation to represent religious teachings and values. After all, if a congregant is openly carrying on an affair within your congregation, beating a spouse, or abusing a child, a strong argument can be made that no one entrusted with a religious mantle can appear to condone such things. Nor can you seem to be saying one thing from the pulpit and another in your office. Two avenues are available for resolving this apparent dilemma:

1. Your religious tradition offers tools for confronting problems within a stance of benevolence, provided religious teachings are understood as witnessing to the primary importance of diminishing suffering and enhancing life. This is different from promoting religion as a set of behaviors to be followed for their own sake. Little good comes from using religion to browbeat people into submission, as the history of the Judeo-Christian tradition shows. Yet religious teachings have an uncanny way of reaching into heart and mind to provide insight that wasn’t there before. When Nathan confronted David over his liaison with Bathsheba and murderous betrayal of Uriah, he could have done so by accusing him of breaking the commandments-but Nathan didn’t do this. By an indirect method he opened David’s eyes to the suffering he had caused, with the result that David repudiated his former behavior and changed his whole way of living (2 Sam. Ch. 11-12). Invoking religion in the name of diminishing suffering and enhancing life meets the criterion of benevolence-just as Nathan’s confrontation of David was benevolent in that it aimed at David’s insight, repentance, and growth, no matter how painful the journey. To take a benevolent stance does not imply that you are condoning your congregant’s behavior.

2. Most religious traditions bear witness to how elusive the aims of alleviating suffering and enhancing life truly are. Ever since the Fall, reconciliation, goodwill, justice, and charity have been the hoped-for goals of our common religious journey, not the status quo from which a few oddball congregants have managed to deviate. Eden ceased to be the norm a long time ago. Since congregants are only in your office in the first place because suffering has not been alleviated, the underlying basis of counseling is the hope that a quest for reconciliation will bear fruit. This does not mean that counseling guarantees solutions or that you know what they are. Methods of using religious resources in the service of resolving problems and expanding life are presented in chapters 2, 5, and 10.

For the congregant who is beating a spouse or parent, abusing or neglecting a child, the alleviation of suffering is no easy matter. It is naive to assume that calling the police will guarantee this. It presupposes that others-society, a bureaucracy, or designated authorities-truly know how to make matters better. Clergy responsibilities for reporting to the authorities vary from state to state. You must know your legal obligation in the state where your ministry is situated. Still, there is no debating the point that benevolence includes the intent that this congregant overcome dangerous feelings and behaviors, which will alleviate suffering and enhance life for all parties. The only debate is over which strategy is likely to bear fruit. Three guidelines, each meeting the criterion of benevolence, may well direct you toward different paths in different cases:

A case can be made in the name of our Judeo-Christian tradition that enabling an offending congregant to embark on a journey of self-inventory has the potential of reaching into the heart, psyche, and spirit where genuine change Occurs, just as with Nathan and David. Right away, you will have to make a clinical judgment as to whether this person truly has awakened to dangerous behavior and is capable of repudiating it. Dangerous behavior means actions that not only are harming victims but are destroying the congregant’s life too, even if this person doesn’t think so at first. David required about 10 minutes, probably a best case scenario.

Sometimes a case can be made that forcible intervention will help most (e.g., contacting the authorities). This path may be necessary when, in your clinical judgment, the person gives no evidence of being able to recognize and repudiate dangerous behavior. Is this a betrayal of a congregant? Not when this person is incapable of directing the self away from danger, and is locked into behavior that is increasingly harmful and self-destructive. Benevolence aims at your congregant’s well-being, but benevolence does not mean that you always must go along with whatever this person’s current mental attitude happens to be (e.g., self-righteous, calm, in denial). Does contacting the authorities contradict the benign feature of your counseling stance? Perhaps in some instances it does, but not always. While you will not typically initiate actions against congregants, neither are you locked into the passivity of a sojourner on the Road to Jericho who can only pass by distress without taking action (Luke 10:29-37). A time honored maxim in treating alcoholism also applies to abusers:
You do no good by saying to an alcoholic, “Do what you want,” since this “want” is precisely the problem. When an abusing Congregant’s personal wants conflict with actual well-being, benevolence prevails by refusing to accept this person’s dangerous preferences at face value (including a preference to be left alone). Your judgment is crucial. Children lack legal or physical resources to protect themselves; they are in even more danger than an abused adult. Yet once you have involved the authorities, you must expect to lose further influence over this congregant and will not be able to control how quickly word will circulate in your community, inadvertently alerting other abusers not to speak with you. (Chapter 9 discusses normal and abnormal situations, including dilemmas regarding sexual and physical abuse.)

A third guideline, falling in the middle ground, holds that the odds of achieving a benevolent outcome are directly proportional to the client’s willingness to pursue intensive help. A path open to you is to direct congregants toward making use of professional resources expressly equipped to deal with the situation-properly trained therapists as well as resources such as an abusing parents’ group located through a local social service agency. A forceful directive from you insisting that treatment is imperative meets the criterion of benevolence, even if you do not feel particularly benevolent and are not suitable to be a primary counselor. While exercising your clinical judgment, confidentiality means that you will take care not to act on hearsay, spread rumors, or pass around information to nonprofessionals or others uninvolved in the situation. Yet no good comes from mistaking confidentiality for secrecy (see chapter 3). Benevolence toward an abusing congregant precludes the erroneous notion that this person automatically has the power to tie your hands, bind you to keeping a harmful secret, merely by entering your office to name a dangerous situation with no desire to correct it. Once abuse has been discovered, resulting complexities will be taxing for all. This underscores the importance of using pulpit, lectern, and visitation in the service of preventing abuse in the first place.

THE POWER OF THE COUNSELING STANCE
After reading about the centrality of undivided attention within an atmosphere of benign benevolence, your eyes might be glazing over at the thought that all this amounts to just so much wishful passivity on the counselor’s part, as if all you can do is be nice and hope for the best. Not true. The client has never been treated this way before and, as clinical experience proves, will respond to this atmosphere with robust self-exploration, as if you were a magician in disguise.

Why is this so? The power of the counselor’s stance lies in the fact that it counteracts the way everybody else has interacted with the client from childhood right into the present. In our Western world, standard human interactions consist of variations on two prototypic poles that defeat and dispirit the client. They are the poles of authoritarianism and indifference. They are prototypic in the client’s life because they reflect the two most prevalent attitudes toward the client during the nightmare of childhood (Fraiberg, 1959), as well as the typical ways in which human beings usually relate to each other in adult life.

Authoritarianism and Indifference
The term authoritarianism refers broadly to interactions based on dominance and submission. During the unavoidably demeaning experience of childhood, the child was summarily overruled for having feelings, ideas, plans, and dreams unacceptable to the authorities (parents). Picture a 5-year-old screaming inconsolably about “The ponies, again!” while dejected parents carry the child to the parking lot of the amusement park at the end of a long evening-a nightmare no one can avoid. This has nothing to do with bad parenting. A child often has no recourse but to submit to the ground rules of authorities who are in point of fact bigger, older, and capable of enforcing their preferences. Loving parents cannot abdicate this dominant position either; for example, when the child wants to play with electrical outlets. Love actually complicates this picture, since it contributes to the child’s wish to submit as a means of gaining parental love, forming an acceptable identity, and preserving harmony. Authoritarianism in daily life involves more than encounters with the police or the IRS. Subtle struggles to see who’s got the dominant position and who must be submissive occur at golf outings, the hairdresser’s, the auto repair shop, and seemingly friendly dinner parties. Clergy often cannot escape being singled out as authorities when handling public aspects of congregational or community life. This is a legitimate feature of your leadership role but not your counseling stance. No one is at fault in this authoritarian paradigm, although we might say that our common human condition makes us all anxious enough that, whether we realize it or not, we keep an eye out for our relative place in the lifelong game of dominance and submission.

Because clients in distress are overly willing to be submissive – in hopes of finding relief without facing the awesome task of personal exploration-your aim of avoiding an authoritarian stance also means that you must not try to cultivate a persona that seems divine, beyond ordinary humanness, supremely altruistic, insightful, good-natured, or untouched by the complexities of daily living. You do not want to convey the misimpression that the client should submit to your style. In the midst of Ted’s billing dispute with a department store, it’s not difficult to see how a response like, “Too bad you didn’t just tear it up and tell them to sue” suggests your supreme power and unflappability, leading Ted to say, “Yeah, I suppose I could have tried.” And a persona conveying your supreme tolerance and goodwill, “Too bad you didn’t have a chance to cool off and talk it over, “will lead Ted to the same dispiriting position, “Yeah, I suppose I could have tried.”

Indifference refers broadly to pro forma interactions in which a speaker’s intense concerns have no impact on the listener, who is simply going through the motions while remaining essentially unreachable. Again in the prototypic nightmare of childhood, even the best parenting cannot avoid many moments of indifference. A child’s opinions about redesigning the school system, the best way to spend holidays, and the nutritional value of certain snacks are not so much punished as ignored. Subsequent anxiety in the face of the threat of ineffectuality-uncertainty about whether one can ever change anything-is an unavoidable legacy to be resolved in the struggle for adulthood. In adult life, indifference refers to more than obvious moments when a bank teller, parking attendant, or supermarket manager is politely unconcerned with the problem you’re trying to convey. It also refers to numerous moments when you realize that a neighbor is not really interested in your cold (car, garden, or paint job); a friend is not really resonating to your worries over your aging mother; a colleague is not really involved in your remarks about career plans. Again no one is at fault here, unless we wanted to say that our common human condition places a limit on how emotionally involved with others we are capable of being on a daily basis. This means that every adult must struggle to overcome what is technically called narcissistic wounding, referring to our normal struggles against depression, anger, or loss of self-esteem when we realize repeatedly that the world is more indifferent to our feelings than we are.

Oedipal Conflict
Oedipal conflict is a technical shorthand term that refers to the task of moving from the nightmare of childhood into an adult life containing joy, the ability to survive loss, relate to others, act in the world, and solve problems. While it is true that oedipal conflict also refers to sexual and competitive urges toward parents (which can be confirmed, if you like, simply by observing young children), its primary meaning takes a psychological focus. Beginning at about 3 years of age, and persisting into adulthood for as long as it takes, each individual is handed the task of coming to terms with three fundamental inequities: (1) the difference he tween genders; (2) the difference between generations; and (3) the difference between the desires of the self and the requirements of the group, beginning with the group called family and expanding to include school, workplace, and every other aspect of culture. We awaken early to the realization that the world we were born into does not feel much like home. Half of the world is not our gender; most others are not our age and size. All others seem to agree upon rules and standards that we did not invent, don’t particularly like, but must learn to accommodate to anyway.

Unfinished internal business resolving these inequities is as varied as there are individuals. While there is no such thing as the oedipal conflict pertaining to all clients, well-known variations in adult life contain aspects of the following dynamics: (1) Finding one’s self in endless sexual pursuits, inhibited about sex in any form, or able to be sexual but chronically guilty about it. (2) Finding one’s self persistently hostile, combative, or envious of others, or else feeling so weak and diminished that all others seem superior in the face of personal desires. (3) Finding one’s self fearful and disapproving of any feeling of aggression whatsoever. (4) Finding one’s self chronically disgruntled about the norms of group life – resentful of paying bills and obeying traffic lights – or else mindlessly obsequious to any group’s opinion with no ability to think for one’s self and recognize when the group is wrong. (5) Feeling chronically defective or out of sync with the world-whether too young or too old to be one’s self-and resentful of differences in others. (6) Finding one’s self able to live an adequate if not full life, yet plagued by inner feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, or depression. (7) Moralizing as a way of life, accompanied by the inability to allow feelings of pleasure.

The Superego
A special category of unfinished business during the struggle to resolve oedipal conflict is referred to as the superego. The self is ill at ease in the world because of chronic feelings of self-righteousness or inadequacy, two sides of the same coin. The superego concept does not refer directly to following the values of parents or society (although persons indirectly may come to believe that the best way to feel adequate and lovable is to meet parental expectations). More explicitly, the superego is a product of the demand placed on every individual to respect the power of the group when it comes to establishing norms and dealing out rewards or punishments. The group has an interest in its own well-being without regard for the preferences of any individual (Freud, 1921/1955). It will not allow siblings to marry or citizens to murder. This does not mean that the group is always right or moral (as when, for example, it decides that government officials cannot be sued for harming innocent citizens). It does mean that group power exists as a formidable fact of life, and any individual who thinks that it can be ignored is living in a fantasy. Jesus opposed the power of Rome but not in the fantasy that Rome couldn’t execute him. Martin Luther King, Jr., instituted sit-ins, not in the illusion that the power of society’S discriminatory laws would not apply to him, but precisely because society’s enforcement of these laws then would become challengeable in Federal courts and exposed to the public court of moral condemnation. One aspect of superego conflict lies in a client’s self-righteous belief that life can or should be lived without regard to the group, as if the group’s norms and powers should vanish at whim, as if the self is an exception.

The second aspect of superego conflict refers, not to failure to accept the power of the group, but to a client’s devotion to an endless list of rules extending way beyond society’s norms, as if all of them spring from an angry God (a dilemma interweaving psychological and religious discourse, discussed in chapter 2). The client lives according to a private, rigid, peculiar, elaborate code reflecting an idiosyncratic definition of morality more punitive and restrictive than Scripture or society could ever be (e.g., “Never touch your private parts”). This made-up morality guarantees a chronic sense of inadequacy by disregarding the more compassionate, reasonable, time-honored norms contained within religious precepts (and/or social rules). It overrules the humanity in the teachings of Jesus. It operates as if keeping Kosher il still being too permissive. The phrase, “Holier than thou,” could be expanded to include, “More demanding, self-critical, and joyless too.” Invariably the client has invented such rules because of fear that ordinary impulses will become overwhelming. Psychologically troubled clients disavow the existence of their impulses, instead of accepting them while keeping harmful actions in check.

What about guilt? In an ideal world, guilt would function as the signal that one has harmed others and has the capacity to do it again. Ideally, guilt prompts recompense to those harmed alongside a self-inventory that brings deeper awareness of one’s own dangerous proclivities. If only this ideal were the norm, we could celebrate guilt as leading humanity toward greater morality. As pastor you encounter humanity’s nonideal dynamics: Guilt functions as internal punishment that seems to pay for a crime and make it feel minor. A wayward superego invokes guilt in order to allow clients to feel that they are already “suffering enough,” thereby skipping over the issue of making amends to others and neglecting to confront the underlying proclivity to repeat harmful acts as soon as guilt feelings have subsided. Private rules contain private loopholes: “Premarital sex is wrong, but probably not on a religious retreat.” “Stealing is wrong, but cheating on your taxes is just what everybody does.” “Since I don’t give money to charity, that’s why I feel so guilty.” Regardless of variations in harshness, rigidity, or idiosyncratic loopholes, superego conflict refers to the client’s failure to join the common lot of humanity in its collective efforts to live justly with one another. The underlying problem is that the client remains an alien within the human community.

Combinations of oedipal and superego dilemmas form the nucleus of what is meant by neurosis or psychological conflict, the least severe type of mental or emotional illness. Being hit by a bus causes a problem in living. A slowed recovery, due to a client’s belief that punishment was warranted for leaving home, would be an instance of neurotic conflict making problems in living worse. While not reducible to a single dynamic, most neurotic conflicts result in (1) diminished focus on relationships in favor of struggling with private thoughts, feelings, or fantasies; (2) preoccupation with rewriting the past, in contrast to learning from the past or integrating it into the present; (3) attempts to control all external realities, in contrast to a more flexible focus on what the self can and cannot change (McDougall, 1985). The role of oedipal and superego dynamics in creating neuroses has been elaborated by Brenner (1974). In contrast, schizophrenia (and other psychoses), personality disorders, and borderline or narcissistic disorders are more severe (see chapter 4). Although these severe disorders require more than pastoral counseling, they are likely to afflict many of your congregants simply because religious institutions are places where the wounded gather in sizable proportions. You can learn more about psychosis from Eigen (1986). Borderline, narcissistic, and personality disorders are discussed by Kernberg (1975, 1976) and Kohut (1971, 1977).

How does the counseling stance help? Undivided attention within an atmosphere of benign benevolence is the antidote to authoritarianism and indifference, as well as the primary means for enabling clients in the neurotic domain to resolve unfinished oedipal or superego conflicts. This stance is powerful in facilitating new exploration precisely because it does not occur anywhere else in daily life. You can confirm this by conducting a simple experiment during the rest of your day. Monitor your interactions with others between now and bedtime. You will discover that virtually none of them duplicate this counseling stance. Some will contain subtle competitiveness; others will reflect underlying indifference; few will be based on benevolence; even fewer will be benign. None will meet all facets of the counseling stance simultaneously. By extension, the client does not encounter all facets simultaneously either, except in your office.

The power of this stance is not diminished by inexperience. Uncertainty may even help you take this stance more authentically. For clients expressing unfinished business in the arenas of sexuality, aggression, guilt, resentment, interpersonal conflict, self-criticism, or any other aspect of residual oedipal conflict, this stance works its magic by (1) respecting the validity of the client’s thoughts and feelings; (2) avoiding interference in the client’s story; (3) conveying encouragement to the client to continue; (4) avoiding the pitfalls of suggestion or unwittingly overruling the client; (5) valuing the client without regard to the nature of the problems; and (6) treating the client as an equal. A word about the technique called “reflection.” Decades ago, Rogers (1942, 1961) proposed a theory in which psychic conflict was understood as a constriction of the client’s ability to solve problems because self-esteem had dropped to the point where energy had to be diverted to trying to look good in the eyes of self and others. Aspects of his theory were revived in the work of Kohut (1977). For Rogers, reflection consisted of heartfelt personal involvement with the client’s material to such an extent that the counselor would be able to convey that the client’s feelings had been heard and appreciated. Over time a misunderstanding of Rogers’ position took root as counselors merely began to repeat back anything a client said-ideas, plans, misgivings and so forth. Clients will quickly recognize this as game playing (Jourard, 1971). It cannot be overemphasized that an authentic, accurate reflecting of a client’s emotional state, as Rogers meant it, qualifies as a bona fide counseling stance. Repeating whatever a client says does not.

Exceptional Situations
When someone enters your office in a psychotic state, panic, or a depression so severe that virtually no words are coming through, you must alter your stance in favor of any active approach that makes contact. Medications can be helpful for persons who are psychotic, in a traumatic situation, or debilitated by transitional anxiety or depression. Cultivate a relationship with a psychiatrist who can help quickly in these exceptional situations, but be wary of the misconception that pills can help everyone. Many clients, especially with personality disorders (chapter 4), may not benefit much from pills and will spend a lot of time Switching prescriptions and complaining about side effects. In both ordinary and exceptional situations, do not let any session last more than 45 minutes. Shorter encounters can be worthwhile, but longer meetings will go in circles with no additional benefit.

With psychotic clients, your immediate goal is not further elaboration of bizarre ideas that are already out of control. Your goal is to speak clearly and directly enough that clients will recognize your presence, relate to you, and want to make themselves intelligible. Imminent danger or chaos takes precedence and must be addressed immediately. Tom is about to board a crosscountry bus in search of FBI agents; Susan is going to destroy the files in her coworker’s desk. These instances are exceptions, however, precisely because psychosis usually makes persons ineffectual, more interested in ideas than actions, not as dangerous as the public assumes. In the absence of impending danger, you want to avoid getting wrapped up in probing, questioning, challenging, or supporting peculiar theories or twists of logic. Ignoring these as trivial, not worth energy or anxiety, will convey a calm stability that may allow the client to feel calmer too. Be Simple-simplistic if you can. The simplest guidance can make enormous difference, precisely because a psychotic client is not paying attention to ordinary matters (e.g., “Call your wife right now and tell her where you are”). Actively show your interest in the client’s well-being; offer reassurance that help is available; make a referral to the proper professionals; affirm your continuing availability.

Clients in a panic or crisis state (see chapter 5) will remain so unless you actively offer a calm voice able to establish perspective, stability, and hope. A state of panic is to be ministered to without waiting for details of the whole story. Assure clients that trauma has already happened; it is in the past, not happening now or tomorrow. Set a focus as to what is relevant and what is not (e.g., “Stay in touch with the hospital and don’t worry about where your mother’s car is“). Set a focus as to what exactly needs to be done next (e.g., “Go straight home from here–don’t take any more phone calls–eat something and then go to bed until you speak to your lawyer tomorrow“). If warranted, make a referral to the proper professional, either during the meeting or soon after. As a sense of stability is created, do not then drag out this meeting or go on to explore new topics. Invoke a familiar part of your Scripture or tradition (e.g., a Psalm, the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer). Such words have an abiding history within the client and will make their own contribution to the client’s stability and hope. Pray with the client in a relevant way; consider asking the client to join you out loud.

Clients so depressed that they can only weep or stare will not be helped by silence. If some sort of exchange does not begin after 30 seconds, take a deep breath and try your best to speak in any way that offers the promise of a connection between the two of you: “This must feel horrible.” “I hate to see you struggling alone in a moment like this.” “Try to put it into words. ” ”Anything you can tell me will help. “Allow clients to talk as much as they can without interruption. Right now this will help more than your insights (which probably will not register). Keep the dialogue going without allowing extensive silence. Make a referral to the proper professionals. Invoke a familiar part of your Scripture or tradition. Pray with the client. Consider asking the client to join you out loud.

So far this chapter has discussed suitable vs. unsuitable counseling situations and presented a basic grounding in the fundamental counseling stance. It is a stance intended to facilitate the client’s own explorations, avoid getting in the client’s way, and contribute to resolving oedipal and superego conflict. If you’re so inclined, now is a good time to stretch or get a cup of coffee. From here on, topics shift gear to address ways of recognizing and responding to the client’s main issues.

LISTENING: IDENTIFYING RELEVANT MATERIAL

In a sense, everything clients have to say is relevant insofar as it (1) helps them hear themselves more fully, and (2) helps you understand the situation. Not everything warrants your focus or comment, otherwise you would end up talking as much as the client and counseling would degenerate into ordinary conversation. Your task while listening is to give special attention to identifying issues that reflect core problems and merit opening your mouth in hopes of delivering the most help. What are the topics worth listening for and speaking about?

Transference and Countertransference
Larry has scheduled an appointment to talk about vocational plans but is stopped on his way by a policeman, who gives him a lecture and a ticket for being in the wrong lane. He arrives in an agitated state, tries to talk about vocational goals, but can’t help being preoccupied with feelings of unfocused anxiety and self doubt. (“I should have been paying more attention … what an idiot I am … my grandfather will be furious.”) These worries are worth speaking about to Larry because (1) he isn’t able to engage the official topic of vocational plans anyway; (2) any topic that’s alive in the room is worth twice as much as an intellectualized discussion of other subjects; and (3) emotions genuinely felt in the room are invariably pertinent to Larry’s overall struggle, regardless of the specific episode that prompted them. Although it can never be proved in advance, you are entitled to proceed in the faith that to speak to Larry about immediate feelings in the room-resentment of authority, vulnerability to humiliation, his weighty sense of guilt over an ordinary infraction-will be relevant to his vocational uncertainties too. Indeed, it turned out that a patriarchal grandfather had terrified Larry with the specter of failure if he did not go into the family business. The policeman prompted a fresh edition of worries Larry had been feeling all along. An apparent distraction from the official vocational topic became a primary asset in the counseling work.

Kate is talking about problems in her marriage. She uses phrases like “being inadequate,” “down in the dumps,” and eager to “try harder.” Yet as she talks, she conveys a feeling tone that does not seem as fragile as her words imply. Midway through this meeting her emotional position becomes clear when she slaps her chair, raises her voice, and says, “I’m not an angry person! I figure you already know this if you’re worth anything at all.” This emotional tone takes precedence as you decide what is worth peaking about. Some of her earlier words implied fragility, but her way of being in the room conveys an angry and accusatory position, including a thinly veiled accusation that you should have magical understandings in order to be “worth anything at all” You do not need magical understandings. Your task is to speak limply and clearly to this emotional tone: ”Not being an angry person could mean that you have difficulty with anger.”Now Kate’s story expands as she reveals that she and her husband have weekly fist fights where both end up black and blue. Her words at the start of the session were an attempt to present herself as if “at fault” for a sadomasochistic relationship in which aggression is out of control for both parties. After the pastor referred Kate and her husband to individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling, they came to recognize that fighting was their magical way of hoping that each would recognize the other’s erotic feelings. Their aggressive exchanges did not disappear but Kate’s depression did. Their marriage was strengthened in that newly chaneled aggressiveness became a prelude to ending up in bed.

The stories of Larry and Kate merit further explanation. The counselor chooses to focus on the way the client “is” in the room because the individualized pattern of any adult’s emotional reactivity is relatively consistent. This does not mean that clients have only one type of feeling but rather that their individualized range of feelings is deployed in a fairly consistent pattern. This consistency is part of what is meant by the term identity. Faced with potential conflict, Larry tends to become anxious and self doubting while Kate tends to become hostile. There is more to Larry and Kate than this, of course, but as counselor you cannot possibly focus on everything at once or else no pressing problem would ever get resolved. The counseling process is based on the implicit faith that (1) no matter what presenting problem may be on a client’s mind, the most valuable, relevant, reliable information is conveyed to you via the client’s way of “being” in the room; and (2) greater gain is expected if you speak to this way of being than any other topic. All roads do lead to Rome-or Jerusalem-if your comments focus on emotions that are alive in the room. Clients will show what they may not be able to tell. What they show is your most important clue to understanding where they need most help.

The technical shorthand for a client’s way of showing you what cannot be said directly is transference, a concept readily misunderstood in contemporary literature. The misunderstanding consists of assuming that the client must be repeating a real reaction to a real person from the client’s past (which then leads the counselor mistakenly to “point this out” and only makes the client feel foolish). A correct understanding of transference involves a complex relationship between fantasy and reality, conscious and unconscious dynamics pertinent to psychoanalysis but not pastoral counseling. You can learn more about these dynamics by studying Freud’s views in his seminal paper (1912/1958a). Nevertheless, since you are not conducting psychoanalysis, nor are clients asking you for psychoanalysis, a comprehensive discussion of transference is omitted here in the hope that you will not try to foist it on your clients and compromise the integrity of the pastoral counseling process. Only two aspects of transference are relevant in your work as pastoral counselor.

In the first relevant aspect, the client’s unfinished business in resolving oedipal or superego conflicts and establishing a gratifying adult life is transferred-carried, as if in a knapsack-from one situation to another in hope of finding a solution one of these days. Larry carries his self-doubt into the pastor’s office and shows it there, just as no doubt he has carried it into other transactions with teachers and coaches. Kate’s wish to be magically understood, plus her hostility at the prospect of being disappointed, are carried into the pastor’s office, just as they no doubt have been carried into interactions with employers, salesclerks, and friends. Transference as depicted here is commonplace in daily life. Unfinished business is being carried – transferred – from one encounter to another. The difference in the pastor’s office I. that now it is being responded to, not dismissed as a “quirk.”

The second relevant aspect of transference is that clients often show you the effort they are making not to show the most troubling unfinished business. This is the flip side of the same ruin. The only difference is that instead of being motivated by a hope to find resolution, a client is motivated by the need to avoid more disappointment. Clergy are especially familiar with this dynamic as congregants assume in advance that certain topics are off limits. More technically stated, clients are transferring-carrying into the room with you-their standard expectation that they will be better off keeping up a good front, saying the right thing, and protecting themselves against the dreaded possibility of being misunderstood or unappreciated. Most often this position contains the assumptions that you are an authority in whose presence only “correct” ideas should be expressed, or else clients have idealized you and assume that the most important thing is to look good in your eyes. Recognizing when a client is trying not to show unfinished business does not involve guesswork. If you are basically patient, encouraging, benign, and benevolent, you will eventually pick up a palpable sense of flatness in the room as clients show themselves to be overly careful, overly reasonable, or impossibly “good” in their presentations. When so identified, this becomes the topic worth your speaking about-a client ‘s assumption that you don’t want to hear about sex, recipes, or cars; that you expect to hear only about “positive” motives; that you will be disillusioned or retaliatory in the face of so-called failures, and so forth. This need not entail correcting clients in their mistaken assumptions about you (as if proving them “wrong”), especially not when clients are using their idealizing of you as a motive for speaking with you in the first place. It simply means that, when assigned the role of benevolent “authority” or “ideal,” you recognize when clients feel pressured to put on an inauthentic performance and can help them exhale and feel freer to tell their stories.

These two aspects of transference complement each other. There is no major difference between saying that Kate showed herself in the last half of the session to he angry and accusatory, or that Kate showed herself in the first half of the session as trying not to show anything more personal than the standard facade of a good person willing to deprecate herself and “try harder.” What matters is your sensitivity in recognizing what is being shown and responding accordingly. Likewise there is no major difference between saying that Larry showed himself to the pastor as a “worried kid,” or that, without your help, Larry could not show his unfinished business in achieving adult stature (e.g., respecting his own desires; wrestling with his fear of grandfather). Again, what matters is that you can recognize what is not being shown-not shown via palpable omission-and respond accordingly.

The topic of transference implies another readily misunderstood concept: countertransference. Just as transference refers to what the client carries in and shows you, the counter in countertransference properly refers to what you unwittingly show the client from your own interior, unrelated to the client’s concerns. A contemporary misunderstanding consists of assuming that countertransference refers to anything you feel in regard to the client. This misunderstanding is then compounded by the notion that whatever you feel must contain further insights about the client. (The correct term for resonating to a client’s unstated communications is induced reaction.) Two aspects of this revisionist view of countertransference are problematic: (1) Like all counselors, you cannot help having varied and changing feelings all the time; defining countertransference as your feelings makes this term so broad that it loses meaning altogether. (2) For counselors to suppose that whatever they feel is relevant to the client often degenerates into the idea that the client has caused this and is “responsible” for these feelings. This self-aggrandizing notion is dangerous when counselors change the subject, based on their own feelings, but present this as if the client started it. Childhood nightmares contain the no-win situation where a parent says in effect, “Now look what you made me do (feel)!”

The relevant definition of countertransference is that it consists of acting on your feelings-showing them to the client via word or deed-rather than containing them silently (Freud, 1915/1958b). Such an enactment, based on your own feelings, interferes with the client’s journey. When Kate picks on you by hinting that you may not be “worth anything at all,” your silent feelings of surprise, anger, or hurt would be fairly common and predictable, not to be considered countertransference. On the other hand, showing these feelings in retaliatory actions or words (e.g., “Well, if that’s your attitude we might as well stop right now”) qualifies as countertransference in that you would be inserting your personal attitude into the process and interfering with her material. Common countertransference errors include verbal enactment of the following personal feelings: (1) anger, e.g., “Don’t take that tone with me,” or, perhaps, forgetting a scheduled appointment; (2) defensiveness or self justification, e.g., ”Whatever upset you I’m sure I didn’t mean, and I hope you will forgive me”; (3) erotic arousal (discussed in chapter 6), e.g., “Actually I had fantasies about you too last week …“: and (4) anxiety, which deserves special mention.

Anxiety is a generic term not limited to nervousness or “butterflies in the stomach.” It refers to any signal of psychic discomfort which a person is unable to specify further without self exploration. Colloquial words like upset, bothered, or distressed reflect an unspecified anxiety state which, after self-exploration, may turn out to mean anything from “afraid my anger will get me fired” to “envious of my buddy,” to “turned on by my cousin.” Much of the counseling process is devoted to helping clients localize the source of unfocused discomfort in order to identify the true problems in need of resolution. The counselor’s countertransferential anxiety requires the same self-exploration and usually falls into two categories: speaking (or acting) in order to make a personally upsetting topic go away, or becoming strangely blind to an aspect of the client’s material and ignoring or dismissing it. Both forms of countertransference are illustrated by a comment like, ”Well, maybe you have thoughts about homosexuality, but you haven’t done anything so there’s nothing more to talk about.” Because countertransference enactment – in word, deed, or omission – stems from a counselor’s inability to handle personal anxiety, working with your own psychotherapist will give you a most important ally in avoiding errors. Because countertransference errors virtually always seem like “a good idea at the time,” can be rationalized away and remain invisible to you, your second ally is your clinical supervisor.

Popular emphasis on a “holistic” approach is fine in theory. In practice it tends to mean that counselors change the subject just when the going gets tough in following a key theme through to resolution. In the first place, it is doubtful that any counselor should be capable of holding a simultaneous focus on all aspects of a client’s psychic, interpersonal, cultural, ethnic, religious, and family dynamics. We are not that good and have no need to pretend that we are. Second, many theoretical viewpoints are not automatically relevant to the specific dilemma of a specific client. No meaningful gain with Larry would come from shifting to a discussion of police brutality or social injustice. The plight of women in today’s society is not relevant to Kate, who willingly engaged her husband in fighting to a draw. Third, your faith that clients will show you their relevant points of distress requires your patience, encouragement, and benevolence, but it does not permit you to impose your own favorite emphasis (sociological, genealogical, etc.) as if this is truly what the client needs to focus on. Genuine gain in working with Larry or Kate requires you to stick with the material as each shows it-the proper meaning of working with transference in the counseling setting. If you become impatient, lost, anxious, or worried that you won’t seem smart enough, you may well be tempted to change the subject by invoking a different theoretical or “holistic” viewpoint. If you go down this path, beware of rationalizing as if you only did this for the client’s “own good.” More likely it was because you lost faith in the client, lost faith in your ability to tolerate uncertainty, and interfered with the client’s quest for self-expression-all in all a countertransference error.

Validation
Claudia has just discovered that her husband is having an affair. Distressed as she is, she finds herself inwardly going around in circles because, according to her husband, this only happened because she has been so uninterested in sex and, besides, she once said that she didn’t care what he did outside. This doesn’t make sense to Claudia. She hasn’t experienced herself as nonsexual and has no memory of ever giving permission for this affair. Even so, after a marriage of 16 years in which both parties seemed forthright and concerned for each other, she can’t be sure that there isn’t some truth to his position, that she hasn’t forgotten her own words or behavior. Could she be the “crazy” one who has misunderstood all along?

In identifying relevant material, be careful not to jump to the topics of her husband, the affair, or the marital situation. Claudia’s immediate psychological struggle concerns a common pathological dynamic between human beings, known as mystification (Laing, 1972). She is upset mainly because someone else has treated her distress as peculiar or unwarranted, made it seem readily explained on the grounds that one party understands while the other has supposedly forgotten the truth, failed to keep up. is causing the problem, or is actually the troubled one who is too young, old, tired, distracted, uninformed, or mentally ill. Because none of us dares claim absolute certainty in life, and because worthwhile relationships require that we invest a basic trust in those we love, we are all vulnerable to mystification at the hands of others, believing someone else’s explanation that we must be feeling anxious because we are somehow wrong. Likewise, because none of us is without sin and anxiety, because we too are dedicated to looking good, rarely able to own up to our selfishness and meanness, we remain capable of excusing ourselves by trying to mystify others: “I only did it because you thought it was a good idea.” “You never listen to what I really mean.” In colloquial terms, this is called gaslighting or trying to “drive someone crazy.”

As counselor, you can never umpire in Claudia’s marriage, 10 you can’t know what really happened. What happened is irrelevant to the dilemma Claudia presents in the room, namely a confused internal stalemate in which she is not sure she knows her own mind. Although you cannot spell out what is “crazy” or “realistic ” in any factual way, your listening role will enable you to hear where Claudia is ignoring herself-and this is the topic worth speaking to her about: ”You can’t be wrong about having your own sexual feelings, no matter who tries to talk you out of it.” Similarly, when it comes to her confusion as to whether she gave so-called permission and then forgot, your aim of de mystification entitles you to say, “Either way it doesn’t matter; quibbling over a single phrase from long ago doesn’t help anything now.” Is this arbitrarily pronouncing Claudia right and her husband wrong? No, because whether he purposefully engaged in trying to mystify her or not, regardless of any facts, the ideas that are leading Claudia to doubt her own interior cannot be valid in light of everything else she has said. Is the counselor taking the role of an authority who claims to know what is and is not believable? No, the counselor is validating aspects of Claudia’s own thoughts and feelings which are not open to question (even though Claudia was willing to doubt herself in hopes of alleviating circular confusion).

You may expect, with no pretense to scientific rigor, that roughly 50% of the clients in your office will be distressed because they are trying to believe alien ideas suggested to them by others, unable to disentangle the effects of someone else’s attempts to drive them into a state of mystification. Two prototypic ways of driving someone else crazy consist of saying (1) “You caused the problem-and a further problem is that you don’t know you caused it,” or (2) “You don’t realize that your distress is actually for your own good.” Richard is still guilty that his parents got divorced supposedly because his schooling was costing them too much money. Sarah has lived for years with the idea that she needed to be beaten in order to stop sucking her thumb. As counselor, your listening task is to recognize the inwardly entangling effects of such mystification. Your task in speaking is to confirm the validity of the client’s interior.

Resistance
After 14 months of marriage, Sharon is increasingly depressed. She scheduled an appointment because she’s worried that she’s “just not herself” and may be putting her marriage in jeopardy. She goes on to name minor foibles (“couldn’t settle on the right anniversary dinner until the last minute”), then recognizes these as “not quite it.” She used to have so much energy-in designing their home, in sex, in cooking-but not any more. She doesn’t know what’s wrong, and so far the counselor cannot identify relevant material either. Other than offering benign and benevolent encouragement to continue, the counselor must listen in the faith that the phenomenon called psychic determinism will show the way eventually.

Psychic determinism means that the psyche, the makeup of the individual’s personality, inevitably determines how the person experiences life. This does not mean that childhood causes all dilemmas in adult life, as if billiard balls were knocking around a table causing one to move another, then another, and so forth. Rather, events are interwoven into each person’s memory according to a valence (strength) and shape (relative to other memories) unique to that individual. All readers have encountered the same story about Kate, but not all have filed it in memory exactly the same way, which is equivalent to saying that it does not “mean” the same thing to everyone. Faith in psychic determinism requires you to listen in the hope that clients eventually will show you how they are experiencing their material. This is sometimes misunderstood as if the client “knows” answers but won’t tell you. No, it means that clients will reveal clues to their ways of experiencing, clues to what the material means to them, which they themselves cannot recognize. Recognizing clues is your job, as we return to Sharon’s story.

Sharon now thinks of another minor foible from last night: “We got home late, so I threw together some chicken casserole without following my mother’s recipe. He said it tasted great, but mother wouldn’t have cut corners like that.” Her psyche has revealed relevant material without Sharon’s realizing it: She feels second best (and depressed) because she experiences herself as failing at the task of being as good as her image of her mother. Where is Sharon stuck? She is internally blocked from entertaining the possibility that she is entitled to invent her own style for being a good person. While focused on mother’s style as the only model, she is stuck when it comes to connecting the dots in her own story, where cutting corners in a recipe actually “tasted great.” Relevant material does not pertain to mother, childhood, husband, or casseroles (except as an illustration). The counselor’s listening task is to recognize Sharon’s difficulties in envisioning herself as an adult capable of (1) pursuing autonomous thoughts, feelings, and actions; (2) differing from her mother without automatically being a failure; (3) realizing that differing can be an improvement (as her casserole story shows).

The technical shorthand for Sharon’s difficulties in recognizing the source of her problems or reviewing the evidence to reach new conclusions is resistance, another concept often misunderstood. Resistance does not mean uncooperativeness, deviousness, or cowardice. It refers to each person’s valid efforts to (1) preserve stability, health, and safety in the face of conflict, and (2) be prudent in the face of uncertainty as to whether options for change are truly preferable to living with the same old problem. Since none of us can see around corners, you might think of resistance as a paradox: The more we are guided by known strengths and weaknesses (generally a sign of maturity) the less flexibility we can muster in a brand new situation. Sharon’s recent marriage may be considered the new situation she tried to master by relying on a known model, the model of her mother which seemed to serve her well in earlier situations. The key word in this paradox is known. A counselor listens for the stuck point because it signals where material already known to clients is insufficient (which is why they’re in your office). As counselor, you are not supposed to have answers to the new situation. Your role is to identify where the client’s effort to use familiar ideas in a new situation is preventing new perspectives.

Sharon has offered two other common signals in helping the counselor recognize resistance (the stuck-point): (1) She went back to the same topic by mentioning cooking three times (the anniversary dinner, former energy for cooking, and the casserole story). Do not be misled into thinking that the trivial nature of this topic makes it irrelevant. So-called trivial topics allow clients to express themselves more freely than so-called serious ones. Listen for any common thread in a topic the client repeats. (2) Since a familiar method of trying to get unstuck is to follow superego rules, a client’s invoking of rules is another clue to the stuck point. In Sharon’s case it’s, “When in doubt about a new situation as an adult wife, try to be like mother.” When you recognize that a client’s rules are bizarre or misapplied, you can be reasonably assured that you have identified a stuck point.

The concept of resistance carries a further connotation illustrated by a time-honored tale. A man on hands and knees under a lamppost calls out to his friend, “Yo, help me find my quarter.” “Sure,” says the friend, “where did you lose it?” “Over there under that bush,” he says. “But then why are you looking for it here?” And the answer comes, “Because the light is better.” Hardly the funniest joke in the world but mentioned here because of a psychological truth lurking therein: Because none of us feels capable of searching in the dark, we understandably try to solve problems by drawing upon all data visible and known to us. The downside of this essentially healthy position is that the psyche cannot help putting a new approach at the bottom of the list, just because it is new. An untried option feels like choosing to be even more confused, courting disaster by operating in the dark, so much so that our tendency to repeat the familiar and avoid the dark does have the flavor of an inner force. When clients are stuck, you are not seeing the cause of their problems but the effects of doing the best they can to search and struggle within the light available to them. Dittes (1967) has discussed how these dynamics operate both in counseling and routine congregational life. For clients, just as for ourselves, resolving most problems entails a foray into the dark that takes time and requires guidance. After identifying a stuck point, your counseling role expands to include exploration of the realistic risks which clients must accept before they dare venture into the dark. This is also known as growth, as the outcome of Sharon’s story will show.

It would be simplistic to suppose that the depression that led Sharon into counseling could be resolved merely by exploring the casserole story. Nor is the source of depression to be found in the kitchen. The image of the lamppost and the bush are helpful: Visible to Sharon is her sense of inadequacy in her marriage, accompanied by her audible effort to explain this as a failure to duplicate her image of her mother. Invisible to Sharon is the significance of her capacity to create a great-tasting casserole. Sharon’s own strengths that are different from her mother’s do not register. To put it another way, Sharon’s dread at inventing her own recipe duplicates in miniature her dread at daring to invent her own definition of adult life. Time spent in counseling will bring this to light. Before long Sharon brings up her loss of libido and eventually mentions fear of pregnancy. As she continues to focus on visible material (“I don’t see how I could raise a child with my schedule”), the counselor recognizes that her depression and sense of not being herself are due to a deeper stuck point: Since it is correct that she will never succeed in becoming a carbon copy of her mother, Sharon is truly in the dark when it comes to the risk of being her own different kind of mother-with no idea in advance as to how this will work out.

Identifying relevant material now means recognizing that Sharon’s conflict is portentous in both senses of this word: promising and ominous. Much promise for the lifting of depression, including a gratifying marriage and family life, comes from Sharon’s efforts to examine outmoded rules and the fact of difference between her and mother. Yet an ominous task awaits Sharon in that she does not have a template in place to rely on in forging a different identity as an adult woman, wife, and mother. Sharon represents us all in that she vacillates between resummoning familiar ideas (“Maybe mother could teach me about motherhood”) and venturing into the dark where whatever identity Sharon invents is, for better and worse, still uncertain (“There must be more ways than one to be a mother, but I don’t know what they are”). The clinical term, working through, refers to this back-and-forth process during which clients revisit the visible and contemplate risking the unknown. The threat of walking into the dark and making matters worse is always genuine. Clients who arrive at the point of being willing to invite unknown consequences-as they do when leaving home, returning home, quitting a job, taking a job, getting married, getting divorced, relinquishing custody, fighting for custody, trying to forgive, trying not to be deluded by forgiving-these clients are accepting the risk of increasing the pain of living for the sake of resolving the pain of stalemate (Thompson, 1994). The choice is never obvious. Your role as counselor consists of identifying the importance of this internal back-and-forth dialogue, as you and the client together explore both stalemate and risk. This will facilitate the client’s aim of choosing a path worth the struggle, in maximum freedom from the facade of a pseudoidentity, archaic rules, internal coercion, external extortion, or habit.

FOCUSING YOUR CONTRIBUTION
After listening to identify relevant material, you then face one of the most daunting assignments of all: making sure that whatever contribution you offer is actually said by you in intelligible sentences. You are not expected to produce magical words, creative ideas, or even wisdom, but you are expected to speak words that the client has a chance to understand. When in the Christian Scriptures Paul decides that instead of being mystically inspiring, he “would rather speak five intelligible words, for the benefit of others” (1 Cor. 14:19, NEB), he could just as well have been pointing to the nemesis of many counselors. Your style will yield maximum benefit if you assume that whatever you want clients to take with them must actually be said by you. Relying on a hope that they will somehow “get” what you haven’t actually put into words sets the odds against you both.

Obstacles to intelligibility on your part are subtle and pernicious. (1) Some counselors have been indoctrinated into the notion that clients must be left to arrive at insights “on their own.” In this misunderstanding, the fact that clients do offer clues prompts the erroneous conclusion that clients are also supposed to recognize them without help. Try speaking freely while looking for interconnected referents and you will discover that this cannot be done. Larry, Kate, Claudia, and Sharon are not supposed to be able to shed light under a dark bush by trying harder. They will go around in circles if a counselor will not speak to them. (2) The notion that clients “aren’t ready” to hear your contribution reflects another misconception. Clients become reluctant or oppositional when what you have to say is off base-irrelevant, vague, inaccurate, or unfounded. These errors occur when you have not understood their material. Conversely, if what you say does come from an adequate understanding, then by definition clients are ready for it-it’s what they’re talking about too. The most reliable signal that your contribution was worthwhile occurs, not when clients say “Yes” or “No,” but when they go on to add deeper confirming material. (3) Counselors who get into the habit of starting to speak before they know what they mean to say will produce peculiar comments, which in turn will befuddle clients, which in turn will make the counselor think that the client is even more fragile, which in turn will convince the counselor to say even less. Speaking intelligibly in the room is more difficult than it seems.

Jeff has spent 20 minutes telling his story to the pastor, who has listened carefully and digested the core theme. Saying “Uhhuh” or “Tell me more about it” would not be wrong, yet these would be marking time in this vignette, since Jeff’s dilemma is now out in the open where sooner or later the counselor must decide what contribution to make, if any. Roughly summarized, here isJeff’s story: “Yesterday I was waiting to buy the newspaper, like I always do, before I got on the bus … but the bus came … and the line was so long at the newsstand that instead of waiting to pay … I was going to miss the bus. .. so I just took the paper and got on the bus … I’m embarrassed and ashamed …. I need to get to the bottom of this … something is rotten inside me to have done such a thing …. It’s not me at all, but it is me after all.” Nothing further is reported here in order to emphasize that there is no single correct response to this material. Among many possible responses, the counselor must choose one and make sure that it is said intelligibly in the room.

From responses collected over the years, the following are not recommended: (1) “It’s understandable that you might feel guilt, since you have also felt it would be impossible to resolve the situation.” (2) “To feel rotten about such a thing that both is and isn’t you is a very upsetting way to feel about yourself.” (3) “Not missing the bus and needing the newspaper is a conflict that could lead you to feel that way.” The counselors-in-training who nominated these responses, in an earnest attempt to make a worthwhile contribution, are not ignorant or insensitive. Each response is in the ballpark of a worthwhile contribution, but none is presented in intelligible English. Jumbles come from trying to be too careful, fancy, or opaque. When these pastors feel free to lay what they mean, the value of their new responses changes dramatically, creating these recommended revisions: (1-revised) “Fortunately, you hold a key to relieving your guilt by going back now and paying for the paper.” (2-revised) “We might as well be grateful for the newspaper story; it brings to light how easy it is for you to heap tons of guilt on yourself and feel rotten.” (3- revised) “Feeling rotten isn’t just about a newspaper; you grant yourself zero leeway in handling a tight situation.”

You are not required to have a focused contribution at every turn. When you don’t, you don’t. Forcing “connections” and verbalizing half-baked impressions run the risk of being heard by clients in unpredictable ways. Musing out loud with no clear focus leads clients mistakenly to assume that you are employing the tactic of suggestion. They will believe that you want them to do their part by filling in the blanks themselves which will lead to haphazard conclusions. Imagine the haphazard inferences that a client could draw from an ill-fated comment such as, ”You probably can’t be expected to understand the problems he has in trying to relate to you.“Suggestion is virtually always to be avoided. It portrays you as coy, lost, unsure of your own voice, operating from guesswork and inviting clients to do the same. An exception can be made when you mean to offer a recommendation and openly identify this as your suggestion: “Since they’re treating you like their stepfather anyway, I suggest you take the part, play it to the hilt, and forget about legal technicalities.” Now and then, hearing yourself being quoted for some peculiar idea you never had is due to the way clients changed your words to suit their own wishes. Then again, sometimes you open the door by speaking but trying not to say anything.

Efforts to make clear and intelligible comments need not lead you into obsessive worries or self-doubt. On the contrary, a helpful and gratifying counseling style is honed from a combination of the dual permissions to (1) listen to and identify relevant material for as long as you need to, without worrying about what you’re going to say, and (2) speak when you do in the freedom to say what you mean. Sometimes you will make mistakes or be misconstrued, but experience will confirm that these do not wreck the worthwhile nature of your counseling. Its value endures because genuine listening and heartfelt speaking are the clinical tools through which your authentic humanity is conveyed.

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