Pagan Pastoral Counseling
Article ID: 8607
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,783
Times Read: 4,089
Author: Stone Riley
Posted: July 16th. 2004
Times Viewed: 4,089
My work in pastoral counseling - as a religious minister giving people advice - is distinctly different from the work of a psychotherapist. There is some overlap in the two fields, certainly, but a psychotherapist studies and exercises a lot of skills that I do not. And vice versa.
Take an example where the two kinds of work overlap: Now and then someone who is afflicted with real mental illness asks for my help. What can I do for them? I cannot ask diagnostic questions to see where they fit in the current understanding of their disease. I cannot discuss recent research in their disease, or even old research. I cannot tell them whether some medication they've been prescribed is a good idea. I wouldn't dare to venture such an opinion.
Even speaking of therapy, though, there are some things I'm pretty well versed in - meditation techniques or mythological visualizations or prayer, for example - that I can suggest as therapeutic exercises, pointing out that you can use mental stuff to work on mental stuff, and thereby exert some force toward normalizing the chemistry and structure of your brain. I can do that. And I can hope - at least hope - that those practices may help them ease some of their pain.
And, perhaps, I can help them sort out the causes of their various psychic experiences. As a normal part of the mystic process throughout the human race, magical practitioners do have experiences that partially resemble psychotic episodes. A presence appears in your consciousness and there seems to be communication. Where has this presence come from? From a fractured part of yourself or through a proper innate connection with the universe outside? I can, perhaps, weigh their description of the textures of those moments against my own and offer some comparison, perhaps even tender some advice on what to do in those moments.
And furthermore, as someone who has developed what some scholars call "shamanic vision" - the palpable realization that we all live every moment in mythic time - the comparison of psychotic episodes with healthy experience becomes more possible than it would otherwise be. Does the person's experience look like a normal in-burst of real human mythical awareness, or does it not? Does that experience, that bit of story, look whole and properly functional or broken? This judgment may help me advise them. Should it be regarded as a guiding beacon or a symptom?
But still, most of my conversation with the person is pretty much the same as anyone might have with someone whose life is very hard. I try to help them find an accurate view of themselves and their situation. I look for options they might be ignoring and encourage them to consider ambitious goals like all of us should have. I buck up their courage if they need it. There may be moral and ethical questions in their relationships with other people. There may be questions in their relationship with the divine. As with anyone.
And there is something more. There is a stock aphorism that I've always trotted out sooner or later in these situations. I tell the person: "Mental illness is a very hard life, but it is a life that you can learn from." As is true for all of us. And so far - at least in every case so far - that idea has carried us into some fruitful useful branch of the discussion. In other words, we can learn from this life. We can all learn from this life.
And that brings us now to the usual sort of client doesn't it? This is someone who doesn't need a psychotherapist at all. They need something that therapists don't generally do. This is someone simply afflicted with life's bewildering riddles.
A typical example: A lady sits down and says "I have a question about my marriage." Then within the next fifteen seconds I am plunged head-deep into some Greek drama. She has been struggling, probably for years, to figure out the baffling intricate details of the characters and plot. Me, at first I'm frantically treading water just trying to guess which play we're in.
Thank goodness for Tarot! The cards point right at the thing we need to get to. Every time, without exception, Tarot has an amazing magical power to steer the conversation in the significant direction. Sometimes it even takes such a different heading from what I expect, that I'm really struggling to catch up with the drift - to put two and two and two together - until suddenly it all clicks into focus. With a very interactive mode of reading cards, where I mainly use them as prompts for pointed questions, things often click into focus for the client before they do for me. Then, once the riddle has been found, solutions to it can be sorted through so that life can move ahead.
And you know what I'm keeping an eye out for all the time while we turn over cards and talk? I am watching and listening - more than anything else - for some piece of information that she does not know. And not only looking for this in the cards, I'm searching for the presence of a riddle in the person's behavior. I'm listening and watching very carefully to every nuance of their tone of voice and face and body language for some discrepancy with the words that they have worked out logically to speak aloud.
But we must really also discuss another type of divination. Sometimes it is far more appropriate to focus your attention in a different direction; toward your connection with the universe. Sometimes a clue to let the client move ahead can readily be provided by a "disembodied" spirit. Here again is "shamanic vision."
It might be some being with whom you, the counselor, are familiar, with whom you already have a trusting relationship. Frankly, it sometimes feels to me as if a little crowd of helpful friends is mumbling among themselves, an idea is reached, and one of them jumps up and gestures for attention. Of course I always hand on these pieces of advice to the client verbatim, so to speak. Even if I do not understand them well myself, the client usually will.
But sometimes there will appear the spirit of a departed human being, one with whom your client has an unresolved relationship, and this can be hard. True, many times the spirit merely needs to give a simple message of love and reassurance and that is enough to let your client move ahead.
But there are other cases where lingering animosity and the grief of loss and even the client's own fear of death have been entangled into a really tragic puzzle. Indeed, there may be little hope of progress in the brief time of that consultation, but at least you can work to clarify the issues in the client's thinking. And you can at least trot out your stock of aphorisms on forgiveness, courage and acceptance. You can sincerely wish them well.
In other words, to sum this essay up into a single thought: We can learn from our lives and we need to.
And there is the abiding pleasure of the work. After a session I always tell a client this: "Thank you for your trust." They will teach you much.
Location: Dudley, Massachusetts
Author's Profile: To learn more about Stone Riley - Click HERE
Bio: Within the Pagan movement in the northeastern U.S.A., Stone Riley is a famous painter, poet, storyteller and diviner. Under the label of Spirit Hill Studio, he self-publishes and distributes books and videos on computer disk. Stone also exhibits his New Modern Art paintings and performs as a storyteller several times each year at Pagan events. He has self-published two Tarot decks and uses Tarot, I Ching, and several other methods in his pastoral counseling practice. Website: www.yessy.com/stoneriley. Peace through justice.
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