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Other HPS and HP Duties: Counseling – Part I – Introduction
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This article is the first of a two parts series on training HPS and HP to be as counselors for their coven. This first part introduces why counseling in needed, how to start training, and provides suggestions and resources to use during training. The second part will discuss one very common but under discussed form of counseling – pre-nuptial counseling.
Clergy (HPS and HP) not only preside over rituals, but they have quite a few other duties as well, many of which are not as fun and exciting as running a rit. Counseling is one of the most overlooked. Counseling coveners is a critical duty and one that too often they receive little or no training in.
Even though most HPs and HPS cannot afford to become professional counselors, what they can do is learn to be good non-professional counselors, know when they are in over their heads, and have other professional resources they can go to when needed.
Counseling is usually taught as part of the Second and Third Degree study; your mileage may vary. How it is taught varies as widely as do traditions, but I’ll outline one method. This is certainly not comprehensive nor does it discuss in depth what it taught; it is an outline.
First, students must know what legal restrictions they operate under. Finding yourself in front of a judge because you “didn’t’ know” is not an excuse, nor does it reflect well on either your coven or your tradition. Find out what are your limitations, both legally and realistically. Check your local state laws. You may have legal obligations, especially if you present yourself as clergy of a religion. There are mixed court cases on where and how clergy-petitioner privilege holds. Know your states’ laws. Be especially aware of issues regarding counseling minors and responsibility to report abuse, threatened violence, and suicide.
Learning counseling is a mix of theory and practice as well as experience. For theory, there are limited resources. As initial background, read On Becoming A Counselor, Revised Edition: A Basic Guide for Nonprofessional Counselors and Other Helpers by Eugene Kennedy. This is a good introduction to becoming a non-professional counselor. Other reading more focused on covens includes Judy Harrow’s Wicca Covens (see the chapter on ‘Coven as Magical Growth and Support Group’, especially for why a coven is a support group but not a therapy group, what the difference is and why you, as clergy, need to care) and Amber K’s Covencraft (see the chapter on “Pastoral Counseling’) . Harrow also offers further resources at www.proteuscoven.org/proteus/counselbook.html.
Know Your Limits
As a non-professional counselor, you must always keep in mind what is reasonable for you to try and fix and when a professional is needed. Trying to fix a serious personal psychological problem is beyond your ability as a non-professional; learn when you’ve reached your limit and whom you can refer to.
Know Local Professionals
In order to make informed recommendations yourself, get to know local professional counselors in your area. And be aware you want to recommend counselors who will concentrate on your coveners’ real problems, not their religion or involvement in other subcultures. Although not always perfect, both the Kink-Aware Professionals list ( http://www.ncsfreedom.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper and Itemid=75) and the Poly-Friendly Professional list ( http://www.polychromatic.com/pfp/psych.html) provide starting places to locate local counselors who are already friendly to alternate subcultures. Most counselors will agree to meet with you for introductory sessions where you can ask about their attitudes on relevant topics such as religion.
We bring in a pagan friendly local counselor once a year to our coven for a lecture and to attend a rit. They are asked to do a brief (15-20) minute presentation on what they do and what to expect, and then open the floor up for a Q and A session (which is limited to questions about the process, not questions about the attendees’ problems) . They also stay for the ritual so they have a better understanding of what we do. This gives a face and confidence about the process to coveners who otherwise might shy off asking for help.
Have your prospective HPS and HP go through professional counseling themselves. Regardless of whether they go in for a large or small problem, having gone through the procedure provides them with more experience in counseling itself.
Another key difference in coven counseling is that, as HP and HPS, you have a dual responsibility – to do what is best for the coven as a whole and to do what is best for the individual. Sometimes these may be in conflict and you, as HPS and HP, have to determine which takes precedence. Frequently this means having to do what is best for the coven as a whole. This certainly doesn’t mean deliberately giving bad advice, but it may mean severing a disruptive person from the coven for the good of the coven. And you need to be very clear when you’re counseling which role you’re in. At some point you may have to explicitly say you are working for the good of the coven.
Balance is always a critical component. Being available is part of being HPS and HP, but you must not allow that availability to taken advantage of. When someone is truly needy it’s your responsibility to be there. But you must also sometimes gently push back if it becomes apparent you’re dealing with someone who just wants the attention or who needs to learn to start standing alone.
Counseling may only take a small portion of your time as a HPS and HP, but it is likely to have far more impact on both your coveners and on your coven overall than how well you performed at your last rit. Covens are composed of people and relationships; trying to keep both healthy is just as critical (if not more so) to a functional coven as how well your rituals are run. Are you going to be prepared as an HPS/HP to help keep it healthy?
Covencraft, Amber K, Llewellyn, 1998
On Becoming A Counselor, Revised Edition: A Basic Guide for Nonprofessional Counselors and Other Helpers, Eugene Kennedy, 2001.
Wicca Covens, Judy Harrow, 2000.
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