Among things Chaplains do is to listen to and counsel people with problems that weigh on their souls. The four P's of Pastoral Counseling are Probe, Profile, Problem, and Plan.
When someone seeks you out as a Chaplain, it is for one or more specific reasons. These motivators for a Pastoral counseling session may be hard for them to talk about. They may be difficult to explain. They may be emotionally wrenching to discuss. The four P's work well here.
The first of the four P's is to Probe. The ice needs to be broken. Since the answer to their problems must come from within them to be effective for them, the understanding of the difficulty or difficulties must also start from within. Then they can be drawn out. Break the nervous and shame filled log jam of emotions by tossing out open probes to get the ball rolling.
Questions like, What brings us together today? What would you like to discuss? and What do you see as the best outcome of this visit? are general in nature. It gives them a way to begin unburdening themselves. Once they start to open up, the process can begin to become progressively more specific until the true reason or reasons for the meeting air themselves.
Your role in providing Pastoral counseling services is to be an aggressive listener, not an assertive speaker. By the use of gentle open probes, let them start speaking. Listen very closely for clues as to the nature of the real problem or problems at hand. Remember that if the problems are medically based, they need to be referred to state licensed, board certified doctors and mental hygiene therapists.
The physical and psychiatric treatments and therapies of the body and mind are their domain. Yours is the spiritual realm. A team approach is always best. Let each do what they do best. Every specialist should stick to their own field. Yours is to address what we call in Hebrew choley ruach (sickness of the spirit). That is very different than organically based illness. Obviously, there will be overlap. Those ill in body and mind are also likely to be troubled in spirit. You focus in on the spiritual problems.
As they open up, listen for specific things that trouble them. Look for things that keep re-occurring in the conversation. That is what is on their conscience. This is the beginning of step two. You are beginning, through aggressive listening to Profile their troubles.
As the Profile emerges, make your open probes less general, and more specific. You will hear from them what is really bothering them before they realize it. Help them to see the profile, as they reveal it to you. Be incremental, and gentle in your more specific inquiries. This is painful for them to talk about. It is even harder for them to see. In Eastern Philosophy there is a saying. The finger can point with ease in any direction. Only with the greatest of difficulty can it point to itself. Assist them in gradually discovering their challenges. Fast is fast. Correct, and lasting is better. All good things to those who wait.
Examples of such gradually more specific questions to round out the Profile, for you and for them are as follows. You said that you have feelings, impulses you cannot control, right? You mentioned they frighten you, because you know they are wrong. Isn't that true? Since you cannot control them, you are concerned they will continue to get you into trouble. They may cause you to do things that hurt others, and make you feel bad afterwards. Is that accurate? You mentioned that you feel alone, helpless. That you were alone in earlier years when bad things happened to you. Even today, you feel isolated. You need some help to get through these times. Isn't that right? The key here is to repeat back to them what they tell you, to make sure you understand them. That is true. It is also good for them to hear back what they said. That way, they can evaluate it, and get a better handle on it too.
As the profile becomes clearer to you and to the person you counsel, begin to quantify the specific problem, or set of problems to be addressed. As the Profile develops so both of you can use it comfortably, it is now time for the third step. To describe what is the Problem to be addressed.
Now your questions should be very specific. They should be designed to get them to tell you clearly what they understand the problem to be. Reflecting this through their speech gives them the open door to walk through in telling you, and themselves what will be the Problem to solve. What are some examples of questions to ask leading to the use of things that your tools as a Chaplain can help them use to solve their problems?
You said that you feel isolated, unaccepted, unproductive, and underused as a person. Isn't that what you said? You mentioned that you want to do something else, something better with your life than you have been doing, did I get that right? I heard you share that you need guidance, motivation, and structure in order to be more productive. To do things that make you feel better about yourself. That help you feel like you are part of something good, and that you are good. Isn't that correct? Can you give an instance of something that makes you feel this way? Is there an example of something you did, or did not do that troubles you? What triggers the desire to do what you know you ought not to? What prompts you to avoid doing what you know you should? How can we replace these feelings with other things that work better for you, and those around you? How can we fill the void, when we remove a problem? What would a replacement be that would work for you?
We are now ready to work on the final step in the counseling. The development of a plan to address their spiritual needs. What will be your role going forward, once the plan is agreed upon?
In mathematics, there is something called the tricotomy property. Whenever you compare two things to each other, using any metric for comparison, there are only three relations that can obtain between them. They are are equal. One is less than the other. Or one is more than the other. What will be your position with this person? Equal, greater or lesser than them? The answer is all three, but at different times.
When they fail, be under them to prop them up again. Keep them from falling too far down.
When they are successful, and doing well, be their equal. Let them know they are doing well. Help them to feel better about themselves. To believe in themselves. That they can do right, and forgo doing wrong. Try to catch them in the act of doing good. Compliment it, as their equal. Respect for themselves comes form both within and from the outside. First, they need to know that they can earn respect from others. Then they feel justified in giving it to themselves.
As they begin the long path to self actualization, give them a role model in yourself that they can emulate. Be mildly above where they are. Just enough to reach higher. Not so high they cannot access that level now. That will only frustrate them. It can cause a slowdown in progress. Or worse, motivate them to stop trying. Avoid no win situations to the extent practically possible. At all times, be there to listen to them. To teach them about their heritage, and what it offers them to meet their needs. To show them how to practice their religion. They may not know.
What would be some three point plan samples to address Pastoral needs?
One is Tefilah, Teshuvah, Veh Tzaddakah. Prayer, Repentance, and Charity.
Do they feel nervous, edgy? Do they need time to relax? To step outside the mundane parts of existence? Do they crave a way to refresh their spirit? Prayer (Tefilah) can accomplish all these things. It can be done 24/7 alone. It can also be done in the presence of people like themselves. This will ward off feelings of isolation, loneliness. Individual prayers are often the most meaningful. They are just between them and G-d. It is as customized as prayer can get. The more customized, the more meaningful and relevant to their needs. Work with them on prayers from their tradition. Things they can internalize, and share with others who are in their community of belief.
Do they have problems with self esteem? Do they feel unclean? Unworthy? Is there potential they feel they have within themselves. Things yet unused, because past baggage of things done, and unaccomplished get in the way? Repentance (Teshuvah) works wonders here. By repenting, by moving away from corrupting influences of society, the wrong crowd, the wrong activities, the wrong self destructive or self torpedoing inclinations (Yetzer ha Rah) they can free up a path for the pristine soul granted them by G-d on birth to practice the good inclinations within them (Yetzer Tov). In every religious heritage, yours included, there are rituals, rites, and other activities to assist them with Repentance. As with Prayer, and Prayer is one valuable tool here, these can be utilized in individual and group settings.
It is as normal to want to help others, as to get help when needed. We are social animals. We are also individuals. We want to gain and to give. We want to do right, and be done right by in return. Tzadakkah (Charity) works well on both counts in each instance. Tzaddakah comes for the same verb root stem as Tzeddek (righteousness). As in the Torah it is written Tzeddek Tzeddek Tirdof (Justice justice shall you pursue). As one should pursue justice, so one should pursue charity. The first place to do both is within one self. We need to be more accepting of ourselves. Who we actually are, and who we potentially can become. If we don't accept ourselves, how can anyone else? Where we actually have good things we can do and share, we should. That leads to acts of charity, the betterment of others, and justice through good works. Where we do not yet have these qualities or good gifts, we can work to achieve them. That comes from our first accepting our potential. First, we need to be charitable with ourselves. Then let the good works flow from within us out to others.
Another three point plan is Torah, Avodah, veh Gemliat Chassadim.
Torah, following religious guidelines for how to live life must abundantly brings structure to messy lives.
Avodah, religious service attendance and participation brings us into a community of kindred spirits. There are things we cannot do alone, but can do and do better in the presence and in harmony with others. We can also do Holy work individually. It is not an either or choice here. Rather, it is a question of when we do each. Both are necessarily, and both are of value.
Gemilat Chassadim (acts of kindness, goodness, righteousness) on an individual and group basis are also part of the process of healing a sickness of the spirit. Not only does it benefit the recipient of these acts. Most of all, it heals and furthers the spiritual development of the agent of loving kindness (Shaliach Chesid).
Whatever your heritage, if you perform Pastoral counseling, in the context of the tradition of the person who seeks out your help: Probe, Profile, Problem quantify, and Plan create and implement.
May G-d grant you the wisdom, knowledge and ability to use them for those in need. Enoch.