Ground Rules

by Judy Harrow

If you're acting as priest/ess of a coven or grove, teaching classes on Goddess spirituality, facilitating open rituals or workshops, whatever you may be doing to serve the Old Gods or Their people, you've probably already been doing some counseling. 

Know your limits. Counseling is not psychotherapy

You'll feel better, and be more effective, if you acknowledge and honor the limits of your training and experience. Some people do have serious emotional impairments arising from terrible personal history or even from organic and physical malfunction. Their need for healing services is very real, sometimes tragically real. You'll want to help, but this is one case where "fake it till you make it" just doesn't do it. The very best thing you can do for them is to help find someone Pagan-friendly who is also thoroughly clinically trained. Pagan-friendly therapists aren't always easily found in all areas, sad but true. In cases of serious mental illness, clinical competence is the priority. 

What counseling is

Counseling is the art of helping basically healthy people work through the normal developmental issues, decisions, problems and even crises that come to all of us in life. Some examples: choosing a career, losing a parent, divorce. Sometimes it just helps to have somebody to talk to, somebody whose compassion we trust and whose wisdom we respect. 

Clergy of all religions are often seen as such persons. People particularly turn to their clergy when they are working through religious issues. Since most Wiccans are actively working on their own spiritual development, and since our smaller "congregations" give us far better access to our clergy than the mainstream groups, I think we seek our priest/esses' counsel more than most folks do. So when secular issues come up, it's easy and natural to turn to the one who's been helpful in the past. 

There are many philosophies and theories of counseling. My own approach is pretty eclectic, but comes from a "Rogerian" base. Carl Rogers was an American counseling psychologist of the mid-twentieth century who advocated "client-centered" counseling. He believed that all of us have within ourselves the capacity to make and implement good decisions in our lives, and that the role of the counselor was simply to provide the client with a safe and supportive space in which to examine the pending issues and make decisions. To me, this is entirely compatible with the Lady's teaching us that we will find what we seek within ourselves or nowhere. 

Counselors don't do what psychotherapists do, but they do more than what any sympathetic friend might do. Training and experience do make a difference. There are techniques for helping the client feel safe and supported, and I hope to share some of these. From what I can see, most working priest/esses already have the basics from good instinct and hard experience. More important than filling in the few gaps is helping our working clergy and clergy-in-training to feel more confident in what they already know. 

Recommended reading

There's an excellent book available, written for non-counseling professionals, such as teachers, physicians, lawyers, who need to use basic counseling skills in support of their primary professional activities. If you want to know a lot more than we can pack into these notes, look up On Becoming a Counselor: A Basic Guide for Nonprofessional Counselors and the Helping Professions, 3rd edition by Eugene Kennedy and Sara C. Charles (NY, Crossroad, 2001) ISBN 0-8245-1913-2.

go back to:

  • Introduction
  • Counseling Basics menu
  • Proteus Library



    Originally published in Covenant of the Goddess Newsletter (Yule, 1994)
    The address of this page is
    Contents of this page are copyright © 1996, 1999, 2001 by Judy Harrow.