Religious Counseling: what makes it different?

by Judy Harrow

Research done with both self-identified feminists and self-identified Fundamentalist Christians who are seeking counseling indicates that members of both groups would rather work with a counselor who shares that self-identification. Why?

Shared values:

  1. Secular counseling believes itself to be value-free, but this is not so. There are definite values about process (i.e. openness, power-sharing, autonomy), although the typical secular counselor will be neutral as to outcomes. One could understand the "critical counseling dimensions" to be professional values.
  2. Fortunately, the process values associated with secular counseling are completely compatible with Wiccan religious values, so at least that presents no problem. e.g. "respect" = find what you seek within.
  3. When working with a counselor who shares our religious values or lifestyle orientation, we can also assume some common beliefs about outcomes. This can make the decision making phase of the counseling process more efficient.  Consider this: a man comes to you with the complaint that his wife is refusing to accept his natural role as head of the household, and undermining his authority. Could you and he effectively work together?
  4. Also, specifically for Witches, there are two other issues:

  5. a) Some secular therapists still believe that "magical thinking" is by definition crazy or that anybody who "thinks they are a Witch" belongs in a nice, safe place. Conversely, we need to know that not everybody who hears voices is hearing the voices of the Gods.
    b) Sometimes the problems being worked on involve initiatory material, which cannot be discussed even with an unprejudiced cowan therapist.

Shared vocabularies

  1. Much of what will be discussed involves feelings rather than objective data. These are very subjective, subtle, hard to define. But in many cases, the client will not need you to help them analyze the objective aspects of their situation nearly as much as to help them consciously understand just how they feel about it. Few of our people are dumb or disadvantaged.
  2. Within the Craft, we share several sets of metaphors (e.g. myths, tarot trumps, elemental attributions) that allow clients to describe the vague and mushy, but very important, stuff by analogy.
  3. Also, we have two "large" symbol complexes that provide extremely useful models for understanding life, the universe and all that in the light of Wiccan/Pagan values:

  4. a) The Wheel of the Year, or the three phase Lunar cycle both are models for the cycles and changes of life. Helpful for understanding phases and processes within relationships, projects, careers or adjusting to life passages.

    b) The quartered Circle is a model of balance and integration of different modes of human psychological function. [cf. the Jungian quaternity: intellect, passion, intuition + sensation.] In the information gathering phase, a reminder to include data from all four aspects.

            Also consider the quartered Circle as a diagnostic system:
    1. East: irrational beliefs or expectations (cf. Beck, Ellis)
    2. South: bottled up or displaced feelings (cf. Freud)
    3. West: archetypal problems and/or problems accessing intuitive wisdom (cf. Jung)
    4. North: behavioral difficulties (cf. Skinner); issues encoded in body (Lowen, Gendlin)
    5. Center: problems related to the family or group context (cf. Adler)


Wiccan/Pagan techniques

When we do counseling within our own community, we can draw on our own old ways.

    1. Divination:

      • useful in the information gathering and decision making phases of the counseling process.
      • purpose (in a counseling context) is to access the client's own intuition and wisdom (which includes subliminal observations and unconscious integrations, as well as anything psychic). Also a Wiccan querent is likely to be familiar with the traditional meanings of the cards, hexagrams, whatever. So, when divination is used for the purpose of counseling, encourage the querent to do as much of the talking as is possible.
      • When divination is in service of empowerment, as the values of both Wicca and secular counseling mandate, it is to increase choices and enable better choices, never to take away choice. Therefore, any statements to clients that indicate a fixed future are inappropriate.
      • Also consider other receptive magic (tuning in) techniques, such as dream incubation and interpretation, meditation, trance art and play techniques, etc.

    2. Magic:

      • "Magic is the art of changing consciousness / causing change in accordance with will." Whichever definition you prefer, magic will work well to enable an individual to make desired changes in him or her self.

      • For the action/implementation phase, consider rituals to help program the unconscious mind to make the desired changes. E.g. visualizations, affirmations, candle magic, making & charging talismans in short, the entire gamut of active/projective magical workings.
The very familiarity of these techniques will in itself invoke the placebo effect, 
and amplify their natural effectiveness.

visit the American Association of Pastoral Counselors web site
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    Contents of this page are copyright © 1996, 1999, 2001 by Judy Harrow.