Certification in Christian Counseling: Reconciliation is also counseling
Within Catholic theology, the Seven Sacraments are outward signs that produce grace. Each grace that is particular to a sacrament has a particular function within the soul’s spiritual life. This sacramental grace helps the person carry out particular spiritual tasks within the domain of the sacrament. Christian
Counselors within the Catholic tradition have a particular aid in helping their clients overcome sin, grief and despair via the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, confession in itself is a religious counseling session. Many priests who administer the sacrament become Christian counselors by the very fact they lend their ear to the concerns and worries of the faithful. This ultimate form of counseling is followed with a dose of divine grace that refreshes the soul by removing sin, inclinations to sin, and a infusion of hope within the penitent.
The first aspect to consider is the psychological nature of confession. In all counseling, identifying problems and bringing them out into the open are keys for success. Within the sacred seal of confession, the penitent reveals his or her sins, issues and problems to someone. This exposure and admittance of problems opens up the channel for psychological healing and habitual corrections. The next psychological element involves advice from a third party. This advice comes from a trained pastoral professional; the better the counseling skills within the priest, the better the outcome. This is a nature of confession that many faithful discount. They consider it merely a verbal listing of bad actions without feedback for correction or healing. The role of a priest in this second part of confession is to guide and help the person amend his or her life. The third psychological element of confession is forgiveness. It is true within Catholic theology that God does forgive those who seek forgiveness outside the bounds of confession. It is also true, however, that the official sacramental infusion of grace is completed via the absolution by the priest. The priest, as an instrument of grace, represents Christ and as his representative infuses the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the penitent. If one believes this theology, the psychological benefits are immense. The person again feels hope, forgiveness and healing. Whether one is agnostic, atheist, or even non-Catholic, one cannot deny these three psychological benefits of confession.
The second aspect involves the theology which while open to debate outside of Catholic circles remains a steadfast tradition within the Church. A Christian spiritual counselor or one who is certified in Christian counseling who utilizes the sacramental graces of confession as a spiritual medicine for his or her client is utilizing a great tool. The sacrament spiritually nourishes the soul in healing. It forgives the stain of the sin and its odious stench, removing the attachments of vice. It is not enough to forgive the sin, but to find its root in its particular vice. This is the deeper element of the sacramental cleansing of confession. Furthermore, while removing the demons of vice and sin, it strengthens and heals the soul for future confrontations. This is why frequent confession is encouraged. It literally is a bathing of the soul.
Yet as Christian spiritual counselors, non Catholics do not have this psychological and spiritual tool at their disposal. This may be due to differences in theological beliefs or a different tradition. I recommend within Protestant circles, a strong emphasis during counseling on prayers to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the primary key within the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and there is no reason why when two meet in the Lord’s name that his Spirit would not manifest and strengthen. Many counselors have various gifts of the spirit in which they can lay hands or invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit. Such outward signs of prayer and laying of hands can also give the spiritual and psychological benefits needed for non Catholic Christians.
In conclusion, while this article primarily focused on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a few things can be gained by counselors of all Christian denominations. First, outward signs of religious faith are essential for healing. We are composed of body and soul. Our physical senses are essential to spiritual healing. Human nature is intrinsically interwoven with both matter and spirit. Hence when treating a malady, one must treat both elements. Second, the psychological effects that correlate with the spiritual effects cannot be underestimated. While the psychological effects are manifestations of the spiritual, one cannot deny even from a secular view that such religious traditions are not worthwhile. On the contrary, religious traditions that foster forgiveness, healing and hope are instrumental to someone’s recovery. If one wants to merely believe this is psychological and not spiritual, then so be it, but the reality is man is a spiritual creature and innately searches for his creator which is God. Only God can give the satisfaction and happiness to overcome sin and despair.
If you are interested in a certification in Christian Counseling, please review the program. Our certification in Christian counseling covers many aspects of the practice and is based upon Christ and the Bible.
By Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C