Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pastors are a Bridge

When I first began my private mental health practice, I knew one thing was certain: I needed to meet as many area clergy as I could. Today I had the pleasure of having coffee with an another local parish pastor. Thanks, C!

So many people still experience embarrassment, resistance and fear when it comes to seeking therapy for relationships, emotions, or behaviors, they stall when it comes to getting help. They may talk to their friend or family member. They may occasionally tell their physician about how they feel. But as they get ready to reach for help, they may also talk to their pastor.

Most pastors are great at emotional triage. Trained in basic listening skills, taught how to manage themselves in emergencies, experienced at handling emotions at funerals, parish clergy are the go-to folks in many people's lives when it comes to figuring out what to do when the going gets rough. I am honored so many people trusted their lives to me over my years in the parish. I learned early on to have a small group of trusted counselors I knew and to whom I could refer my parishioners who needed more help than I could give. I tried to think of myself as a link between suffering and help, and I kept in touch with those counselors on a regular basis.

Now, I strive to be one of those counselors that the pastors, ministers and priests around me trust. Someone they have met, looked in the eye, and gathered a personal sense of me for themselves. As I reflect on clients who have recovered well, who make the most progress in their personal goals, the ones who feel that therapy was a success: most have come to therapy via their pastors.

Thank you, Pastor, for being on the front lines in people's personal lives. You are under appreciated in our secular culture, and over-worked inside the special world of the congregation. You may not feel it often enough, but you are loved, respected and trusted by your members, and a lot of neighbors and strangers, too. Helping people navigate the details of mental health care is a compassionate gift you give. Thank you for trusting people you care to me, and to other therapists you know and trust. 

Oh, and one more thing: you are often neglectful of your own mental health. Don't forget to reach out for help yourself. Some of us know exactly what your life is like, and can be trusted as a confidential guide to increasing YOUR emotional health.  God's grace surround you!

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