Christian pastoral counseling occurs within the framework of the church’s mission. This context becomes extremely important. Pastoral counseling should go hand-in-hand with the use of the means of grace—the Word and sacraments. Hulme notes that “to separate the church’s means of grace from pastoral counseling would divorce pastoral counseling from its Christian context.”* The pastoral counselor may also employ other distinctive Christian resources: prayer, individual confession, the giving of absolution, pastoral conversation and consolation. Christian fellowship, liturgical formulae, Christian teachings and theology, signs and symbols, and benedictions. Naturally, these resources may be an advantage or disadvantage depending upon how they are utilized. The pastoral counselor must avoid regarding these “resources of faith” as psychological palliatives or mere support therapy but must rather view them as avenues and channels for the reception of God’s healing grace.
The keys to the dynamics and distinctiveness of pastoral counseling is found in the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News of a person’s reconciliation with God and with other people through Jesus Christ. The Gospel becomes the integrating factor in pastoral counseling because the forgiveness of sins is the source of its healing power and life-giving therapy. In what other kinds of counseling is forgiveness from God and others central and clearly sought after? The aim of pastoral counseling is not to get people merely to feel better or to act differently, but to be different. The “old self” must die and the “new self” come alive. Here, pastoral counseling does not differentiate between the redeemed and the unredeemed in its methadology. The forgiveness of sins is vital for sanctification as well as justification. No matter at what stage of relationship with God a person is, pastoral counseling is able to become an instrument through which the Holy Spirit can carry out a sanctifying work.
In the various kinds of psychotherapy, success often depends on the theory, techniques, and skills of the therapist. In pastoral counseling the same would be true to some extent; however, in pastoral counseling God works through the tools and resources. It is His power that effects change in people’s lives. This does not imply that pastoral counseling can be carried out in a shoddy manner; rather, quite the opposite should be the case. In all of pastoral counseling the pastor is acutely aware of God as the measure of all things.
Walter J. Koehler Counseling & Confession: The Role of Cofession and Absolution in Pastoral Counseling p. 40-41
* From William. E Hulme, Counseling and Theolgy page. 202