Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

An Ecumenical, Interdisciplinary, and Integrating Specialization Program in Pastoral Counseling in East Central Europe

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

An Ecumenical, Interdisciplinary, and Integrating Specialization Program in Pastoral Counseling in East Central Europe

Article excerpt

Pointing out the similarities and differences between pastoral counseling and pastoral psychology, our study presents the goals, curriculum, characteristics, and novelty of a specialization program in pastoral counseling established at a historic moment in Hungary--after the end of the communist dictatorship. On the one hand, we describe a university-level ecumenical, interdisciplinary, integrating specialization program in pastoral counseling which is offered at the graduate level through the cooperation of secular and ecclesiastical institutions of higher learning and which takes into account the differences of historical and cultural conditions between East Central Europe and the West. On the other hand, we present an effectiveness study of the program in which we measured, with the help of an instrument developed by our research group, changes in students' pastoral counseling competence (N=55). In the longitudinal study 'person-centeredness', 'non-directiveness', 'assuming responsibility jiff the process', 'ability to handle spiritual issues', 'recognition of competence boundaries' showed significant increase. The results prove that students' practical helping competence developed significantly, and our findings correspond to the goals of the educational program. We also discuss the strengths and limitations of the specialization program as well as its social significance.

The purpose of this paper is to present our concept of pastoral counseling and a corresponding interdisciplinary and integrating specialization program. A novelty of our concept of pastoral counseling is that we do not identify pastoral counseling with pastoral psychology but understand it to include, in addition to the latter, other human sciences as well. We thus consider it important that students learn and integrate relevant segments of sociology, pedagogy, and health sciences.

Exemplary features of the specialization program include the following: it provides university-level training; the program is administered through the cooperation of secular and ecclesiastical institutions of higher learning; education is offered in an ecumenical spirit through the cooperation of various denominations; the curriculum reflects the special historical and cultural context of East Central Europe as different from Western Europe. The program's quality control is served by a study of its effectiveness.

The paper begins with a sketch of how pastoral counseling differs from pastoral psychology. It then offers a brief survey of the effects of East Central European dictatorships on the practice of religion in different post-socialist countries. We review the resulting attitudes developed among church members, which must be taken into consideration when developing a new program. There follows a detailed overview of the specialization program and its courses, including examples of the implementation of governing principles and the realization of goals, that is, a demonstration of the implementation and integration of multidisciplinary knowledge and skills in theory and practice.

Pastoral Counseling

We understand pastoral counseling (Debrecenyi, Nemes, & Szarka, 2004) as a form of care which, similar to its Western European and American counterparts', centers on the personality in its bio-psychosocial and spiritual unity, and in which a professionally trained pastoral counselor stands by a person or a group. In this form of care, the pastoral counselor supports the client in ordinary or extraordinary life situations or in a time of personal difficulty, loss, or crisis. Although the backbone of pastoral counseling is the counseling session, we believe that the pastoral counselor must not leave the social context of the client out of consideration, either: his or her family, community, and society.

Pastoral counselors' professional identity is fundamentally determined by their theological education and church mandate. …

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