David Benner’s Strategic Pastoral Counseling
Strategic Pastoral Counseling is a model developed by David Benner described as a brief, structured counseling approach that is explicitly Christian and that appropriates the insights of contemporary counseling theory without sacrificing the resources of pastoral ministry. There is much debate about the uses and differences of secular counseling and biblical counseling. I will not examine those here. My purpose is to give a brief account of Brenner’s work. There are a few characteristics of Strategic Pastoral Counseling (SPC) that I found helpful for pastoral ministry.
SPC is brief and time-limited, working within a suggested maximum of five sessions. Both the pastor and the parishioner are encouraged to work continuously at maintaining focus and direction. One of the benefits of this model is that is presupposes that the counseling relationship is a partnership, which increases the participation and expectation of change in the counselee.
The use of written materials is central to SPC. The Bible as well as a variety of other devotional, inspirational, and practical books and booklets could be assigned to the client. The literature should be integrated within the counseling session, not simply offered as a supplement to them and serve as a support and extension of the counseling. Moreover, it also seems that Benner advocates a holistic approach to pastoral counseling that aims at the behavioral (action), cognitive (thought), and affective (feeling) aspects of the personality – with a focus on spirituality.
Lastly, the SPC process is very structured. Each of the sessions has a clear focus and each builds upon the previous ones in contributing to the accomplishment of the overall goals. SPC involves three stages:
- The encounter stage, where boundaries are set, the central concerns and history are explored, a pastoral diagnosis is conducted, and a mutually agreeable focus is achieved.
- The engagement stage, where the problem is explored holistically and resources are identified for coping or change.
- The disengagement stage, where progress is evaluated, concerns are accessed, referrals are arranged, and counseling is terminated.
Overall I found this little book helpful and would encourage pastors who are developing their counseling philosophy to read it. Counseling in a Christian context can be highly effective when it maintains narrowly focused goals in a time-limited setting. The details of this model of pastoral counseling are outlined well in this little practical guide.