Pastoral counseling is a unique form of psychotherapy combining spiritual and clinical psychology. This versatility makes pastoral counseling a valuable tool, a ministry of healing that facilitates distressed people in coping with their life problems. These features of pastoral counseling are especially beneficial in the military since chaplains are expected to serve culturally and ethnically diverse personnel. In addition, service members who do not profess to be religious may also benefit from professional psychological help and spiritual guidance. Given these circumstances, a pastoral counselor with a military identification must be ready to adjust the ministry in accordance with the values of the Army Profession. In this regard, pastoral counselor identity can be compared to the glue that holds the ministry together.
Theology gives me general guidance regarding which spiritual services may be sought by an average person. It is essential to realize that religion assists in resolving several moral and ethical problems. Therefore, theology guides me in how to help military personnel who have life questions not explicitly related to religion. After all, people with different beliefs may experience similar doubts, existential rumination, and psychological problems. My theology offers a broad perspective, whereas a secular alternative to a chaplain does not have such an advantage. In the end, the integration of theological knowledge enhances the quality of counseling on moral and ethical matters.
Pastoral Counseling and Military Chaplaincy
Military chaplain of the U.S. Army must align their pastoral counselor identity with the fundamental characteristics of the Army Profession. Trust, honorable service, military expertise, stewardship, and esprit de corps are the cornerstones that define a dutiful, ethical service member. Since chaplains are expected to give spiritual guidance to fellow soldiers, they must become an embodiment of the Army ethic. One cannot provide military pastoral counseling if their identity contradicts the very essence of the Army Profession.
The characteristic of trust is paramount for establishing contact with those who seek care. Trust is shared confidence among the commanders and subordinates that everyone can be relied on in performing their assigned tasks. In regard to pastoral counseling, a trusted chaplain will be significantly more effective since personnel will be more willing to follow their spiritual advice. The characteristic of honorable service corresponds with the performance of duty, making ethical decisions, and taking ethical actions. The duty of a military chaplain lies in serving the person regardless of their beliefs. In doing so, a chaplain becomes a truly honorable servant who does their best to help fellow soldiers.
In regard to the military expertise characteristic, a chaplain positively contributes to human development and moral-ethical fields. Pastoral counseling can be associated with the development of character, competence, and commitment to the cause. In addition, a military chaplain who excels in the moral-ethical field can guide fellow soldiers on how to utilize ethical reasoning in decisions and actions. Consequently, a chaplain strengthens the Army as a profession, which corresponds with the characteristic of stewardship. Stewardship includes caring for people and establishing a professional climate that fosters the Army ethic and strengthens mutual trust. In this regard, the Army Profession helps in my development as a professional pastoral counselor since it promotes the necessary ethical values.
Lastly, the characteristic of esprit de corps would help me become a spiritual leader, which is mandatory for a pastoral counselor in the military. Esprit de corps is manifested in high motivation, discipline, and striving for excellence. Additionally, esprit de corps is associated with perseverance, mental resilience, and readiness to face challenges. Therefore, this Army Profession characteristic will help me in tough counseling situations. Esprit de corps will not let me become confused and let down the comrades who are looking for mental care and spiritual guidance.
Given that a military chaplain occupies the role of spiritual leadership, they have to develop the character attributes of an Army leader. Empathy, an ability to genuinely relate to others’ situations, motives, and feelings, is particularly important. Empathetic leaders are better communicators; in addition, empathy allows anticipating what others are experiencing and feeling. As such, the development of empathy will improve my understanding of fellow soldiers. Consequently, I will be able to provide them with better counsel and tailor my advice to individual needs. In this regard, empathy contributes to the characteristic of trust since service members will be more inclined to trust an empathetic chaplain.
Overall, in my current position, I am a pastoral counselor who strives to become a highly proficient military chaplain. I wish to accomplish my goal because I want to provide fellow American soldiers with fine-quality spiritual care. I firmly believe that pastoral counseling aligns with the characteristics of the Army Profession, such as trust, honorable service, military expertise, stewardship, and esprit de corps. Therefore, I strive to adjust my mentality to these characteristics and embrace Army ethics. This commitment constitutes the core of my pastoral counselor identity — one has to become a master before guiding others.
Department of the Army, Army Leadership and the Profession: Army Doctrine Publication 6-22, 2020
Jan Grimell, “An Interview Study of Experiences from Pastors Providing Military Spiritual Care Within the Swedish Armed Forces,” Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, (2020): 1-17.
Yoseph Pedhu, “Improving Performance: What Pastoral Counselors Can Do?” COUNS-EDU: The International Journal of Counseling and Education, 5, no.1 (2020): 29-38.