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When To Counsel, When To Refer
The Person As Teacher
Understanding is so important to genuine caring and support. It is impossible for any human being to know exactly what others are experiencing without attempting to enter their lives by careful listening and understanding. A pastor can be greatly assisted by allowing the family and the person dealing with the disease to become his/her teachers. Invite them to share what they are experiencing and what they need. Do not do this just once; stay in touch to carry the burden of an ongoing illness. (Uken, 1986, 8).When a pastor invites someone to share his/her experiences, religious history and cultural background, the pastor begins to learn what has formed this person and how the person's spiritual journey has brought him/her to this particular point. If this is done in a structured way, the pastor can begin to learn what is troubling the person and if the assistance of a mental health professional is needed. It is essential to have a clear understanding of the person's faith connection with its social and cultural dimensions. This is key information in making an accurate appraisal of the person's situation. "The process is similar to asking for a family history, but here one notes the nature of involvement with a religious community. The more knowledge one has of religious traditions, their sociology, practice, key symbols, and unique language, the more one will know what people are talking about" (Dombeck & Karl, p. 193). For example what is appropriate behavior in a Pentecostal setting, is not always so in an Episcopal setting. What is appropriate behavior in a Southern Baptist setting is not always so in a Greek Orthodox setting. In this situation the pastor is looking for the very personal meanings that are attached to symbols, rituals, beliefs, and religious figures, including God.
Obtaining a religious history can be done informally, and should fit the pastor's personal style. After all, this is not a formal test, it is an informal search for understanding between the pastor and the person in crisis. The following is an outline that can assist a pastor in such an interchange.
Faith connection: The pastor should ascertain the person's religious affiliation; the religious affiliations of the parents; and what kind of religious upbringing the person has had. Furthermore, the pastor should note any changes in religious affiliations; when the changes took place; what is the level of present involvement; and what is the relationship with the pastor and community.
Personal meanings attached to symbols, rituals, beliefs and religious and biblical figures: The pastor should learn from the person: what religious practices are most meaningful; when and in what ways does the person feel close to God; what does he/she pray about; what gives special strength and meaning; what is the person's relationship with God; how is God involved in his/her problems; has there ever been a feeling of forgiveness; and what images, concepts, etc., does his/her illness suggest to the person.
Relationship to faith resources: The pastor should elicit information about: how the person is involved in religious activities; how the person feels about that involvement; what are some of the faith connected turning points in his/her life; and if the person has made any changes in faith affiliation, frequency of attendance at worship or other levels of involvement in the faith community.
The strengths and weaknesses of the person's religious orientation should be noted. This would include such things as how the person's religious orientation is presently affecting outlook and behavior, and what therapeutic issues have emerged during the course of the interview (Eimer, 236-237).
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