Guest Post: A New Sourcebook for Counseling Pagan Clients

Guest Contributor —  April 25, 2014 — 8 Comments

[The following is a guest post from Michael Reeder. Michael Reeder LCPC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Baltimore, MD.  He holds a certificate in Spiritual & Existential Counseling from Johns Hopkins University, and is a graduate of Gryphons Grove School of Shamanism.  He has been affiliated with several local Pagan organizations and presented at conferences including Sacred Space, Free Spirit Gathering, Ecumenicon, and Pagan Pride Day events.  He can be reached at michael@hygeiacounseling.com and www.hygeiacounseling.com]

Spiritual_Guidance_Across_ReligionsI am pleased to announce that Spiritual Guidance Across Religions: A Sourcebook for Spiritual Directors and Other Professionals Providing Counsel to People of Differing Faith Traditions has just been published by Skylight Paths Publishing.  I’d like to talk a bit about this book, developing Pagan counseling efforts, and the role of a recently deceased Pagan elder.

This book contains a 19 page chapter on Neo-Paganism – as much text as is devoted to most of the other faith traditions.  Our inclusion here is a big deal so I want to dwell on it for a brief moment.  Up to now, there have been the very rare and occasional professional journal articles on Wicca or Paganism for mental health counselors.  There are also a few books teaching pastoral counseling skills to Pagan clergy or presenting Pagan versions of AA 12-Step.  Even books on world spirituality have tended to leave us out or give us a few pages lumped in with miscellaneous odd topics at the end.  I am unaware of other college-level textbooks providing professional instruction on spiritual counseling for Pagans.

This book offers exactly what the title suggests — help for psychotherapists, counselors, spiritual directors, clergy, and other helpers to understand a bit about the faith tradition of the clients in front of them and some guidance on how to appropriately help them from the perspective of their tradition.  (The full list of faith traditions includes Evangelical Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Reformed Christianity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Spiritual Eclecticism, Unitarian Universalism, Neo-Paganism, Bahá’í Faith, Sikhism, Shinto, Humanism,  New Thought, Zoroastrianism, Native American Religion, African Diaspora Spirituality, Daoism, Jainism, & Confucianism.)  Each chapter gives you an overview of the tradition, methods for spiritual guidance honored in that tradition, common spiritual problems encountered by people of that tradition, tips & techniques & practices, and helpful resources for further learning.

This opportunity came to me through the quiet good graces of Judy Harrow and an open-minded editor willing to trust her and myself.  Although a known Pagan elder, many are unaware of all the good work Judy did as both a mental health counselor and an interfaith goodwill ambassador. Judy was a past president of New Jersey ASERVIC (Association for Spiritual, Ethical, & Religious Values in Counseling – an American Counseling Association division) and active on the AAPC (American Association of Pastoral Counselors) Yahoo Group. Both ASERVIC and AAPC are very mainstream, slightly conservative counseling organizations with LOTS of ordained Christian ministers. The fact she was so respected there speaks volumes.  Judy was a former Chair of the Pastoral Care and Counseling Department at Cherry Hill Seminary (where I took a wonderful online class which taught me exercises I still use with clients).

Judy taught a class on pastoral counseling skills for Pagan clergy for some years with the Pagan Leadership Skills Conference.  I was honored to co-teach it with her a few times.  She was also instrumental in gathering Pagan counseling heavyweights to join the Pagan Professional Counseling Yahoo Group that is now well over 100+ members strong, and a place where licensed professionals can converse about the intersection of Pagan spirituality and counseling.  She wrote a recommended book entitled Spiritual Mentoring: A Pagan Guide that I’m pleased to see now has a Kindle edition available.  Buy a copy.

I mention all this both to discuss the significant contributions of Judy, and to outline a large portion of the work on Pagan counseling to-date.  Along the way I have also created a www.pagantherapy.com website I occasionally update and is currently somewhat shabby, a now ancient training slideshow for hospital chaplains, an in-service training for psychotherapists on Paganism, and even a rather rough video for Pagan therapy clients on how to discuss Paganism with their counselor (very long load time!).  Several years ago the Pagan-Centered Podcast did podcasts on mental health topics I was involved with located here (Paganism and psychology) and here (trauma, depression, and anxiety topics).

I’m sure I am missing out on a lot of the work by my more academic colleagues and I believe much of the work regarding Pagans in the military overlaps with counseling topics.  My apology – work as a full-time psychotherapist makes it hard to keep up sometimes.

The few paragraphs above serve both as a partial resource guide to Pagan counseling, and as evidence of how rudimentary efforts in this area still are.

Michael Reeder LCPC

Michael Reeder LCPC

Years ago I naively thought that there would be lots of interest in the topic of Paganism and counseling from the mundane world.  At first I worried that other mental health counselors would be judgmental.  This proved largely not the case, and I even was a student member of AAPC for a time and an associate at a pastoral counseling center in Washington, DC.  Later I thought other counselors would be interested in learning about Paganism or refer Pagan clients my way.  This has sadly proven to be mostly untrue also.  Most therapists don’t think they need any special knowledge or training about Pagans.

In 2007 I sent an unsolicited manuscript on counseling Pagan clients into an ASERVIC monograph project.  ASERVIC had called for papers on how to assist clients from a variety of spiritual backgrounds, and not asked for any information on Paganism.  This ASERVIC project stalled for many years and I finally ended up significantly rewriting and expanding the monograph into a chapter for the book that was just published.  I figure I’ve put 4-6 weeks of time into writing the chapter.

Writing about Paganism and counseling for a mainstream audience presents several challenges.  My first goal was to lay out a convincing case that Paganism promotes mental health.  Pagan readers of my chapter may be a bit uncomfortable with how much emphasis I place on how useful Paganism is, and how to tell the difference between “odd” Pagan beliefs versus mental illness.  I also do some similarity comparisons between Pagan rituals, counseling, and hypnosis procedures.  The idea here was not to convince the (mostly Christian) audience that Pagan spirituality is real, but rather to convince them that it is a good healthy thing regardless.

Another challenge was writing about Pagan religion in one chapter.  We of course have at least dozens of different religions under the Pagan umbrella.  (Although I do subscribe to Michael York’s arguments that Paganism broadly should be treated as a world religion too.)  This resulted in quite a mash-up of different religions in our one chapter and an emphasis on their similarities and the more common Wiccan norms.

I also had to follow a discussion outline standardized across all of the chapters that was written with well-intentioned mainstream (mostly Christian) assumptions.  When your clergy are largely trained at home; don’t get the educational benefit of rotations in hospital chaplaincy units; are more conduits of energy than sermonizers and flock shepherds; “lead” groups of priests rather than laity; and can worship potentially any god, goddess, spirit, or ancestor; you’ve got a lot of explaining to do!

I am honored that the chapter on “Spiritual Guidance in the Neo-Pagan Tradition” got passed to me to complete.  I believe this book will be helpful to counselors, spiritual directors, students, and helpers of any type trying to reach a wide variety of spiritual clients.

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