Every time I walk into an appointment with a counseling client I know that I may be changed in some way by the encounter. Usually the changes are subtle, but sometimes I am changed in deeply significant and meaningful ways.
One cannot be in an authentic relationship with anyone without being open and willing to being changed by the connection. This includes the relationship of clergy and congregation, or any counseling relationship such as pastor, mental health therapist, chaplain or other clergy.
Who you are and who you are becoming matters when you engage in any kind of counseling or ministry role. This involves responsibility and risk. How can we as counselors and clergy balance the benefits and risks of personal change through professional encounters?
Be Grounded: Being open to change means being willing to thoughtfully and intentionally evolve when it will help you to be a better professional and a better person. Examined change can happen only when you know who you are, what matters to you, your goals and ideals, your personal gifts and challenges. If you are not grounded, you run the risk of being too malleable and not holding onto important roots.
Being grounded does not mean being perfect. All of us have times when we are confused, off-center, uneasy or unsure. What matters is that we are aware of these states and continue to do the work of personal self-examination. Often clergy and counselors benefit from sessions with a counselor or spiritual director, and doing regular structured self-reflection alone or with a group.
Mutual Respect: Meaningful change comes out of relationships of mutual respect. As clergy and as counselors we hope to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities as a whole. This can happen only when the people we minister to trust us and respect us. Just as importantly, we need to trust and respect the people we serve and be open to their wisdom.
I have learned valuable lessons about myself, ministry, and life from most of the people I have served, even those who were struggling with significant issues, and those who did not at the time value themselves. What matters is that I value, respect and strive to understand the people I serve as best I can.
Self-awareness: Noticing your own inner and outer responses helps to identify where you might benefit from change. Be aware of how each encounter affects you. Notice when something that is said or done by others triggers an unpleasant or undesired personal response. Self-awareness is a starting place for meaningful and authentic change.
Dance with your shadow: Work with your challenges and limitations. If you are easily influenced, remind yourself of who you are and what matters most to you before you accept and engage in personal change. If you are fearful of change and sometimes hold too tightly to what is most familiar, nudge yourself to listen openly and really consider other perspectives. Reflect on what these new perspectives say to you and how they might influence or benefit your life.
The Four Tools: Using these four tools, I am constantly learning from my clients and becoming a better person as I interact with them and guide them. When I remember to Be Grounded, Foster Mutual Respect, Be Self-Aware and Dance with my Shadow, I strive to continue to reach for the goals I promote for others. It is in relationship that we become our best selves.