The curative power of a good relationship

Last time we saw that Trinitarian theology shows how pastoral counselors participate in the ongoing counseling ministry of Jesus, the wonderful counselor. It's important to note that Jesus does not "fax in" his counsel from afar. Rather, through his continuing incarnation (by which he is united to all humanity), in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is God with us (Emmanuel). His counseling ministry is thus fundamentally incarnational--a "with us and for us" ministry of presence.

Though most pastoral counselors utilize a particular counseling (therapeutic) mode (and there are many), research indicates that the mode itself accounts only for only about 15% of the efficacy (curative power) of the counseling. Of greater importance is the counseling relationship. Counselees most frequently experience positive counseling outcomes when their counselor is compassionate, empathetic, attentive and thus nurturing. The counselor's caring presence is a primary factor in a counselee experiencing therapeutic (healing) change.

Trinitarian, incarnational theology helps us understand why and how this is so. In the counseling office, what appears on the surface to be a two-way relationship, is, in reality, a three-way relationship of the counselee and the counselor relating in and through Jesus Christ. Scripture reveals that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is in union with both the counselor and the counselee. In that union, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, serves as the mediator. He mediates not only between God and each of the humans present (God-to-human mediation), but also between the counselor and the counselee (human-to-human mediation). In this mediation, God represents both God (as God) and human (as human).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined this mediatorial role of Jesus as our Lord's ongoing "place-sharing" ministry with all people (believers and non-believers alike). Keeping in mind this often unseen reality, Christian counseling is seen as a calling to place-share with Jesus as he ministers to (place-shares with) our counselee.

Effective counselors participate in this place-sharing--whether they are aware of Jesus' presence or not. However, think of how much more effective they would be if their sharing was done knowingly (and thus in faith)! Add to that faith an informed understanding of human functioning (and dysfunction), and the counselor is able to share quite skillfully in what Jesus is doing to help the counselee move to greater levels of wholeness in all three spheres of their being--body, mind and spirit (to learn more about these spheres, I recommend Christians Who Counsel (the vocation of wholistic therapy) by Ray Anderson.

In Theology & Pastoral Counseling, Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger emphasizes the importance of the counseling relationship, both from a psychological perspective and a theological perspective. Noting "the central role [that] interpersonal relationships play in the formation of human identity," she makes this important comment:
If our being in relationship with one another is a reflection on the human plane of God's own being in relationship, then our capacity for interpersonal communion is a sign of the imago Dei. It is also the fundamental prerequisite for psychological health. As Daniel Price has commented: "The curative power of a good relationship cannot be overestimated. Establishing a relationship with a good object, it would seem, is the sine qua non of human wholeness, and the only path to healing the 'sinsick soul'" (p225).