They are different, however.
· Chaplains are seminary trained, board certified, ordained or endorsed, and specially educated in caring for the sick, the dying, and their loved ones. The chaplain’s goal is to walk with people through illness, trauma, dying, and death. If you or a loved one experience a serious injury or illness, the chaplain can be of great help. Most hospitals and hospice programs have chaplains. Just ask.
· Legitimate life coaches are board certified and specifically trained in helping people set and reach specific goals. They are mentors. The goal of life-coaching is to resolve the issue at hand. Perhaps you need help getting over a hump, figuring out a career move, or dealing with an acute situation. A certified life coach who specializes in your particular need can be of great help.
· Pastoral counselors are ordained ministers with additional education in relationship issues. The goal of pastoral counseling is to heal the relationship. A good pastoral counselor can be of great help if you’re experiencing marital conflict or having difficulty in other relationships.
· Therapists are credentialed and licensed professionals with either masters or doctorate degrees in treating mental illnesses. The goal of therapy varies, but often has to do with lessening depression and anxiety. For any serious mental illness – depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation, disturbed thinking, delusions, hallucinations, mania, etc. – you need a licensed therapist.
· Legitimate spiritual directors are trained and certified in holy listening, that takes place in a scared space, to facilitate deeper intimacy with the Divine, in order to help people get unstuck from unhealthy views of God, themselves, and others, so they can flourish into being fully human and fully alive. The goal of Spiritual Direction is union, divine love, soul abundance, and generous service to others.
Life-coaching, chaplaincy, and pastoral counseling are typically time-limited. Some therapy is also. Other types of therapy and spiritual direction tend to be long-term.
So, step one is to look at what you need or desire. That will help you know whether you want a therapist, a coach, a spiritual director, a pastoral counselor, or a chaplain.
One you’ve narrowed down what kind of professional can best help you, find someone within that field who has life experience with your issue. The best grief counselors I know have experienced deep loss. The best marriage counselors I know have successfully navigated their own marital issues. Someone who has never been depressed will have a hard time relating to depression. The best spiritual directors I know are wise sages who have walked with God for many decades, not so much formal extrinsic ways, but intrinsically. They are people who have been in the refining fires, whose hearts have been made tender by suffering, who know their own heart-wisdom, are attuned to the whispers of the divine, and are saturated with cruciform love.
· I’m trained as a pastoral counselor, life-coach, chaplain, and spiritual director. I am not a licensed psychotherapist. https://www.theunstuckspirit.com
· I don’t push anything on anyone, but I personally approach life from a deep passionate love for God, creation, and others (especially those who are hurting).
· Because of the suffering I’ve been through, I connect easily with those who have been divorced, wounded emotionally by family of origin or faith community, and those who have lost loved ones, especially to suicide.
· I’m not your best choice for mental illnesses, personality disorders, PTSD, neurodiversity issues, eating disorders, addictions, marriage therapy, or career advice. Happy to refer you to people who are good at that stuff, though.
· I didn’t mention psychiatrists, but they’re important. Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in mental disorders. Physicians are the only ones who can prescribe psychotropic medications, and psychiatrists are the best physicians to do so.
· Not uncommonly, people go into therapy, spiritual direction, life-coaching, or counseling focused on an immediate issue, then, in the process of working on it, discover they yearn for a deeper connectedness. I have had a number of clients who came to me as a pastoral counselor or as a life-coach to resolve a pressing issue, then wanted to go on and plunge the spiritual depths. We start out as coach-client, then shift into spiritual director-directee.
· The categories I’ve outlined above are typical, but not hard and fast differentiations. There is a great deal of overlap in these professions.