As just about anybody who has done any kind of "Public Paganism" will attest to, if you do it long enough someone will come to you looking for advice. It may be a question about ritual design, appropriate offerings, or spell casting; but solitary practitioners also often come to "public Pagans" when they're in spiritual or personal crisis.
So if you're one of those "public Pagans", and especially if you run a coven or circle, or do any kind of one-on-one or small group teaching, it's a good idea to pick up a few basic listening and counselling skills. It's also a good idea to have a short list of Pagan-friendly professional counselors, therapists, or life coaches for referrals when someone's needs are beyond your own expertise.
So how does one go about picking up these mysterious skills? In an ideal world, we would be able to take a class or a series of classes on basic counselling. However classes are not always accessible to us. So we turn to books.
I posted this book list a while ago on a Facebook discussion group that I belong to. All are worth reading, in my opinion. And some of them have been required reading for me at various points in my training. If you can't afford to buy them, check your local library.
"Meeting the Shadow" by Zweig and Abrams,
"Leadership Coaching" by Tony Stoltzfus (ironically a Guide to Being a Christian Coach),
"Spiritual Emergency" by Grof and Grof,
"Nonviolent Communication" by Rosenberg,
"On Becoming. A Counsellor" by Kennedy and Charles,
"Spiritual Mentoring" by Judy Harrow.
Another option is Cherry Hill Seminary. They have a basic online course that looks at different counselling theories, which is then followed by the more practicum-orientated Counseling Skills and Therapeutic Interventions. Cherry Hill has an excellent reputation and have academic standards which mean that their teachers have to have experience/credentials in what they're teaching.
A different approach is to get experience through volunteering your time with a help line. There are a variety of phone lines or online help services that all offer a certain amount of training before they let you loose on folks needing help. (They can also be great resources to refer people to.)
Whatever option you explore, it's important to know your limits. Sometimes a bit of knowledge can be more dangerous than no knowledge at all. It's flattering when someone comes to us for advice or spiritual mentoring, and we want to help. We've read a few books, taken a class, and maybe even done some role-play with other students. We can do this right? Maybe. Maybe not.
Before diving in, check-in on your motivations for wanting to help and whether you feel in your gut that your knowledge and experience are up to the task. Be honest. There is no shame in telling someone that you're not the right person to help them out. Sometimes help comes in the form of a referral or helping someone find the right person to talk to.
Do you have go-to books or resources for spiritual mentoring, direction or counseling? I'd love to hear about them! Leave me a comment below.