People often ask me about the origins of pastoral counseling. While I have written about what pastoral counseling is Pastoral Counseling ? | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) , I haven’t  spent much time explaining its history or its therapeutic foundations.

Historically, clergy have always counseled people with their problems but often their guidance was given clinical training or expertise.  However in the early 60s, things changed.

A group of ministers who were also trained psychotherapy got together to form a professional group of pastoral counselors. They called their organization  the American Association of Pastoral Counseling.

AAPC’s goal was to elevate the quality  of pastoral counseling by requiring more clinical training, supervision and personal therapy for therapists. 

Pastoral counselors offered a holistic approach to psychotherapy which included religious experience.  This new perspective integrated the psychological and spiritual dimensions of life and its problems.

Not everyone cheered this development. Fundamentalist skeptics condemned professional pastoral counselor for putting psychology ahead of the Bible and  of turning to psychotherapy. They viewed science as a threat to traditional religion. 

Rather than being a threat to faith, pastoral counseling sought to reduce the tension between religion and science.  Pastoral counselors understand science and religion as complementary. Rather than conflicting, they function on two different levels of reality: the physical and the metaphysical (spiritual).  

Although religion and science dwell in different realms, they are not disjointed. Earlier in the 20th century, Christian theologians like Rudolf Bultmann believed that the mythic husk of tradition religious language contained a valuable kernel of truth which needed to revealed to fully understood .

Pastoral counseling uses existential psychology to translate/de-mythologize religion’s supernatural/pre-scientific language into expression which are more understandable to the modern world. Psychology provides a way to understand ancient religious wisdom in modern terms.

The existential theologian, Paul Tillich, identified anxiety as the human experience which bridges both worlds of religion and psychology.  In his book ,The Courage to Be,  he explains how spiritual anxiety underlies psychological anxiety. Paul Tillich – excerpts from “The Courage to Be” – Religious Naturalism

To fully appreciate the significance of Tillich’s insights, it’s important to understand how anxieties differ and how to tell them apart: 



Like millions of others, I was saddened by the news of Jimmy Buffett’s passing. But I was frustrated by the term used by a number of media outlets to describe the significance of his life and music : escapism.  https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/02/arts/jimmy-Buffett-dead.html?fbclid=IwAR16ox4eBhTkMHnSUGp_88lndNnGy6KjitCVhJAHMAFGCsThb4wm1gWGOYc

Rather than escapism, Buffett understood what many others do not:  namely that having fun is important.  As a therapist I would say that leisure time is not a luxury ; it is an integral part of balanced life style.  Indeed, his life expressed this balance. In addition to being a successful musician and entrepreneur, he always found time for leisure.  As he has aid on numerous occasions, “It’s important to have as much fun as possible while we’re here.

Frankly,  fun is an interesting word which deseerves more respect. Everyone likes ot have fun but fun itself is seen as trivial and the ursuit of which is not respected. Today I want to share some thoughts to address the under-appreciatiion of fun. I suggest, that despite its trivial associations, having fun it a vital part of a healthy life style.

Given  the high level of stress so many experience, Buffett’s perspective on life is a much-needed counterbalance to America’s dominant, hard-work ethic. This stern attitude has permeated the American psyche since our country’s inception. Here are some thoughts to help you bring your work/play division in balance.   

Labor Day & Self Care

Labor Day & Self Care

With Labor Day approaching, we mark the end of summer qnd the start of school and the Fall season.   Historically, the Labor Day holiday is a tribute to the contributions that the American worker and organized labor unions have made to our country. 

In addition to its social significance, I want us to recognize the contribution Labor Day has made to America’s  mental health, i.e. its appreciation of the importance of self-care.  APPRECIATING THE DEEPER SIGNIFICANCE OF LABOR DAY: The importance of leisure and self care | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  

It must not be forgotten that the American labor movement gave us important self-care structures such as the week-end and the 40 hour work-week.  These work-limits, which we now take for granted, were mightily opposed by many and were difficult to attain.  Implicitly,  these  work-rules recognized the necessity for workers to have time off from work and to enjoy leisure and rest  . 

Despite the immense work-place progress which allows for self-care, many still minimize the importance of self-care.  So, today I want to take a deep dive into the basics of what real self-care involves. 

Specifically, having restful sleep, good nutrition, physical activity, adequate leisure, knoiwing effective  stress management, having strong social relationships and getting regular medical/psychological wellness exams are vital for us to be at our best. In doing so, we can learn how these 7 elements work together to promote our mental health and happiness.

Talking or Arguing.

Talking or Arguing.

You probably know that communications is a big deal in couples therapy.  Although not # 1, numerous surveys have found that, along with money and sex, poor communications is one of the most common reasons that couples seek counseling. 

Indeed, many partners report that  talking to one another is so bad that they have completely given up on even trying to discuss problems. That’s because what starts out as a simple conversation often winds up as an unpleasant argument. 

Today I will show you why you need to 1) Stop using You Statements, 2) Start using You-Statments and 3) Begin using a Marital Journal will help you to dramatically transform your intimate communcateions.



In trying to keep up with “what’s happening now” in the field of sexuality, I came across  the phrase “sex-as-a-hobby”.   Recently, this way of looking at sex has become popular, especially among those who identify as asexual. They find the perspective useful because it understands sex as something that one does and not as a defining characteristic of who one is. Sex As A Hobby: A Transhumanist’s Perspective – Philosophy, Politics, and Science – Asexual Visibility and Education Network (asexuality.org)

Others, such as sex coach Ruth Ramsay, employ  the sex-as-a-hobby approach to de-mystify the highly emotional topic of sexuality.  She finds the concept useful to help couples learn to discuss and deal with sex-related problems more rationally.   Revamp your sex life in 6 minutes | Ruth Ramsay | TEDxDaltVila – YouTube

At first I laughed at the notion of thinking of sex was like a hobby but, the more I thought  about it, the more I realized that it made sense.,  Although a hobby might not be the best metaphor, we do need to redefine and change how we think about sex. Here’s why:

Common Porn Myths

Common Porn Myths

Recently, I have noticed a significant up-tick in the numbers of clients contacting me who erroneously feared that they had a pornography addiction.  After a careful examination, it was clear that, while they had been suffering from misinformation, they did not have an addiction. 

It needs to be understood from the outset that even though “pornography addiction” is a  popularly used term, I do not find it a help way to conceptualize the problem nor is it listed in the DSM5 as a disorder. Religious or moralistic discussions often denounce problematic masturbation and porn viewing as immoral or a lack of self-control without understanding of its psychological origins. 

Although pornography is part of the problem with which these men struggle , it rarely was not  the root.  Prior childhood trama,  religiously induced guilt and shame about sex and marital dischord are common underlying culprits.

The last time I wrote on this subject was four years agao. A Reasonable Approach for Discussing Masturbation and Pornography: Part 1 | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) .  Given that misunderstanding has not declinced, I wish to debunk some of the most common myths about  pornography.   

A recent article in Slate on-line provides an excellent segue for this discussion. What NoFap does to your brain: Why so many people who abstain from masturbation end up suicidal. (slate.com)  Although it’s focus is on a particular anti-masturbation effort, NoFap, it provides a goosd summary of  the major false notions about pornography.  



For many years, journaling has been a helpful tool for those dealing with stress and emotional issues. Even our military recognized the benefits of journaling and has incorporated the practice to help deployed soldiers.

It is important to appreciate, however, that not all personal writing is the same . In addition to individual journaling, marital journaling is a distinct practice and can be an important way for couples to improve their intimate communication. 

That said, there are significant differences between individual journaling and marital journaling which need to be understood.
Here are some thoughts to help couples who are confused:

Suicide: An Update

Suicide: An Update

A recent article in the Syracuse Post-Standard cited the alarming rise in teen-age suicides and homicides beginning with COVID-19 which has continued to the present.  https://www.syracuse.com/us-news/2023/06/suicides-and-homicides-among-young-americans-jumped-early-in-pandemic-study-says.html
What is even more disturbing is the fact that suicide rates were already increasing before the pandemic. https://wjla.com/news/nation-world/more-than-a-mental-health-concern-nationwide-increase-in-suicides-prompts-newquestions?fbclid=IwAR1qWZbKn3G1ex_bv8XryK22NuohENbDSC2v87crC_YCcUBpyLoMM-BWEgI

Given other reports on our current mental health crisis, it’s probably a good time to update what we know about suicide.


To begin, an important change which has taken place in suicide discussions is the words that we use to talk about it.  Instead of saying that someone committed suicide,  a better way to express it is to say that the person died by suicide .

While this might seem like a trivial distinction, the change emphasizes the fact that, in most cases, suicide is not a free choice or conscious act. In addition, the traditional expression of committing suicide denotes needless stigma and shame.

The SG on SM & Kids

The SG on SM & Kids

Recently, you may have heard about the U.S. Surgeon General’s warning to parents about the possible harm that social media poses for children. Surgeon General: Why Social Media Harms Youth Mental Health | Time  Today, I want to summarize and comment on his main concerns.

To begin, social media has a positive side. Studies have shown that  platforms such as Instagram and Facebook provide children outlets for creative expression as well as for making positive social connections. Social media use can be positive for mental health and well-being | News | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

That said, the Surgeon General wants parents to know that, at this time, there are no conclusive studies which show that social media is safe or harmless for kids.  Further, there are indications that, for some young adults and situations, social media can be harmful to a child’s mental health in several ways.  Here is a summary of concerns along with some useful tips to help you cope with this omni-present technological reality.  



May is mental health awareness month.  This year I want to explain why some states are banning Gender Affirming Care (GAC) and expose the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing scam called Gender Explorative Therapy (GET).

To be clear from the get-go, GAC is a legitimate treatment for gender dysphoric young folk . GET is a religiously backed hoax which ignores medical science and is harmful to transgendered non-conforming (TGNC) youth . https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/15/magazine/gender-therapy.html     

THE ISSUE   Under the misleading banner of protecting children, a number of conservative state legislatures have chosen to pass laws which  follow religious dogma rather than science. 

Opponents of GAC want it banned because they believe  gender dysphoric children, i.e. kids whose gender identity conflicts with the gender which was assigned at birth, is simply a transient emotional confusion and is not a real medical condition.  Thus, they view  the medical aspect of GAC such as puberty blocking drugs,  as not only unnecessary but also harmful.

In fact, the  effort to interfere with necessary medical treatment poses a real threat to the health and well being of gender dysphoric youngsters.    https://wyofile.com/health-experts-gender-affirming-care-saves-lives/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwmN2iBhCrARIsAG_G2i4XSt60BiHr5nb8PATeCdfcS0gu92BPDRgRXpT9tqkIw9HnblP9xnAaAtPKEALw_wcB

(Here is a link which lists the large number of medical/ professional organizations  which oppose both the laws banning GAC and GEC. https://transhealthproject.org/resources/medical-organization-statements)

Even worse, the number of states banning GAC is growing. Here is a map which  shows states that are considering such legislation.   https://abcnews.go.com/US/map-gender-affirming-care-targeted-us/story?id=97443087