Your Support System
In the year that follows your CREDO conference, you can make notable changes that have both immediate and long-lasting effects on your well-being. But that takes commitment, and it oftentimes requires a helping hand. A support network of friends, colleagues, and professionals in areas such as healthcare, financial planning, and spiritual direction can provide much-needed assistance and a source of accountability, encouragement and understanding.
Sources of Support
Your support network can include a wide range of individuals, including paid coaches and consultants, longtime colleagues and associates, specialists in designated fields, and advisors who provide more general suggestions and counsel. Informally, of course, you can cultivate different types of mentors who know you well and who are committed to your growth—some people even design a personal “board of directors.” It also is helpful to have access to a group of colleagues who function as you do, but at other organizations. Their different perspectives can help as you work through various initiatives. People within your diocese or workplace who are more senior, but are not necessarily your direct superior, also can be valuable assets as you pursue your goals.
One of the principles of any CREDO conference is that, while we drill down into the four component areas of spiritual, vocational, financial, and physical/psychological health, in the end we generally recognize that the components are intertwined and mutually inclusive of one another. Progress or transformation in one area often depends upon and then supports changes in other components. Described below are both professionals and non-professionals who can add a variety of perspectives to your support network and assist you in sorting through the specific and overlapping goals you may have.
Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires the maximum use of their God-given personal and professional potential (Adapted from International Coaching Federation). This type of relationship depends on the client's setting goals and accountability standards. It functions under the philosophy that people seeking coaching are whole, resourceful, and proactively committed to making changes in their lives.
The important thing to remember is that a coach does not solve your problems or tell you what to do. You have the potential to uncover options while the coach’s role is to observe, listen, summarize, and keep you motivated. During such a relationship, goals and priorities may change, which is a healthy reflection of the IDPT model. Length of engagement can vary, but for most specific issues, an average is anywhere from three to 12 months.
There are many types of coaches. Coaches are well-established in the areas of physical fitness and can be found through most local health clubs or gyms. Life coaches deal with both personal and professional issues. Career and executive coaches focus on work, specializing in the areas of career transition or skills improvement in existing positions. Financial coaches provide helpful ways to set priorities and stay on course.
To locate a coach who is right for you, whether financial advisors or investment professionals, spiritual directors, career coaches, or health club trainers, try asking four or five colleagues for their recommendations. If a name pops up twice, that's a good sign.
Then have a one-on-one conversation before you make a decision. Interview your candidate and ask about their level of experience, professional training, methodology, fee structure, references, and any particular areas of specialty.
Assess the coach’s interest in and attention to your particular situation: Does the person listen and ask questions? Does he/she ask you about your family, your experience, your hopes and dreams? If the answer is yes, that's a good start. Also, ask about their experience. What do they like about what they are doing? What does your intuition tell you? Does the chemistry between you and the coach seem positive and healthy? If the coach tells you within half an hour exactly what you need, you have the wrong person. They do not yet know you well and most likely are dealing with “packaged” products.
Many career and life coaches specialize in religious organizations and/or non-profits, which may in the long run make a better fit than those who have a strictly corporate clientele and are unfamiliar with some of the polities and judicatory systems of various denominations.
Several sources to consider for more information about career coaching and possible referrals are The Auburn Coaching Institute through Auburn Theological Seminary and The International Coach Federation. You can also learn more about Appreciative Inquiry-based coaching.
A bit different from coaches, consultants are paid to solve a problem. Their work is about assisting a person to move from one point to another. Like coaches, consultants focus on helping people change, but from the beginning, the client states a definite outcome and a contract is agreed upon listing specific deliverables. In coaching, goals are often more general and evolve and change; in consulting goals are firmly stated from the outset.
This kind of relationship often demands that the consultant have more content-specific expertise and an in-depth knowledge of the client’s particular field. Diocesan Transition Ministers are a reliable resource within the Episcopal Church. Some are clergy, some laity; some focus upon transition almost exclusively, others wear multiple hats; some work hard to fill parish positions, others find themselves as advocates for clergy and their families, most do both.
In the vocational sector, consultants can vary from executive placement or search firms to resume writers to aptitude/leadership-style testing organizations. For information about leadership education and research, see the Center for Creative Leadership.
Referrals are the best way to begin to identify a shortlist of consultant resources. Key things you will want to know include estimated timeframe for the engagement, how fees and payment schedules are constructed, and expectations on the consultant's part. Most important, you will want to know how you can specifically evaluate the effectiveness of the relationship. Beyond personal referrals, defined internet searches by geographical area can uncover suitable vocational leads.
The Church Pension Group can assist you in planning for financial security. Complimentary individual discussions can help you:
- Acquire a better understanding of your pension plan benefits.
- Receive honest answers to your questions about retirement planning, Social Security and Medicare, investment strategies, insurance products, cash and debt management, and estate planning.
- Obtain information about web-based tools, worksheets and learning resources that can help you plan for today and tomorrow.
To schedule a discussion, please contact CPG Client Services at (866) 802-6333, Monday-Friday 8:30 AM-8:30 PM ET (excluding holidays).
For additional information on financial planning, you can contact the Financial Planning Association.
Geared toward people seeking a fuller experience of God’s love or those who want to discern greater spiritual purpose and meaning in their lives, spiritual direction is appropriate at any stage of the spiritual journey, from the seeker stage to new believer to those mature in their faith.
This type of relationship often balances well with the services of a health coach, career coach, or financial planner. While a health coach may focus on goal-setting and motivation and a career coach on strategy and action steps, the spiritual director assists with a kind of macro-theological inquiry as to whether the other goals are where God is calling a person to go. The symbiotic relationships can often work in a wonderful, complementary fashion.
In interviewing potential spiritual directors, you will want to know their type of training, if they themselves are in spiritual direction, what their faith tradition is, and with which denominations they typically work. Equally important, you may ask them to verbalize their own particular understanding of what the ministry of spiritual direction is all about. This will allow you to evaluate whether they can meet your personal needs. Many such directors approach their work using a pastoral/counseling framework, others incorporate elements of traditional therapy, and still others work strictly in meditative/prayer-related contexts.
Do not hesitate to ask for sample sessions to determine the best fit. Many directors work on a sliding fee, others on an hourly rate. Many who are associated with a sponsoring parish or organization simply ask for a discretionary donation. Because there is no set standard, be sure to get several “quotes.” Seminaries often have great lists of pre-approved directors. Spiritual Directors International is the best-known national organization dedicated to spiritual direction.
At times, work responsibilities, church roles, and personal life collide. Many individuals who begin working with a coach or action-oriented consultant may realize that there are psychological issues that must be addressed in order to move forward. When emotions surface while you are working through health, financial, vocational, or other issues, therapy may help in addressing underlying concerns.
The terms 'counselor' and 'therapist' cover a variety of trained professionals. The differences between therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors may not be as important to you as finding someone with whom you are comfortable.
Professionals who might provide counseling services include:
- Social workers (MSW, ACSW)
- Psychologists (PhD)
- Licensed professional counselors (LPC) (MA, MEd, EdD)
- Psychiatrists (MD)
- Psychiatric nurses (BSN, MSN)
- Members of the clergy
Therapy is treatment utilized to heal a person’s wounds and move them to more effective thinking and living. Results can include alleviation of symptoms, restructuring of personality, increased capacity for optimal functioning, and happiness. Types of therapy include psychodynamic (investigation of childhood issues/unconscious beliefs—more long term); cognitive behavioral (works with mental patterns and habits—usually short term); and family and group. Being able to afford therapy is important as well. Some insurance plans do not cover all types of therapists. Check with your health plan for details. They can assist in guidance for in-network options that will be more affordable for you and your family.
When calling to make an appointment:
- If possible (or if you have questions), ask to speak with the therapist or counselor directly, not with a receptionist or assistant.
- Be clear about the problem for which you want help.
- Ask the therapist or counselor about his or her background with your problem (how many people he or she has worked with on this type of problem). Ask the therapist to explain his or her views about the problem.
- Ask how long the counseling might take, so that you can picture how it will fit into your life.
- Ask any other questions that would make you more comfortable with the idea of attending a session.
If you go to a therapist and don't like what happens, don't give up on the idea of counseling. Sometimes a different counselor will fit your personality better. Try again with someone new.
For more information about these different trainings contact any of the following trade associations:
Sometimes it’s beneficial to seek the experience and wisdom of a person who has walked the journey ahead of us. A mentor usually has a specific strength or skill we need to learn or they may have been in a similar circumstance.
Ordained or lay, mentors are people we ask to join us in a teacher-learner relationship. Whether in a formal setting or in regular informal meetings, you might find that spending time with a mentor helps you reflect on specific circumstances, skills you might need, or ways in which to learn from the mentor’s experience.
A colleague group can include people from different backgrounds and walks of life who understand the balance of affirmation and challenge. There is no need for a colleague group to be composed only of clergy or lay employees. It is often more challenging and stimulating to be in a colleague group with other professionals. Gathering a few peers who are therapists, doctors, teachers, and business people (from outside the parish or workplace) can offer a fresh form of support that will deepen your own ministry and work.
Identifying a colleague group is not always easy: fear of displaying weakness, an unspoken (and often unacknowledged) competitive dynamic, poor support experiences from the past, and apprehensions about the future can come into play. Yet, faithful friends and colleagues who display loyalty and determination can become the companions who accompany you to places you might not go on your own.
Friends and family often provide the kind of environment in which you can be who you are without apology. You can risk trying something new, knowing that if failure is the result, you will not lose face. Friends and family can keep you buoyed up when the task of change seems too overwhelming; they can offer the assurance that, at the end of the day, authentic love and presence will still be offered.
In some ways, however, this arena of support is the easiest to take advantage of and often the most difficult to accept. It is critical that this form of support be relationally based. Maintaining vigilance about how one's own personal changes may affect others within the family/friend system is key. This calls for a clear sense of shared support as well as frank and open discussion about anticipated changes. Since the very change required is one that may have been suggested by a friend or family member, accountability is much more tangible and ongoing.
Don't forget the care and support that can come from congregations, clergy support groups, and diocesan resources and staff. Your diocesan bishop, along with the Episcopal Church resources, can provide support, encouragement and ongoing opportunities for growth.
Some people put together an informal advisory group whose sole purpose is to be a place where all involved can think and talk about life, ministry, and what’s happening. This may include members of the congregation. Members of this group should have no decision-making roles, either in the particular congregation or concerning your ministry.
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