Young Humanists SG meeting #3: Providing pastoral care

Feb 18, 2017

After Darwin Day, Young Humanist SG organised another meeting to discuss about the need to develop pastoral care services for students on school campuses. The main points discussed:

  • From time to time, the Humanist Society has received emails and Facebook private messages from individuals seeking help to locate secular counsellors or psychologists. The Society, however, is not equipped or qualified to provide such services. The discussions at the meeting recognise the fact if someone is not properly counselled, efforts to help could backfire.
  • Although there are many existing counselling and support services, concerns remain over potential religious influences in some of these organisations.
  • The meeting discussed about providing an informal support network to act as a first line of defence or support for non-religious people. The target audience are non-religious people in need of mental and psychological support, while at the same time not comfortable with joining religious CCAs on campus.
  • This is because the source of their depression could be religious in nature, such as leaving their religion of birth and becoming an atheist or agnostic. In extreme cases, atheists and agnostics have faced tremendous peer and family pressure to return to the religion of birth, to the point of being forced to leave their homes.
  • A psychologist suggested at the meeting that the Humanist Society should provide help informally, without advertisement. This help will be provided by a group of volunteers who are inclined towards providing such help but need resources to back them up. This resource could take the form of a PLAYBOOK containing a list of hotlines and secular-minded counsellors to refer to.
  • Volunteers will be needed to create this playbook. The contacts of secular-minded counsellors could be compiled by tapping on the contacts of psychologists and counsellors within the humanist network. Volunteers could also study stories about people leaving religion which could be found in places like Reddit. This playbook will remain a private resource, to be stored in places such as Google Drive.
  • A former cell group leader shared his expertise in providing informal support networks. He said that taking a decentralised approach is time-consuming but effective. Churches provide decentralised support networks in the form of cell groups.
  • In a church, the cell group leader is tasked with taking the initiative to engage cell group members. The cell group leader builds relationships with their members, and use a combination of biblical verses and personal opinion to provide support.
  • This approach works because in church, people meet often and will start sharing their problems anyway. The Humanist Society, on the other hand, does not meet so often and event participants are often strangers to each other. This is a challenge the humanists have to overcome.
  • A humanist approach to providing pastoral care support could also take a mixed approach. Instead of relying on holy books, humanists could draw from inspiring biographies of real life individuals, and adapt it according to the individual.
  • Several participants at the meeting agreed that providing humanist pastoral care should be about providing a listening ear for people who do not want to be judged. The humanist pastoral care should not aim to provide solutions, because we are not qualified to.
  • The humanist pastoral carers should establish a baseline to manage expectations among those seeking their help. They should establish what is HSS is, what they do, how they are a listening ear and the limits of their care.
  • Concerns were also brought up as to why church and cell group leaders have so much leeway to conduct counselling and pastoral care, but humanists groups are so constrained. The meeting came to the conclusion that humanists often hold themselves up to higher standards, where we will be blamed if an approach really does not work.
  • Providing pastoral care in a cell group setting is also extremely time-consuming. The former cell group leader shared that such leaders often sacrifice their own academic performance in school to carry out their duties.
  • A psychology graduate talked about providing psychotherapy and expressed interest in providing some kind of structure to the approach that humanists can take.