Wednesday, April 17th, 2024

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services Story


As societal norms embrace counseling, this 48-year-old agency offers help to all regardless of ability to pay

by Rob Lauer

It is January, and a new year has begun-a time for fresh beginnings, resolutions, and hope.

But for many, the dawning of the new year is not a happy time. Coming on the heels of a Holiday season that may have been beset with emotional hurdles, the new year can seem overwhelmingly bleak. They might have recently lost a loved one, or perhaps they are dealing with serious health issues, financial insecurity, or emotional upheaval. The changes brought about by the pandemic have certainly proved challenging for many. Often, people cannot describe their emotional state in any other way than to say, "I'm feeling very unhappy, and I don't know why."

Realistically speaking, there are as many reasons for feeling depressed, lost, and uncertain as there are humans walking the planet. Too often, those suffering from depression or struggling emotionally take an added sense of guilt upon themselves. In a culture that idolizes independence and self-reliance, they assume that if they were stronger, tougher, more committed, or had a deeper faith, they could control their feelings and overcome their depression.

"When it comes to depression, we need to evolve in our thinking," Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Marty Phillips says. "We should deal with depression in the same way we deal with heart attacks-as a health issue that can be treated."

As the executive director of Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services, Marty's matter-of-fact opinion regarding depression and other emotional issues is founded on years of professional experience.

"Our agency was begun in 1974 by Rev. Dr. Bill Hedrick-a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach," Marty explains. "Dr. Hedrick felt called to not only offer counseling to members of his congregation but to the broader community. His passion for that vision gave birth to our agency. From those humble beginnings, Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services has grown and now has counselors with offices at ten different locations across southside Hampton Roads. In addition, we also provide telehealth counseling. In fact, though my schedule today is full, I only have one in-person session. The rest are virtual and online."

With the onset of the COVID pandemic last year, the schedules of Marty and his associates at Tidewater Pastoral Counseling began to fill up-a phenomenon experienced by counselors, therapists, and mental health professionals nationwide. The pandemic exasperated feelings of isolation, helplessness, and emotional fatigue that were already present in the lives of many.

"In recent years, we have been seeing more people who are having to care for aging parents and spouses," Marty notes. "Many struggle to figure out how best to hold down a job and see to their own needs while caring for elderly parents. That can be very stressful, even if their parents are in an assisted living facility. If their parents are living in another state, that separation can add another layer of worry to an already stressful situation."

For a sizeable portion of the population, the life changes necessitated by the pandemic have raised stress levels to new heights. Though previous generations typically hesitated to seek professional help in dealing with emotional issues, that is increasingly not the case. Societal norms have shifted, and people seem increasingly willing to seek such help. With a 48-year history of offering such service, Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services is ready to help.

The word "pastor" comes from the Latin word for "shepherd" and is related to a Latin verb that means "to lead to a pasture, set to grazing, causing to be fed." The ideas of leading and nurturing are central to pastoral counseling.

"Most of our counselors are trained
in behavioral science
as well as pastoral care"
We rely on donations in order to make our services available to everyone
who comes to us for help."
                                        -Marty Philips, LPC

"In pastoral counseling, we really take our time with the people we serve," Marty explains. "We help a lot of people who are dealing with grief. They may be dealing with the loss of a spouse, job, marriage, or child. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously outlined the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We help people work through all those stages."

"Most of our counselors are trained in behavioral science as well as pastoral care," Marty notes. "That being said, we do not represent any particular religious denomination, nor do we espouse any specific faith. We welcome and provide services to anyone-whether they are affiliated with a religion or not. If someone comes in and says, 'I am not religious,' we say, Fine. Let's talk about why you're here and how we can help you.' In our sessions, faith and spirituality are only brought up if the person receiving counseling does so."

"More people today think in terms of 'being spiritual' rather than '˜being religious.'" Marty continues. "To better meet people where they are, regardless of their spirituality, all of our counselors have recently received training and certification in spiritually-integrated psychotherapy from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Educators. As far as I know, Tidewater Pastoral Counseling is one of only three counseling organizations in the state to offer this cutting-edge approach of integrating an individual's spirituality with their counseling if that is what they want."

As a certified trainer of this technique, Marty will offer a 30-hour curriculum to practicing therapists beginning in February. Interested therapists can call Tidewater Pastoral Service's main number for more information on registering for the course.

In its 48-year-history of helping individuals, couples and families work through the hard times, Tidewater Pastoral Counseling has never turned anyone away because of their inability to pay-a fact of which Marty and his associates are particularly proud.

"We've been able to do this because we've been very blessed by generous donations from the Beazley Foundation, the Warden Family Trust, several area churches, and, of course, individuals," Marty says with a warm smile. "We rely on donations in order to make our services available to everyone who comes to us for help. Because we are a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations to us are tax-deductible. We are also registered with United Way, so those contributing to the United Way can designate Tidewater Pastoral Counseling as the recipient of their donation. If anyone is interested in helping us, all they need to do is call our main number or check out our website."

"We know there are lots of folks who continue to struggle through these challenging times," Marty concludes. "To them, we say, "˜We're here to help, and we care.'"

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling

7305 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk, VA 23505


Offices in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk