People who provide spiritual services (diviners, mediums, priests and other clergy, etc) are, by the nature of the service they’re providing, going to hear personal information from a client. This may be information disclosed by the client or it might come through divination or another entity.
However it’s received, the information can be deeply personal, which puts the client in a position of vulnerability. In some cases, the information can even put the client, the service provider, or both in danger if the information is not treated with the appropriate level of care and confidentiality. When it comes to being a safer, more effective service provider, strong spiritual skills alone are simply not enough: a service provider can end up causing real harm if they don’t know how to effectively frame the language and delivery of a message from the client’s spirits, no matter how true and sincere the message itself is.
Part of encouraging our faith communities to do better in how they address gendered violence is also offering resources for spiritual service providers to develop stronger skills in peer support: consent, confidentiality, communication techniques, conflict management, professional boundaries, and education in common areas of vulnerability (e.g. substance recovery, domestic violence, sexual assault).
For tips on how to support clients who are survivors, please check out the “For Allies” page.
Finding Professional Development Resources
As of the publishing of this page, MJ is not aware of any other pagan-specific groups that offer professional development education regarding skills of peer support, community leadership, or organizing.
That said, many secular agencies and organizations do offer free or low-cost training. More intensive opportunities may come with greater cost or the expectation of volunteering (and there’s no more effective learning method than by doing the work, although that’s not going to be an option for everyone and that’s okay), but not always.
Especially now, social services are moving towards more online learning options. An internet search of your regional organizations (such as “domestic violence training [county/province/country]”) will let you know what kind of online training and recorded webinars are available to you. Alternately, you can contact an organization directly and ask if they have any recommendations for further learning.
Although nonprofits and social services are valuable resources for learning, they are still ultimately institutions and may not always be appropriate for a given community. If that’s the case for you (and even if it isn’t), you can look into what your local community aid networks might offer in regards to skillshare workshops and other community education opportunities.
Some examples (but not a complete list) of commonly useful skills for spiritual service providers:
– Nonviolent Communication, a popular curriculum on communication techniques
– conflict management, often offered through local conflict resolution services
– conflict management, which teaches you personal tools for navigating conflict, is different from conflict mediation, which assumes you’re an uninvolved third party helping to manage other people’s conflict
– domestic violence and sexual assault training, offered through local agencies
– mental health and suicide prevention, offered through local agencies
– first aid and/or CPR training, offered through local agencies
– diversity training, offered through local LGBTQ+ agencies
– anti-racism education, offered through local racial justice agencies
– substance recovery and NARCAN use, offered through local agencies and harm reduction/mutual aid groups
– mandated reporter training, typically offered through local legal agencies
– information/training on “trauma-informed care,” “client-driven services,” “best practice,” and “confidentiality”
– information/training on how to screen clients to ensure best fit and how to refer them to other providers as needed
Note: many of these trainings may be offered through local co-ops and grassroots collectives. Whether you’re choosing a workshop through a collective or through a more official channel, always check out what experience the teacher or group has which allows them to claim authority on the subject they’re teaching.
When you’re selecting a potential training or resource, it’s always good to double-check that the training is culturally appropriate for the people you serve. Not all styles of communication or conflict management, for example, will fit all people, but some is better than none! Do your best to be aware of the places where cultural and social differences may apply.
This feels overwhelming. Where do I even start?
It is a lot, and as people who stand in a position of influence over clients who are in a spiritually receptive state, it’s important for us to know how to be as safe as possible with that influence.
Be extremely clear with yourself and with potential clients on what you can and cannot offer.
Don’t hesitate to refer a client elsewhere if they’re asking for something you can’t provide, whether spiritually or emotionally. Don’t try to be all things for all people – you will eventually hurt yourself and possibly others. Be upfront with a client, before they’ve disclosed anything, on whether or not you consider yourself a mandated reporter and what situations would cause you to make a report. Draw boundaries where needed to protect yourself and your client (e.g. “I don’t feel that I have the knowledge to talk about this particular subject, but I’m happy to offer information for someone who does once we’re finished with our primary goal in this session”).
Start with communication training and conflict management.
What’s the difference between assertive and aggressive communication? How do you speak and enforce your personal (and professional) boundaries in a way that’s kind but firm? How do you recognize when you’re falling into an unhelpful power struggle, or when a subject that comes up in a session has triggered you before you could stop it from happening? How do you control your kneejerk shame and defensiveness if you make a mistake?
Prioritize additional learning opportunities according to your own preferences and the population you serve most often.
If you find yourself with more clients struggling with mental health and suicidal ideation, you might prioritize receiving an ‘ally intervention’ training with your local suicide hotline agency. If you find yourself serving more queer folks, you might reach out to a local queer group instead. This will most likely be a process you engage in for as long as you’re a service provider.
Find other spiritual service providers whose work you respect and trust.
Lean on each other for support and resources. Build a referral network. Hold each other accountable to agreed-upon norms around hurt and safety. Remember that even one-on-one sessions exist within the context of a broader community, in one way or another. You don’t have to bear the weight of your work alone!
If there’s information about a particular area of service for which you’d like more information, you have a few options:
- contact an advocacy or cultural organization relevant to the area in which you’re interested
- contact your local mutual aid network or collective to see what’s being offered or to register your interest
- call United Way at 211, an international number, and ask about the official resources in your region for a particular need (“official” meaning resources that have some kind of legally recognized status, such as a nonprofit)
Resources from Macha’s Justice
Because of MJ’s scope of service, it cannot provide a holistic curriculum or training either for spiritual skills, interpersonal ones, or all of the above. However, we’re happy to do what we can within the scope of our mission and the skillsets available from its participating members.
Workshops & Presentations
- If you would like MJ to facilitate a personalized workshop for your priesthood or faith organization, and we have the knowledge and skillsets to address the subject in which you’re interested, we’re happy to tailor our information to meet your needs!
- If you’re a non-pagan service provider with pagan clients, we can offer spiritual/religious humility training so you feel better prepared to engage with your client(s).
- If you’re someone with specialized experience, training, licensing, or knowledge that you feel would be relevant to MJ’s mission, we also offer paid speaking opportunities.
For more information on any of these things, or to discuss a different possibility, you may check out “Education & Workshops” or contact Marjorie Ní Chobhthaigh (they/them) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MJ offers freely accessible courses towards peer support and service provision through a polytheistic lens, all collected on Teachable.
MJ runs a Discord server for pagan and polytheist service providers of any type or level of experience. It includes channels for discussing specific topics both secular and spiritual, links to professional development and learning opportunities, and private channels for people who belong to specific traditions, cultures, and/or ethnicities looking for a more protected space to find community support.
To access the server, you will need to agree to community guidelines. The invite link and the guidelines can be found here.