Joni Miller, PhD

Some of you will hear my story and think I'm indecisive or lack commitment. And I've wondered that about myself. However, I've come to realize these aborted paths/side trips on my life journey were neither wrong nor unproductive. Others will see what I see in my story -- I've been following an inner calling my entire life. And this inner calling only shows itself one step at a time. 

 

The "practical" details: I am a Certified Pastoral Counselor and have a Masters and Ph.D. in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University Maryland. I came to counseling after a degree in math education, an MBA, and an 18 year career in business, culminating in a position as Chief Financial Officer for a mid-sized national company.  I'm now a speaker, workshop leader, and coach.


The crazy path begins

I've been trying to "find my way" my whole life. I never had a clear career goal so I wandered into things I was good at rather than find something that spoke to my heart. I started out studying aerospace engineering at Virginia Tech but disliked the precision of engineering and switched to math education, not because I wanted to be a teacher but because getting my degree in math education instead of math let me skip a lot of science courses and graduate on time. One terrible semester teaching. Another two years working at an entry level job with a government contractor. Then back to school. If I was going to be in business, I should get an MBA, right? Off to University of Michigan for two years. Now what? I dabbled in performing arts administration but that didn't feel right either. So back home to get work as a government contractor, even though I had sworn when I went to Michigan I would never again work as a government contractor. 16 more years working as a government contractor, miserable, unhappy, stressed but really good at my job moving up the ranks until I was Chief Financial Officer of a mid-sized company. I prayed daily, "God, show me the next step and give me the courage to take it." All of a sudden the next step was crystal clear and I quit my job, returning to school in my mid 40s once again to get a masters and PhD in pastoral counseling. I took this step  knowing I didn't want to be a counselor. But the next step was clear, the direction was clear and I had to take it, trusting the step after will be shown to me when the time was right. Continuing to live in stress and misery wasn't an option. I had to move forward.

The next step

I was back in school and loving it. I love learning. I was still unsettled because I kept looking for THE answer, the career goal that would allow me to be of help to people and use all my gifts and talents. My professors said I was good at being a counselor but I knew I didn't want to become a counselor. And I had learned my lesson: just because I CAN do something doesn't mean I SHOULD. But suddenly ... inspiration!  I started writing a book about my diet journeys, developing a methodology to help people find their own way forward leaning on what works best for them. This felt like THE path for me. I sent out multiple proposals to book agents. Someone accepted me as a client! Was this a sign from heaven I'd finally found THE answer? Then ... nothing. No publisher wanted it and self-publishing didn't feel right. So I was still in a fog, not seeing the big picture. But I could see next steps. My dissertation topic was supposed to be about spirituality and weight loss. Then, one semester before I was supposed to start the dissertation process, I had more divine inspiration and completely changed courses. A radical change that didn't use any of the research I'd already done. The pastoral counseling department started having discussions with religiously conservative students who were expressing concern about counseling gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) clients. As a long-time LGBTQ ally, I was curious about this and changed my research to speak with conservative Christian counseling students who expressed religious concerns about working with LGBTQ clients. 

What do I do now?

The research was fascinating. I found myself having empathy for my participants whose main concern was, "Am I betraying my faith?" for either agreeing to counsel LGBTQ or changing their beliefs about LGBTQ. The data was rich, my conclusions were fascinating, and I felt I could be a bridge between those who were wrestling with these faith issues and the counseling profession whose ethical code requires accepting LGBTQ clients. After graduation I started my business, Spiritual Geography. I developed a tool, the Spiritual Geography Card Sort, to help foster exploration of personal faith in a way that leaves specific religious beliefs out of the discussion. I presented my research at many different counseling conferences. I started doing workshops to help counseling students explore their religious and spiritual values based on my Spiritual Geography Card Sort exercise. But the Card Sort had different applications and I gave Spiritual Geography workshops in many different contexts, as the tool evolved with a greater purpose than I originally foresaw. Then I felt the pull of my old calling, the book I had written about weight loss,  So I simultaneously went down two business paths at the same time:  spiritual exploration with Spiritual Geography with workshops, videos, and blogs exploring spiritual topics, and Body Wisdom Warriors, a coaching program of body gratitude and self-directed changes for health and wellness goals.  I'd felt the business paths would come together at some point. Now they have. The Wisdom Journey Method combines the concepts of both into something greater than either. My business journey has been one of steps that build on one another, creating an unfolding path I could never have foreseen 5 years ago. So I'm content ... until the next step becomes clear.  


Presentations|Speaking Engagements

Guest Speaker (2019, September). Praying in Secret. Worship Service at Rockville United Church, Rockville, Maryland.

Guest Speaker (2019, June). Coming Home. Workshop Service at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, Finksburg, Maryland.

Guest Speaker (2019, April). Gratitude Interrupted.  Worship Service at Rockville United Church, Rockville, Maryland.

Workshop Leader (2019, February). Spiritual Geography: A Spiritual and Religious Values Card Sort. Furloughed Friends Series at Rockville United Church, Rockville, Maryland.

Guest Speaker (2018, December). Dividing Lines. Blue Christmas Service at Rockville United Church, Rockville, Maryland.

Guest Lecturer (2018, October; 2017, March; 2016, May; 2015, December, November). Spiritual Geography: A Spiritual and Religious Values Card Sort. Lectures in various counseling classes at Loyola University Maryland.

Presenter (2017, March). Building Bridges: How to talk about values-based referrals with other counselors. Presentation given at the American Counseling Association conference in San Francisco, CA.

Retreat Leader (2017, March). Telling Our Stories:Turning Points. RUC Women’s Retreat, Flintstone, Maryland.

Workshop Leader (2017, February). Why the Truth Doesn’t Matter. Speaking in a way that leads to changes of heart and mind. Workshop at Rockville United Church, Rockville, Maryland.

Workshop Leader (2017, January). How can I forgive when I feel like screaming? Workshop given at the 2017 Gay Christian Network Conference held in Pittsburgh, PA.

Co-presenter with Hanna, H. (2016, November). Laying down our swords in dialogue. Presentation given at the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, Atlantic Region, Fall meeting held in Aston, Pennsylvania.

Workshop Leader (2016, January). Building Bridges: Using counseling concepts for self-insight, improved communication, and breaking down the barriers between us. Workshop given at the 2016 Gay Christian network Conference held in Houston, TX.

Presenter (2015, October). Engaging counselor-in-training values (even the religious ones). Presentation given at the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision conference in Philadelphia, PA.

Co-presenter with Schreiber-Pan, H. (2015, October). Creating value-savvy counselors: How to connect with clients of diverse backgrounds and sexual orientations. Presentation given at the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision conference in Philadelphia, PA.

Co-presenter with Cheston, S. (2015, July). Religious counselors, LGB clients: Supporting counselor growth in theological & counselor identities. Presentation given at the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling in New York, NY.

Guest Lecturer (2015, March; 2014, October, June, March; 2013, December). Religious and Spiritual Aspects of Working with LGBTQIA clients. Lectures in Diversity Issues in Counseling classes at Loyola University Maryland.

Presenter (2014, December). Religious therapists, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual clients: When personal religious values conflict with client actions. Presentation for the Psychology Department Colloquium, Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, MD.

Co-presenter with Schreiber-Pan, H. (2014, November). Creating Cross-Cultural Counselors: How to Connect with clients of Diverse Backgrounds and Sexual Orientations. Presentation given at the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, Atlantic Region, Fall Meeting held in Columbia, MD.

Co-presenter with Greene, G. (2014, November). Anti-racism/Multicultural Justice Presentation. Presentation given at the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, Atlantic Region, Fall Meeting held in Columbia, MD.

Guest Lecturer (2014, September). Perspectives on Protestantism. Lecture in Contemporary Religious Perspective class at Loyola University Maryland.

Presenter (2013, November). Counselor Theological Identity and the Response to Value-Based Conflicts over Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients. Presentation given at Annual Interdisciplinary Conference at the Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality at Indiana State University held in Terre Haute, IN.

Presenter  (2013, November). Counselor and Theological Identity Formation and the Ethic of Inclusion for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients. Poster session at the Annual Interdisciplinary Conference at the Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality at Indiana State University held in Terre Haute, IN.

Co-presenter with Schreiber-Pan, H. (2013, November). Bridging the Gap: Respecting your religious beliefs and being an effective pastoral counselor with LGBT clients. Presentation at Loyola University Maryland.

Panel Moderator (2013, November). Intervening to Promote Forgiveness: Religious and cultural applications to pastoral counseling. Session at the 2013 Atlantic Region American Association of Pastoral Counselors meeting in Columbia, Maryland.

Presenter  (2013, November). Counselor and Theological Identity Formation and the Ethic of Inclusion for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients. Poster session at the 2013 Atlantic Region American Association of Pastoral Counselors meeting in Columbia, Maryland.

Co-presenter with Braganza, D. (2013, April). The Changing Face of Spirituality. Presentation as part of the Diversity Awareness Series at Loyola University Maryland.

Co-presenter with Lemons, M. & Maynard, E. (2012, September). Ethics, Theology, and Service to LGBTQ Clients. Presentation given at the 2012 Conference of the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES), held in Savannah, GA.

Presenter  (2012, September). Religious Counselors, LGBT Clients: Supporting counselor identity development and ethical practice. Presentation given at the 2012 Conference of the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES), held in Savannah, GA.

 

 

Publications

 

Miller, J. L. (2015). Understanding pastoral counseling research. In E. A. Maynard & J. L. Snodgrass (Eds.), Understanding Pastoral Counseling. NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Miller, J.L. (2014). Counselor and Theological Identity Formation and the Ethic of Inclusion for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients. Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.

Cheston, S. E., & Miller, J. L. (2011). The use of prayer in counseling. In C. S. Cashwell & J. Young (Eds.) , Integrating spirituality and religion into counseling: A guide to competent practice (2nd ed.) (pp. 243-260). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.



 

 

 

Finding Your Way - Body, Mind, and Spirit

Spiritual Geography

 

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