The Russian and Serbian Service of Confession has these initial words to the person confessing...
"Behold, my child, Christ stands here invisibly present to receive your confession,
and I am but a witness
, to bear witness before him...."
Now as a young priest I was taught that my function was indeed that of "but a witness
" and I was not there to give the penitent the benefit of my six-month course in pastoral psychology.
I was taught that what must happen in Confesion is that the penitent must be given the necessary time to confess his sins (prompted by questions when necessary), and that I was but a witness. The penitent is supposed to apprehend the love and compassion of God (unhindered by the priest's ability or lack of ability as a spiritual counsellor) and he should depart knowing that under the epitrakhilion the God of mercy and compassion has poured out His grace and forgiven his sins. Period.
If there were to be any additional counselling I was taught to ask the penitent's permission to refer to the Confession outside of Confession and discuss matters with him at a later time, sitting in the church or in the parish office or at home.
I admit that as the years have gone by and experience has piled on experience and I sometimes, by God's grace, believe I have something helpful to say, then I will include that in the Confession. But I keep in mind that the primary purpose is not counselling but confession and forgiveness.
Are there other priests here who could share how they approach this?
Russian Orthodox Church (Abroad)