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6 Safeguards for Pastoral Counseling

Written by Emma Voon on Oct 30, 2018 in Church Management

“Pastor, I need some counsel.”

If you have been in ministry any length of time, you know that Pastoring is more than preaching and teaching to the crowds, many times, it is the one on one counsel where God uses the words and wisdom of Pastors to help others grow in their walk with God. But, the current environment of our country has made many minister’s concerned about providing counsel.

Many Pastors are asking, “Are there any guidelines I need to follow when counseling?”, “What are my responsibilities when providing counseling?” While it is an honor and privilege to provide Godly counsel, it is important that pastors guard themselves during counseling sessions. 

It is no surprise that counseling comes with risks, and it is important for ministers to keep in compliance with the law regarding counseling.  I urge you to consider the following when thinking about providing counseling to a church member. 

6  Safeguards for Pastoral Counseling

1. Promote your counseling as “Faith-based.” 

Counseling is a specific profession that requires a degree and certifications to put in practice. As a pastoral counselor, your best tool is the Word of God. We may not have all the answers, but the Bible does. 

In contrast, a professional counselor relies on the studies of other psychologists and science. Many times, pastors are not certified in this area, and you will want to use caution if you are not. It is not your job to give medical or legal advice.

As a pastor, you have others best interest at heart; it is important to know that counseling is useful and beneficial, and even a part of your job as a “shepherd of a flock,” but to keep in mind that you should be careful on the non-religious advice that you give.

2. It is important to have the correct language in your bylaws. 

Your bylaws are defined as a set of general rules and regulations that guide and direct the daily affairs of the organization. In essence, bylaws are the driving force that helps a church run smoothly, but they should be specifically tailored to your church, so they can provide the guidance and protection they are intended to provide.

In your bylaws, you will want to establish who can give counseling and who cannot. Maybe you want the individual giving counseling to be ordained, and that is something that can be defined in your bylaws. If there is an educational requirement, that can also be defined in your bylaws.

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It is best practice to have those individuals who will be performing counseling to complete a background check. However, there are some important things to note that may not be shown on a background check; this is where it may be important to talk to previous employers of this individual, if you recently hired them. Read more about the risks of not properly vetting an individual on this blog.

3. Keep counseling sessions in public places. 

In order to avoid lawsuits against sexual abuse, or misconduct, it is important to keep the sessions as public, as possible. In many circumstances, counseling occurs in one-on-one situations, however, there are several steps you can take to help ensure you do not find yourself in any undesirable situations, or on the receiving end of false accusations.  

4. Be wise about the kind of advice you will offer. 

You are uniquely qualified to life advice to those who may be mourning, feel lost, or don’t know where to turn. You have the opportunity to show others that amidst the sorrows and troubles they’re facing, there is peace, hope, and comfort in Christ. Many times, somebody who is seeking counseling doesn’t necessarily need to have their mind analyzed, as a psychologist or professional counselor would, but they simply need somebody to talk to with no reservations.

One of the greatest risks of counseling, however, is that the pastor or clergy may in fact offer advice that may cause more harm than good. Be wise in referring different cases to licensed professionals. It is important to know your limits and when to refer a case to a trained professional. 

As mentioned earlier on in the article, it is not your job to give medical or legal advice. If you feel that somebody needs further medical or psychiatric advice, help, or diagnosis, then it would be wise to refer them to a professional, as that is out of your realm of practice.

5. Use full disclosure in your counseling sessions. 

As a pastor, you have the benefit of already having a relationship with the person you are counseling. The individual most likely came to you because they trust you and look up to you. No matter how well you may know an individual you’re counseling, an Informed Consent Form and Confidentiality Agreement should be submitted for anybody who is receiving counseling. 

It is important to know that church clergy has a duty placed on them to not disclose information shared with them in private. Historically, confidentiality has just been a moral obligation, but in recent years, people have brought a number of lawsuits involving the disclosure of confidential information by a pastor. The result has brought attention to the fact that this should not only be a moral obligation, but a legal one as well.

Everything said in a session should stay in a session. These rules do not apply if you are informed of anything regarding child abuse. In my next point, we will discuss how to go about reporting chid abuse.

6. Always report child abuse. 

As a pastor or ministry leader, are you familiar with your state’s laws concerning your responsibility as a mandated reporter? If not, then these are things that you will want to research.

All 50 states have child abuse reporting laws that designate certain professionals as mandated reporters. The term “mandated reporter” refers to one who is required by law to report reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Click here to find about more about the law that discusses reporting child abuse.

Scripture tells us that “children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him.” (Psalm 127:3) We have a responsibility to protect children as much as we can. This is especially so for ministers. 

For more information about what this means for you as a pastor or ministry leader, refer to this blog. 

Use your Opportunity!

As I mentioned earlier, you have such a unique and incredible opportunity, as a pastor, to pour into the lives of others. God has equipped you to care for His people, so have confidence knowing that He is with you every step of the way! Despite the difficulties you may face in ministry today, you have been entrusted to care for the flock.

 If you have any questions or concerns about your church’s preparedness to safeguard it’s pastors during pastoral counseling, please give us a call at 877-494-4655. It would be our honor to serve you! 

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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