Pastor: “I have always heard that you cannot be a Christian in our counseling sessions which makes me not want to refer anyone to counseling. Is this true?”
Faith and spirituality play a crucial role in the therapeutic process. If we have defined what mental health is, we need to now look at the collaboration of the Church and pastors with professionals. It is my belief the two organizations can walk together and do more for people who struggle with mental health than either can do by themselves.
One of the big pushes in the counseling world is the the four frameworks of psychology, socializing, emotional, and spiritual. We as counselors need to understand that we are not working with a mental health disorder, but a whole person or family. This person may be struggling with depression or alcoholism, but they are so much more than this diagnosis.
One of these pieces that may define the client is their spiritual life. In some ways, this is a bless and in others it may actually be a barrier. One example, if the person is struggling with guilt and shame, the Christian answer is to pray and ask for guidance, to share it with others who can help you, and to read Scripture.
This person may be struggling with depression or alcoholism, but they are so much more than this diagnosis.Many people will do so and find strength, but some may find this to deepen their depression. They share this issue in a prayer group and it becomes church gossip, they read Scripture but do not know how to interpret it fully and feel further convicted, and when God “does not show up,” believe that even the most loving God would not want to redeem them.
Counselors are expected to utilize this part of the client’s life, but many counselors may not be Christians and I bet most do not have a background is ministry or proper hermeneutics. As a pastor, your guidance and connection will be needed. The ethical action for the counselor at this time is to refer the client to talk with a pastor with regards to sin, prayer, and faith as this is not our competency. To join in this process, you need to connect with the counselor and help them understand you would be happy to be a referral for certain clients.
Every counselor is held to multiple overseeing bodies, including the law (mandated reporting of suicidal thoughts), licensure boards (turning in proper paperwork), and ethical guidelines. All three have the ability to deliver a variety of consequences to include jail time to fines and loss of licensure.
The last one, ethical guidelines, is difficult because there are a variety of guidelines to adhere to. One popular set is the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics and a further Competency of Spiritaulity for Counselors with Clients.
Two key things are noted within these documents:
- Counselors cannot proselytize
If the person is not a Christian, I can not evangelize directly or indirectly with the client. At this time, I am imposing myself and values on the client, even though I may believe this is for the best, it is not my role as a counselor. Think about it, would you want a non-Christian person proselytizing their values onto Christians? It works both ways.
- We are not only encouraged, but expected to use the client’s faith in treatment
If the client is a Christian and holds to these values, it is actually my expectation to utilize practices of prayer, Scripture, and discipleship for the betterment of the client. It would actually be unethical to do so.
What if the counselor’s client is a different faith, agnostic, or atheist? This is a question all Christians need to face when they are in school. It’s actually quite a tough question because as soon as you note you are a Christian and a counselor, many counseling centers are dissuaded to want to hire you because of the reputation Christians have with evangelism and not considering the other person’s feelings. How do we manage when there is a disconnect spiritually?
The simple fact of the matter is each person coming into counseling is unique. Treating spirituality as a cultural component works for the counselor and the client. Even within the Christian faith, there are many layers to it that Christians struggle to agree upon, understand, and practice. We cannot nor should not assume to know it all.
This is why we as counselors want to refer directly to you to have these conversations. It is not my job to understand all of the nuances of speaking in tongues, communion, or ways to pray. But I can encourage them to seek pastors out for more information because these things will help the client do more with their lives and ultimately help them heal, grow, and thrive.
Are you as a church leader on the referral list of counselors in your community?