If you have not read our previous post on how a pastor can make a referral for someone to go to counseling and what pastors need to do to help, check out the article here. So you may know how to make a referral, but what should Christians and pastors look for when referring someone to counseling?

Below are the steps you need to know to ask for not only finding a good counselor but one that will also keep your spiritual needs at the forefront of the counseling. Further, we do not go into specifics of the difference between Biblical counseling and having a Christian counselor but will write about that in the future.

Note: this will be useful whether you are going to attend outpatient or inpatient treatment. If this is a crisis situation, call 911, a crisis hotline (1-800-273-8255) or go to the nearest emergency room for immediate assistance.

Finding A Counseling Center

The first step of looking into Christian counseling is to find what is even available in general. There may be many factors that come into factor here before we even look at integrating Christianity into finding the right treatment center or counselor.

Where To Find Counselors

If you have insurance, it will be best to use your insurance card. On the back of your card is probably a phone number for Member Services that you can call. Ask them to send you a list of counselors or counseling centers that is under your specific coverage. You may even be able to make specific requests at this point, depending on your insurance provider.

For those who do not have insurance, need financial assistance, or are willing to pay out-of-pocket, you can use the SAMSHA Treatment Locator to find all counseling services in your area. You can also use the Christian Associations for Psychological Studies’ “Find A Professional” search engine. It has a list of Christian counselors within your area, but do note that this is only for counselors who are a member of CAPS. There are many Christian counselors that do not pay the annual fee that would not be on this list and so it is not exhaustive.

What To Look For Clinically

We ask that you not only look for a counselor who will be able to incorporate your Christian faith into counseling sessions, but also has a strong clinical therapy, resources such as case management and medication if needed, and complementary approach to what you are wanting to work on. Not everyone will be experienced with eating disorders, trauma, substance misuse, youth, or marriage.

If you want to look into this as well as educate yourself more on what goes into a high-quality mental health treatment center, check out this thorough information from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

5 Questions To Ask About Integrating Faith Into Counseling

Now that we have the fundamentals of what to look for in a counseling center in general, we as the people looking to refer someone or ourselves to treatment need to ask very specific questions. To be clear, you may find great Christian counselors at a secular or community mental health center that as a whole agency may not be Christian-based. Many times these counselors can be as good as a Christian counseling center and offer more resources.

1. Ask about their mission and vision statement

There are many different types of Christian-based treatment centers and Christian counselors available. It is important to find a center that matches your faith and shares your values. Some places may hold strongly to family-centered counseling or not encourage medication. Ask for a copy of the counselor or agency’s mission and vision statement before you sign up for services.

2. Ask specifically for a Christian counselor

During the intake process, you have several rights which should be given to you. While it may not be explicitly verbally stated to you, you can and should ask for a Christian counselor if it is something you need. Before you even show up to the counseling center, ask if they have counselors who are Christian and can integrate your faith into the session.

It’s our job as counselors to find you the right fit. You may have to wait a little longer for the right counselor or do the intake assessment with someone else before you see your primary therapist, but it is best for you to be comfortable in counseling.

3. Ask to sign releases for spiritual leaders

A counselor who is not only wanting to help you work towards recovery, but also find lasting success will begin with coping skills, self-esteem, and other internal approaches, but should look to transition to supports. One huge support for Christians is our spiritual leaders.

Whether this is our pastor, an elder, our family, a church volunteer, or a church mentor, we encourage you to ask the counselor to sign a release of information for them. Further, you have the right to ask to bring any of them into counseling. A counselor’s job is not to be your spiritual adviser, but bringing one into the session is more than appropriate.

4. Ask to incorporate holistic practices in session

I want to be clear upfront, your counselor may not know everything about integrating faith into counseling. Further, they need to keep strong in being your counselor and not your spiritual adviser. Clinical counselors are held to ethical standards of no proselytizing with clients and so you should not have any fear of worrying about your faith in counseling. It should also be the counselor’s job of what limitations are in place and explain it to you so you understand it. It is not the client’s job to know any of this, but you may need to advocate for it.

But it is absolutely appropriate to ask your counselor to incorporate Scripture, spiritual teachings, prayer, and other Christian practices that may help you with recovery.

5. Ask for additional Christian resources or amenities

Sometimes counseling is just one component of the treatment process and long-term recovery. Whether we are incorporating Christian practices into the after-care plan or something needed while active in counseling, ask for more.

There are several Christian ministries that can offer additional support. Whether it is Christian, evidence-based mental health groups, Christian respite for parents of children with developmental and behavioral problems, find Christian mentors and care-givers within Stephen’s Ministry, or grief groups at your church.

What Else?

This is definitely not an exhaustive list. Each individual’s needs are unique, how that individual interacts with their faith and where they are at in their walk with Christ is unique, and each community does not have the same exact resources. So we’d love to know what other questions you have in the comments below.

Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is the Co-Occurring Program Coordinator and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at a community mental health center. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Colorado and Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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