Life is relational. God created us in relationship, through relationship, and for relationship. Without the mutual benefit of relationships, life wouldn’t be possible.
But like life itself, relationships are rarely simple or easy. Sometimes life throws difficult things our way. There’s often hurt and heartache. Distance and disappointment. Crisis and conflict. The results of life’s trials, temptations and tragedies can fill us with pain, doubt, resentment and unforgiveness. Strained or broken relationships can leave us feeling hurt, alone, confused, hopeless and afraid to reach out for help.
As ministry leaders, we are not immune to or exempt from these “growth opportunities.” Whether we’re addressing these issues on a personal level or as professionals, on behalf of the members of our flock, the question is always the same: “To whom can I turn for help?”
This is a crucial concern. It has to be approached carefully and with generous amounts of prayer. How do we go about selecting a person from whom we can seek guidance and assistance for ourselves or our family members in times of need? And where do we go to find a counselor who can help a parishioner whose problems transcend the scope of our own expertise or training? There are several important considerations to take into account at the beginning of the process.
Among other things, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the therapist under consideration safe and trustworthy?
- Will he or she handle my issues—or my parishioner’s—respectfully?
- Will deeply personal concerns be treated with care and an appropriate degree of confidentiality?
- Will he or she be nonjudgmental, accepting and sensitive?
- Can I view this therapist as a supportive ally in ministry rather than an undermining adversary?
- Does the counselor know what he or she is doing?
- Will the client be led astray or into the path of life?
Of course, it would be difficult and time-consuming to run through this litany every time you run up against a problem that calls for the skills of a professional therapist. That’s why I’d strongly encourage you to make a concerted effort to develop a healthy working relationship with a reputable Christian counselor in your area so that you can make referrals with confidence and assurance. Remember the words of Jesus—”By their fruits you shall know them.”
Here are some key “fruits” to look for in making a good referral for Christian counseling:
- Does the therapist have and reflect a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ?
- Does the therapist have and display a genuine love and concern for hurting people?
- Does the therapist base his or her work on a biblical worldview and value system?
- Does the therapist have the appropriate professional training, credentials, experience and state licensure as a certified mental health professional?
- Does the therapist express a desire to be seen by you as a trusted colleague in ministry? Is he or she open to consulting with you on the client’s behalf provided the appropriate release forms are signed to maintain a healthy confidentiality boundary?
If you can’t find someone who meets all the above criteria in your area, give our Counseling Department a call [1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459)]. A member of our highly trained and experienced team of licensed mental health clinicians will be happy to consult with you or your parishioners to offer helpful resources and/or referrals to Christian therapists on our National Referral Network.
Rev. Jared Pingleton, Psy.D., Clinical Director of the Counseling Department, is credentialed as a minister and as a clinical psychologist, and has been serving clients since 1977.