Why should pastors refer?





Kicking off April's Counseling Awareness Month, we are sharing a post from our Ask Anne archives written to encourage pastors for times when additional, outside counseling support may better serve the needs of their church members. The original question we received was:

"I am a pastor at a local church. I often times will have church members come and see me for counseling needs. There are some issues I am comfortable with handling, but when it gets past a few meetings, I am wondering if I should refer them to a professional counselor. What do you think about this?"

This is a great question! Dwight Wilson, retired counselor for Pathways, formerly served in the capacity of pastor and has great insight into why pastors should consider referring out some counseling needs:

"Having had the wonderful privilege of being a pastor from 1972–1997; I discovered several really good reasons for referring individuals and couples who came to me for counseling . . . 

  1. Although I received a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I did not take one course in counseling. I felt very comfortable dealing with spiritual matters, and yet, I felt overwhelmed and incompetent when it came to other areas. I did not have the practical training for in-depth marital counseling, nor mental health counseling.

  2. I found that as a pastor, certain priorities had to be established with regard to time if proper preparation were to be given to preaching the Word a minimum of three times each week. (Counseling can be long term for some, 10 to 26 weekly sessions, or more.)

  3. When an individual counsels with their pastor revealing their innermost being (fear, insecurity, needs, sins, etc.), it can become a stumbling block to both the minister and the counselee. During sermon preparation, the minister is constantly thinking of ministering the Word to the people. When those things which were mentioned in a counseling session arise in the study, the pastor has to evaluate how this is going to be perceived by a counselee who has shared this issue confidentially with him. Is this individual going to think that I am betraying confidentiality, or maybe preaching to him/her from the pulpit? So, the question arises for the pastor, “Do I dare even preach this?”

  4. Often when persons have been counseled by their minister, shared their thoughts, needs, fears, pain, or letting it all hang out-so-to-speak, they no longer are comfortable attending the church because the pastor knows too much. Therefore many individuals choose to move on to either attend another church or drop out of church completely, especially if this is the only church they have ever attended.

  5. Many individuals just cannot bring themselves to share with someone they know, their pastor, what is really bothering them. Therefore, some superficial work is done without getting to the root of the issue which leaves the counselee frustrated, confused, and blaming God, the pastor, and the church because they have not gotten the relief they desire and need.

  6. A fear that keeps individuals from counseling is that their confidentiality will be betrayed. So when the preacher speaks about a particular issue, the devil will suggest to some person that the preacher is really talking about him/her! Are ministers competent counselors? Yes, most are. Do ministers keep things confidential? Yes, most do. But the pastor should weigh out whether it is in the best interest of their church member to be counseled by their pastor."

Learn more here about our Pathways Professional counselors and the areas they serve across the state.

This article was originally published on our Ask Anne column.

resourcesKate Tedeton