Crisis Counseling: A Guide for Pastors and Professionals

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Crisis counseling offers emotional support and resources to help individuals with creating effective safety plans should they choose to leave to their violent relationship. Each year, approximately 44, Americans commit suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the US. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides confidential crisis support for people across the US feeling actively suicidal or in severe emotional distress.

In America, sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds.

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Sexual assault can evoke difficult reactions of anger, confusion, depression, or anxiety. These crisis counselors help with emotional processing and locating appropriate resources and referrals for recovery. Additionally, crisis counselors can also provide mobile services. In these cases, they directly work onsite near the location of a natural or human-caused disaster. When major disasters occur, many mental health therapists, social workers, and psychologists volunteer their time to provide crisis counseling services. These services help victims, families, and other supporters receive appropriate emotional support for the initial feelings of shock, anger, and fear often associated with acute trauma.

Counselors risk experiencing secondary trauma or compassion fatigue when working with acute crisis populations. To prevent secondary trauma or burnout, counselors should consider implementing self-care strategies. This includes taking care of physical health: eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining an appropriate sleep schedule. Counselors are also encouraged to reach out to other colleagues, seek appropriate supervision or consultation, and receive their own personal therapy.

Manual Crisis Counseling: A Guide for Pastors and Professionals

Online Counseling Programs Blog What's in our blog? What's in our blog? Providing mental health first aid is not only limited to medical professionals; anyone with a desire to help can enroll in these courses. Are you ready to help those in need? There is no other role like that of a pastor in our society. I continue to serve a church, but I no longer counsel as a pastor.

Seven Reasons Why Many Pastors Avoid a Counseling Ministry

The counseling I do today is outside the church relationship. This is not written to pastors called to counseling ministries within the church. Many churches today have counselors on their staff to help with the needs of their people, and those counselors may be called pastors. Instead, this is written for pastors of mid-sized or small churches, many of whom serve alone. Pastors do receive training in counseling today, and many pastors understand people and relate Biblical truth in effective ways.

Pastors are usually qualified to counsel for basic needs. Those who specialize in counseling therapists, psychologists and other professional counselors have the advantage of a community and vocabulary within which to operate and may have wider experience with complicated problems. Yet, pastors have access because of relationship and connection with people outside of the counseling office.

Pastors often know the extended family and sometimes have insights into the community of the person that a therapist cannot. Pastors may find certain disorders beyond their expertise and should be ready to refer to suitable professionals, but most pastors may very effective counselors. My concern is not with the qualifications of the pastor but with the culture of counseling today.

Years ago, pastors visited their people regularly in their homes. These visits could be anticipated around the common coffee breaks of the day and were appreciated by the family. The pastor would offer a word of prayer and friendly encouragement and the family would feel included and valued.


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Often, only the wife was home during the day and a visit from the pastor seemed awkward or inappropriate. As time went on, the wife went to work and no one was home during the day. Pastors found visitation to be increasingly difficult. Visitation was also felt to be less than some families needed.

As the culture became more complicated, so did the lives and relationships of church people. Crisis ministry, such as death or accident and illness, grew to include marriage and family struggles. Pastors took counseling classes and tried to meet the changing needs of the people.

Congregational Life

Counseling today demands time and energy that most pastors cannot afford. It takes time. It takes significant attention and energy. It rarely happens on the golf course or in the fishing boat. In those situations, words of encouragement can be given and maybe even words of caution, but counseling means digging through life issues, ways of thinking, and giving careful guidance. Good preaching may be a way of helping people understand how to apply Scriptural principles and right theology to the struggles of life, but preaching is not counseling.

Crisis Counseling

Counseling is personal, individual, and usually private. Counseling changes the important relationship a pastor has with church people. Churches are complex organizations. People are called to participate in programs, work on projects, share financially, grow spiritually, and build relationships with others. An individual member can wear many hats.

The pastor must be prepared to relate with people according to the roles or positions they hold without focusing on the information raised in a counseling session. For example, if the paid custodian is a member of the church and is doing a poor job, the trustees may want to replace him. This creates a point of pressure for both the pastor and the church as a whole. Sometimes these responsibilities conflict. Expectations of one may not be consistent with needs of another.

Most counselees today assume confidentiality. For example, suppose a member confides to the pastor that he wants to change jobs and move to another community. He may not want that information made public, because it might endanger his current job. When the nominating committee wants to present the man for leadership, the pastor could be in the dilemma of either sharing confidential information or withholding important information.


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If the man would be good for the position, the pastor may even feel tempted to talk him out of a move for the good of the church. Suppose another man shares compromise in his moral life. The pastor cannot allow the man to serve in particular roles where that struggle could cause a problem for the people. Yet, the pastor may have to share information to prevent these situations. The pastor may also be compelled to share that information with legal authorities. The expected confidentiality becomes a burden beyond the counseling relationship.

Most pastors who counsel will find themselves in multiple conflicts like these. If the counselee disagrees or is angered by something that comes up in the counseling, the conflict aims toward the counselor, rather than the pastor or the church. Still others might suggest it allows more specific prayers. While these may be true, the inner conflict of the pastor cannot be ignored. Unless counsel without confidentiality is sometime to which the person agrees, this conflict lies in potential.

Pastors often relate how they have worked many hours with a couple in counseling only to have the couple leave the church within weeks or months after the counseling has ended. Counselees also feel the conflict of sharing their personal information with someone who has so much other access to their lives. They become afraid of being compromised or even blackmailed.

They hear a sermon and wonder if the pastor is speaking about their situation. When they know you know their secrets, they may hear things you do not intend. I knew a pastor who did this with purpose. He would use his counseling as illustration material in his messages.

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