Tacoma Christian Counselor
I used to be a pastor and I am married to a full-time pastor with over fifteen years of experience. I spend a fair amount of time with pastors and chaplains and we talk a lot about how to help people heal, and seek new and more fulfilled lives. Many of our conversations center around the question: How do I know when to send someone to see a therapist? Where does my care end or begin to collaborate with yours?
I get asked this question so often that I decided to explore what lies at its heart. Although there are many topics that could emerge from this, what is ultimately at stake is how we help people to change. How do we lead them to new life? From a theological perspective, we might ask where death occurs and resurrection begins? All of us want suffering to cease and relationships to improve. We want to live meaningful lives that have purpose. But the bigger question that we need to ask is how we obtain this.
Where does Pastoral Care Stop and Therapy Begin?
Pastors are the gateway in a sense. When someone dies, or a couple has marital issues, they most often contact their pastor. This is understandable … as the Body of Christ we should be reaching out to our clergy and ministers for care. After all, God has given them to us as a gift to lead us closer to Him and to care for us. However, I do a fair amount of consulting with clergy who ask me (usually in a frazzled state) about the limits of their pastoral care. They want to know at what point I can help people as a therapist. Instead of answering that question from the therapist’s perspective, I thought I would ask my wife for her opinion. This is how she responded.
How do You Know when to Send Somebody to See a Therapist?
As a pastor, my main calling is to help care for people in difficult seasons. This can mean walking alongside them, crying with them, listening to them, praying with and for them, and even offering some pastoral advice. But I am not a therapist, and I know this. If someone comes to me with some significant issues or concerns, especially issues that would involve more than one or two encouraging conversations, I am fairly quick to advise them to seek professional counseling. I tell people about my own personal experiences with therapy, and how it can be transformational. And I have even offered to go with someone to their first therapy appointment, just as a support if they think they might need it. I want to do whatever I can to help people find peace and restoration in their lives.
What do You Feel are Your Limits in Helping People?
I am very aware of my own limitations as a pastor and as a human being. I have the gift of empathy, and I know that I am someone who is able to care well for people in rough situations. I can listen, empathize, acknowledge their hurt, pray with and for them, and even offer some of my own advice that I have gleaned from Scripture. But I know that I am not a professional marriage counselor, nor am I someone who knows how to gain control over an addiction. When people share with me concerns that are beyond my frame of reference, I immediately encourage them to seek professional help. I am also clear that I believe this kind of help is a Christian way to respond to their life circumstances. When people talk to me about issues such as depression, suicidal thoughts, addictions, marital conflicts that might be bordering on divorce, teenagers struggling with stressful situations (divorced parents, adoption), and other such concerns—these are some of the situations in which I gladly encourage people to also seek professional therapy.
How Can Faith Communities Partner with Those who Need Help?
I believe that therapy is one of the ways in which God can help to change and heal a person (or a marriage or relationship). I do not believe that therapy is something that is only for the “weak” or something to try as a last-ditch effort. But I strongly believe that therapists can work with the church to help bring people fullness and healing. Churches should take more advantage of these kinds of connections and relationships with therapists—and encourage people to seek help outside of themselves. I don’t think the church needs to force people to choose between being a faithful Christian who “just trusts God” and seeking professional help when it is needed. It doesn’t have to be either/or, but can most definitely be both/and.
Christian Counseling is a Resource for Pastors
Both my wife and I are convinced that the expertise of Christian counselors should complement and be a resource for those who are responsible for pastoral care. If you are a pastor, you are almost certainly likely to encounter situations that require skills that you don’t have. At Seattle Christian Counseling we believe in working with pastors and sharing resources to enable people to experience the fullness of life that God desires.
“Old Man in Rain,” courtesy of George Hodan, All-free-download.com; “Beside the Sea,” courtesy of the author, Michael Lillie
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