The relationship between mental health professionals and the local church can be complicated. Chances are, if you are an LPC, LMFT, LCSW, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional, you have had a variety of experiences with local churches:
- Unrealistic expectations that you should make difficult situations “all better” regardless of the level of motivation or commitment to change in a counselee… after all, that’s why you get paid “the big bucks”
- Vilification as a “psycho-heretic” because your categories for understanding life struggles are sometimes different from the discipleship categories of a church… when you actually do affirm the value of discipleship and the doctrines of the church
- Strained relationship with a church that you previously had a good referral relationship with because a dissatisfied counselee misrepresented your counsel… now honoring confidentiality means you are limited in how you can respond
- Frustration over the limited information you can provide a pastor without a counselee’s consent … when you are genuinely glad to see that pastor is willing to pursue and care for his people that well
- Excellent progress in a counselee who greatly benefited from a redemptive community that cares in ways formal therapy cannot… remembering many of ideals that motivated you to want to be a Christian counselor in the first place
There are many things that may account for these challenges and many opportunities to improve the working relationship between counselors and churches. I want to summarize four ways the resources on this site can serve you, your counselees, and build a more collaborative relationship with churches in your community.
1. Expanding a Counselee’s Care Team
As a counselor, your primary concern is the flourishing of your counselees. This is your livelihood and passion. The largest factor in the success of counseling is the quality of resources a counselee has outside of counseling. The peer support resources on this site are designed so that they can be assigned to study with a trusted Christian friend to reinforce the work that is being done in counseling. They strive to be both clinically-informed and discipleship-focused so that they effectively bridge these two worlds of counseling and the church. “How do I get to know these resources well enough to use them effectively?” See point #2…
2. Continuing Education
Every year you have to get CEU credits to maintain your credentials. For counselors in the RDU area, we provide a certificate of completion toward CEU credits for our counseling seminars. Now, while getting the CEU credits you need, you can familiarize yourself with resources that help you (a) deepen counselee’s relationships with their faith community and increase your effectiveness by working within their existing faith constructs and (b) have another potential avenue for connecting isolated counselees with a sphere of social support if they are open to involvement in local church.
3. Intersecting Faith and Practice
Many Christians who serve in the mental health professions have had relatively few opportunities to explore the intersection of their personal faith and professional practice. Understanding this intersection better could (a) make your practice more fulfilling, increasing your longevity as a counselor, and (b) allow you to be more effective with your Christian counselees; recognizing this is a large demographic who often feels skeptical towards therapeutic professionals because their beliefs are not often understood. Because of this skepticism Christians benefit less than they could from counseling, which leads us to point #4.
4. Networking with Churches
Counselors want good working relationships with their referral sources. It is part of running an effective practice. In the same way, Christians who counsel want a good working relationship with churches in their community (often a large part of their referral base). One way to build trust with the churches in your community is to demonstrate a growing competence in how to serve their members in a way that strengthens their faith. Mentioning the CEU training is a way you can demonstrate your commitment to deepen the faith of your Christian counselees as you help them navigate the relational, emotional, addictive, identity, mental health, and other challenges discussed in your office.
Other posts that would be helpful for counselors:
- Becoming a Counseling Advocate – a tool to help you involve a counselee’s faith community in their counseling journey