Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health - [Christianity Today - Blog]

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Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health - [Christianity Today - Blog]

Post by Aslan_HQ on Tue Aug 11, 2015 9:36 am

Here at Aslan HQ we often get people phoning in looking for self-help books or general overview books that look at how emotional difficulties and faith interact. Whether it's healing from past abuse; problems with gambling; staying faithful to a cheating spouse; or any of the number of hurts that come up in life, there aren't always people trained within churches to support their members through in a focused way and it's left to untrained pastors to counsel a whole sea of issues, or the church member themselves to go it alone.
One of the biggest areas that comes up is the varying nature of mental health, which is why we loved this quick blog post on the Christianity Today website looking at some simple guidelines to help pastors realise some of the basic needs of individuals within their congregation who have mental health difficulties.

We've posted it here to share with you too.

The content below belong to Sarah Rainer, PsyD & Christianity Today, and come from a blog post by Sarah Rainer on Aug 06, 2015 - http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/august/pastors-counseling-and-mental-health-6-guidelines-for-pasto.html

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Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health: 6 Guidelines for Pastors to Consider

Mental health issues are too prevalent for pastors to not be counselors. But they must do so wisely.
The following is a guest post by Sarah Rainer, PsyD.
She has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and specializes in working with children, adolescents, and families. She desires to increase awareness and psychoeducation regarding mental illness to the Christian community. Sarah is the wife of Art Rainer and has two sons, Nathaniel and Joshua.
Sarah has thought deeply on these issues and I think her thoughts are worth your time.


I write this blog with two things in mind: a) Help those with mental illness to receive proper treatment, and, b) Aid pastors that engage in counseling individuals with mental illness. This is not an end-all be-all formula, but provides basic guidance for pastors. With that said….

The church cannot ignore mental health issues. When approximately 20% of the US adult population and 15%-20% of the US youth population are suffering from mental health issues, there are bound to be members in almost every church that are suffering.

When church members struggle with mental health issues, they often first turn to their pastor for help. The pastor then has to decide what sort of counseling is appropriate for the presenting issue. Questions, such as, “Do I have training in this area?” and “What is my relationship with this individual?” should be circulating in the pastor’s mind. Some issues may warrant counseling solely conducted by the pastor, while other issues may require more expertise in mental health issues.

So, how does a pastor know when engaging or continuing in counseling is appropriate or when a referral to a mental health professional should be made?
The church cannot ignore mental health issues.
Here are some basic guiding principles to help pastors recognize when referring a counselee to a mental health professional should be considered:

1. Competence
A lack of training in counseling and mental health issues would indicate that a pastor should refer these issues to a professional in the area. Additionally, when training has been acquired, counseling should occur within the parameters of the training. For example, if a pastor has training only in adult related issues, then counseling a child would not be recommended. In the field of psychology, we call this “practicing in your area of competency.”

2. Certain Disorders
This point relates to competency, but I believe is important enough to receive its own mark. There are certain mental health issues that are probably best left to specialists in the area. Schizophrenia, severe eating disorders, and certain substance abuse, are amongst the few of these disorders. Many of these disorders have medical undertones, require medication or medical intervention, or have symptoms that could result in fatality. For example, an addict that is detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepines can experience fatal side-effects of withdrawal. The potential for disaster far outweighs the benefits. When in doubt, consult with a mental health professional.

3. Emotional Involvement
All counseling sessions should be approached with empathy and care for the counselee. A certain degree of connection is necessary for therapy or counseling. However, emotional and physical boundaries should be in place in order for the pastor to maintain enough critical distance to effectively counsel. When pastors begin developing a deeper intimate connection with a particular counselee that extends beyond a pastor-church member relationship, they should consider the impact it could have on the counseling relationship.
Thinking often of the counselee outside of sessions, creating intimacy with a counselee that extends beyond the pastor’s normal counseling relationships, or utilizing sessions as a time to personally connect instead of examining the counselee’s struggles, are signs that the pastor should consider making a referral to another counselor. Specific counseling boundaries not only protect the counselee, they also protect the pastor.
The goal of counseling should always be to help the counselee.

4. Personal Life
When counseling sessions are extending into the pastor’s personal and work life, a pastor should consider alternatives for their counseling work. Excessive worry, stress, lack of productivity, and defensiveness about counseling, would be good indicators that counseling has become a burden or that counseling boundaries have been crossed. Taking a break from counseling at-large or from a specific counseling case would be recommended.

5. Lack of Progress
Despite several months of counseling, the counselee is not making improvement. Is the lack of improvement due to the counselee’s resistance or the pastor’s lack of knowledge? It may be unclear. However, if the counselee is not benefiting or is being harmed from the counseling sessions or counseling method, a referral to a mental health professional is recommended.

6. Personal Relationships
I understand that the nature of the pastors’ roles in counseling is to advise members of their congregations. However, if the relationship extends beyond that of a healthy pastor-church member relationship, then the pastor might consider referring the counselee to someone else. It is a good idea for pastors to steer clear of counseling someone with whom they have a close and intimate relationship (i.e. family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers). These relationships may hinder one’s ability to provide objective counsel and create a division of authority within the relationship. The nature of the personal relationship can also change as a counselee divulges personal experiences and struggles.

The goal of counseling should always be to help the counselee. It is possible that the best treatment for someone is to receive therapy from a mental health professional while simultaneously receiving mentoring and discipleship from their pastor. There are trained biblical counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals equipped to handle mental health issues. Utilizing outside resources for mental health related issues should not be a last resort for the church, but an integral part of serving those who need them.

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Does your church offer support for those with mental health difficulties? How could they help more?
Whether you're a pastor or a church member, we'd love to know your thoughts on this:
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Re: Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health - [Christianity Today - Blog]

Post by Kelly on Fri Aug 14, 2015 4:45 pm

As a mum whose child has a health problems, my biggest issues is
how will she be perceived by other people?
You see, at just 6 years old she was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder and an unofficial diagnosis of PTSD these conditions are only really treatable through therapy since they are caused by traumatic events and when triggered manifests themselves in a variety of ways, Violence, running off, meltdowns much like those of a 2 year old having a tantrum, flash backs, panic attacks and regressions to a younger age to name a few.
Anything can trigger these behaviours, a smell, seeing something/someone that reminds her of an unsafe time, a sound, anything that could make her feel unsafe really and sometimes we don't even know what the triggers are and the behaviour springs from no where and with out warning.
I've lost count of the times that I've been yelled at in public by strangers for 'not controlling my daughter' or been sniggered at ignored by people that know me because of the ways she's acted out.
Her first school refused to see her as anything other than naughty and re traumatised her by segregating her completely from her peers, not allowing break times, working in a tent away from her friends, not allowing her on school trips and man handling her in an almost every day basis. Our church however took a completely different approach. Only a few people know of her circumstances and only people who need to know, know about her diagnosis but still they allow her to join in with Sunday school, attend their trips and take advice on how they can help her. A number of problems have arisen that have made her feel unsafe whilst attending services with the whole church family and the leaders have taken the time to ensure that these things either don't happen when she's around or u can prepare her for them in advance. They treat her as any other child that is part of our church and it's one place that she feels no different to any one else.
What upsets me is that I don't understand how a place that only sees her once a week can be so accommodating and understanding of her yet people in the professional sector that are meant to provide support to help her get through life have very little time and understanding of her and her conditions.
I have been putting all my negative energy into starting a campaign to get children and families like mine the right support so that these children will have the lives they deserve.

https://www.facebook.com/fightforalifeforkidswithneeds
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105127


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Re: Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health - [Christianity Today - Blog]

Post by Aslan_HQ on Mon Aug 17, 2015 8:18 am

That's amazing to hear, Kelly.
We were slightly nervous with posting this that what was brought as a discussion might turn into a stream of people saying that their church was ill-equipped to handle the needs of themselves or others.
So great to hear that you're part of a church where there's an above average understanding of the specific, and often very individual, needs of its members.

From your experience have you got any advice for pastors or small group leaders who could be reading this?
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Re: Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health - [Christianity Today - Blog]

Post by Leona123 on Mon Aug 17, 2015 11:11 am

Yeah i've had the not so good kind.
I struggled with self-harm during my student years, and despite a large and lively youth group in the church, the pastors and youth pastors didn't really seem to know how to deal with it.
In the end I ended up feeling like sharing that struggle with them (e.g. 'i've had a really bad week and not done so well at keeping that at bay') and trying to be accountable was unwelcome and so uncomfortable for them that asking for help and sharing those difficulties or bad days was somehow misbehaving or being a 'bad Christian' because i'd failed at taking that to God and dealing with it through prayer rather than hurt.

I mean I wasn't expecting any major response from them, but just known I wasn't alone in it, or that what I was struggling with wasn't shameful or a lost cause would have been a huge help.
Knowing that someone would text at some point during the week to check how i'd been managing that week. Or to have someone talk through distraction and processing strategies with me for 5mins so I knew I wasn't on my own trying to find a way forward (because clearly me on my own trying to do those wasn't working) would have really helped.
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Re: Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health - [Christianity Today - Blog]

Post by Kelly on Tue Aug 25, 2015 10:13 am

I think the only advice I could give is to take the time to listen and to show love, to show that they care for the individual no matter the circumstances. I think it would be unfair to expect them to fully understand the illness but to show the person that they are there and they are not alone is key. I myself suffer with mental illness and after a time that saw me sectioned under the mental health act, I was terrified about returning to church. What would they think of me after I had tried to kill myself? Would I now not be welcome? Would they think I was an awful person? My first Sunday back at church I was welcomed, treated no differently than before. During the meeting I was approached by a couple of the leaders that I knew well and just hugged. I don't think they'll ever know how much a simple hug meant to me at that point but it gave me a strength I never knew I had. It made me feel like a person not an illness. I know my daughter always tells me she feels 'normal' at church. We are not judged we are accepted and we are loved :')

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Re: Pastors, Counseling, and Mental Health - [Christianity Today - Blog]

Post by Aslan_HQ on Wed Aug 26, 2015 9:26 am

What a beautiful response Smile
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