We can be God's instruments to bring love to a hurting world, but we have to be wise about how we embody this love. We especially need wisdom in representing God's love in such personal settings as in a counseling ministry. Throw opposite sexes into the mix and even greater wisdom is required. Is your staff aware of the risks involved with this ministry? Use the following simple tips to keep your counseling ministry safe from sexual temptation.
- Keep doors open. Never counsel behind closed doors. It is best to keep doors open or at least meet in a room which has a window in the door.
- Don't meet alone outside the church. Some clients might feel more comfortable meeting alone off site, but choose practices and stick to them. When counseling someone over a nice lunch might sound harmless, the goal is to keep a routine so that your counselee knows he/she can't push the boundaries.
- Avoid feeling over-responsible. An over-responsible counselor can unknowingly cripple a client's growth by fostering an unhealthy dependence that resembles a parent-child relationship. Meeting every need and answering every request is a sure way to burnout. Try to learn to assist those in need without controlling the counseling process.
- Don't show compassion with physical expression. Expressions of affection may inch beyond the healthy brother-sister variety. The hands are held tightly in prayer; the arm lingers a bit longer on the shoulder; the embraces become frequent.
Educate Your Staff
- Negligent supervision. Church leaders must ensure that trained and licensed mental health professionals supervise unlicensed lay counselors. Policies should also be developed that set forth standards on issues such as suicidal counselees, counselees threatening to harm others, counselees who confess to criminal activities, and counselees who are child abusers.
- Child abuse reporting. Counselors may receive confessions of child abuse or information giving them reasonable suspicion that abuse has occurred. It is imperative for church leaders to obtain a copy of their state child abuse reporting statute and ensure that all counselors are aware of their reporting obligations under state law. Remember: these laws change frequently.
- Seduction of counselees. In everything you do, be cautious. The costs of such behavior or accusations often devastate the counselor, and lead to criminal charges, removal from ministry, and unavailability of insurance coverage for either a legal defense or payment of damages.
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