What is a Pastoral Counselor?
A pastoral counselor is a certified mental health professional who provides pastoral counseling services within religious communities. These counselors blend clinical training with a deep understanding of religious beliefs and spiritual guidance. To become a certified pastoral counselor, one typically completes clinical pastoral education programs, which include supervised counseling experience and often require a master’s or doctoral degree.
Pastoral counselors are uniquely equipped to address mental health issues while considering the religious and spiritual aspects of a person’s life. They often work closely with religious leaders and are seen as trusted figures within their local religious community. Many pastoral counselors offer marriage and family therapy, helping individuals and families navigate challenges in line with their religious values.
Most pastoral counselors are affiliated with associations like the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, ensuring they adhere to ethical standards in providing religious counseling and pastoral psychotherapy. In contrast to secular counselors, pastoral counselors provide a holistic approach that respects and incorporates individuals’ religious beliefs and values into their therapeutic process.
Do Pastoral Counselors Face Ethical Dilemmas?
Pastoral counselors are those who work in a religious community, and they may have to deal with these five ethical dilemmas over the course of their tenure. Ethics issues may come up more frequently for a counselor who works within a religious community because the counselor must follow the code of conduct of the religion as well as the code of conduct of professional counselors. Becoming familiar with these five ethical dilemmas could help a pastoral counselor anticipate future challenges. Keep reading as we dip deeper into the details of each..
5 Ethical Dilemmas of Pastoral Counselors
Maintenance of a Work Ethic
Avoiding Sexual Impropriety
Giving and Receiving Gifts
1. Maintenance of a Work Ethic
A pastoral counselor should work to the best of their ability, but not put their work before their family or their faith. They should set a specific number of hours per week for work, understanding that emergencies can happen. Part of the ethical dilemma around work ethics for pastoral counselors involves understanding the level of need. What seems urgent to a client may not be a major situation in the scope of things. Not every issue is worthy of missing family time. Some client problems can wait until Monday morning.
Pastoral counselors also face the issue of confidentiality. If a counselor learns of a child or spouse being abused or neglected, they are a mandated reporter in most states, regardless of whether their practice is a religious one or not. In other situations, the pastoral counselor should explain that they will not divulge any conversations unless they must do so on a moral or legal basis.
3. Avoiding Sexual Impropriety
Pastoral counselors should avoid any situations that could imply moral impropriety. For example, if the pastoral counselor is a married man who is counseling a married woman, he should avoid hugging her. The act of touch, in this case, should be avoided even if it seems like a comfortable or kind thing to do.
4. Financial Integrity
In their personal finances as well as those of their pastoral counseling practice or the church’s finances, all spending should be done with the faith’s priorities first, rather than the pastoral counselor’s wants. For example, the pastoral counselor needs a way to get to and from their job, so a compact car would work for a simple commute and small family. It would not be an affirming act for the pastoral counselor to buy a Jaguar to drive when the excess money could be used for helping the church help others.
5. Giving and Receiving Gifts
According to the Baptist Bulletin, there are five questions that a pastoral counselor should ask before giving or accepting a gift in an exchange with other counselors or with patients. Those questions include how large is the gift, how public it is, how frequent it is, whether or not the timing could have an ulterior meaning and whether or not there is an expectation of getting something in return for the gift. If a gift seems unethical, it probably is.
Navigating ethical dilemmas within the field of pastoral counseling can be emotionally taxing for certified pastoral counselors. There are moments when the religious code of conduct might clash with what is in the best interest of the patient or with a broader code of ethics. Recognizing and grappling with these five common ethical dilemmas encountered in pastoral counseling is essential for individuals contemplating this career path. It enables them to determine whether they are suited for the role, especially given the unique intersection of religious principles and professional counseling ethics.
Whether aspiring to become a licensed pastoral counselor, marriage and family therapist, or pursuing other roles within the realm of family therapy, a deep understanding of these ethical considerations is vital for maintaining integrity and providing the best care possible to those who require pastoral counselors’ guidance. Understanding these five ethical dilemmas faced by pastoral counselors could help a person decide whether or not this is the right career path for them.