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5 Ethical Dilemmas Face By Pastoral Counselors

Pastoral Counselors May Face These Five Ethical Dilemmas

  • Maintenance of a Work Ethic
  • Confidentiality
  • Avoiding Sexual Impropriety
  • Financial Integrity
  • Giving and Receiving Gifts

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.

Related resource: 25 Best Master’s in Pastoral Counseling Online Degree Programs

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.

2. Confidentiality

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.

Ethical dilemmas could become a morally depleting experience for a pastoral counselor. There may be times when the religious code of conduct interferes with what is best for the patient or with what a more general code of ethics would say about the situation. 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.