Clergy And Counseling
Definition of CLERGY:
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. The term ultimately comes from the Greek "....." - .....,, "a lot", "that which is assigned by lot" (allotment) or metaphorically, "inheritance".

Depending on the religion, clergy usually take care of the ritual aspects of the religious life, teach or otherwise help in spreading the religion's doctrine and practices. They often deal with life-cycle events such as childbirth, baptism, circumcision, coming of age ceremonies and death.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(a) In this chapter, "practice of professional counseling" means the application of mental health, psychotherapeutic, and human development principles to:
(1) facilitate human development and adjustment throughout life;
(2) prevent, assess, evaluate, and treat mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders and associated distresses that interfere with mental health;
(3) conduct assessments and evaluations to establish treatment goals and objectives; and
(4) plan, implement, and evaluate treatment plans using counseling treatment interventions that include: (A) counseling; (B) assessment; (C) consulting; and (D) referral.
Texas Occupations Code Section 503.003  of the Texas State Board
                  of Examiners of Professional Counselors


Rhett Smith, a pastor for the last 12 years, who spent his youth volunteering in the church, and is a PK , in his “A Pastor’s Dilemma: Responsibilities, Limitations and Questions to Ask About Counseling”, cited the following roadblocks concerning referring out to a licensed professional counselor:

Confusion: We aren’t sure what the counseling/therapy process looks
like, nor who to send people to see.

Time Constraints: Pastors have a lot on their hands, and though                  caring for the congregation is supposed to be important, that task                   usually falls through the cracks or is assigned to only one person. Often        the time constraints remove the pastor from the process of helping that          person seek the proper help.

Fear of Unknown: Like confusion, many pastors just have a fear of the        unknown. They are unfamiliar with therapy practices, or who the                    people in their community they can refer people to are. They also might         not truly believe in therapy and counseling, and so there is a fear of               sending people to see someone.

Rhett goes on to state that pastors should  acknowledge their own limitations and refer out if necessary and sites some of these reasons:

Scope of Practice: What are you able to do with your ministry license…? Are you working within the scope of practice you have been designated to have? Just as some denominations don’t allow you to baptize or administer the sacraments without being ordained, some ministry/pastoral licenses limit your ability to practice counseling.

Training: Do you have the training that is required to deal with the issue before you? For example, if someone is dealing with severe depression or Bipolar, are you equipped to work with them and provide for them what they need?

Liability: Do you fully understand the law in your state and what you may be liable for when entering into counseling with someone (whether it’s a written or verbal contract)? I think a lot of pastors fail to realize that they are putting themselves in positions of liability, and perhaps great danger when counseling is undertaken.

Mandated Reporting: Do you understand what the law of your state requires of you as a mandated reporter? Many things come out in counseling/therapy, so you must be aware of what you are required to report to the state. If you aren’t comfortable with the requirements, then maybe you want to refer out to someone else who can counsel to avoid being in that situation. Many states don’t give anonymity or immunity to clergy anymore when it comes to not reporting. This is a real vital subject especially for youth ministers who are often more likely to be in positions to have to report.               (Segments of the above article were reprinted with permission from Rhett Smith)


Other  clergy have cited the following reasons why they have referred members of their congregation to a licensed therapist.

The following reasons were given  during an on the air survey of pastors featured on the radio program “Choices”, Word radio 94.9:

There are times when issues arise that can cause division, discord, and unnecessary negative feelings.

Some members of the congregation have felt that the clergy are preaching at them, or are revealing their personal issues from the pulpit.

There are  individuals who  demand great amounts of  time and attention; high maintenance.  The clergy may not have the time or energy to meet their needs.

Sometimes after an individual, couple, or family, have disclosed some personal issues, they later feel ashamed, avoid the clergy, and may even leave the church.

There are certain issues which the clergy may not feel qualified to handle.


                                              Jerusalem Post
                                               June 20, 2003
                                        Rabbis on the Defense
                                          By URIEL HEILMAN
                                               NEW YORK

Uriel Heilman is an award winning journalist. Mr. Heilman is a frequent guest on television and radio programs and lectures to audiences around the world about the issues he covers.

The following portion of Uriel Heilman‘s article has to do with the counseling dilemma, he stated that:

Many cases are even less clear-cut, particularly the ones that involve counseling. Pulpit rabbis often find themselves playing the role of psychological counselors, though few are trained to do so. Consequently, the advice they offer or information they are told can open them up to the possibility of lawsuits.

A congregant who confides in a rabbi about a crime he or she has committed exposes the rabbi to immediate legal liability-particularly if the rabbi decides to withhold the information from the police. Likewise, rabbis who dispense advice to the emotionally distraught may find themselves the subjects of a lawsuit if that person later harms others or himself.

"You can't just make this stuff up," Brafman said, addressing a group of about 100 Orthodox rabbis at a seminar on confronting the crisis of accountability in the rabbinate. The seminar was organized by the Rabbinical Council of America, North America's largest Orthodox rabbinical group, as part of its recent annual conference.

"Don't become something you've never been trained to be," Brafman counseled. Whenever possible, he advised, rabbis should refer congregants seeking counsel to trained professionals, rather than try to handle things on their own.

Even rabbis who have committed no wrongdoing may find themselves in the thick of legal battles. They may be called upon to testify in court about things they witnessed or were told. They could be called as witnesses in divorce proceedings. They can end up testifying against members of their own congregations.

"Many states have laws on the books that make it a legal obligation to go to the law-enforcement authorities," Brafman said. "You are more vulnerable today than you've ever been, and because of that vulnerability you have to be more vigilant than you've ever been."
(Segments of the above article were reprinted with permission from Uriel Heilman)


In conclusion, it can be said that there are many positive reasons why members of the clergy should refer their congregants to the many trained professional therapists in their community. When clinical problems and difficult situations arise this should be considered a best practice.