Is counselling your gift?

Are you getting frustrated?

Many pastors tell me that they are spending increasing hours every week counseling people who are suffering with mood, emotional or personal problems.

This of course, is a normal part of pastoring but the demand is exploding. It can also be very draining personally, especially if the people are not improving or if they become emotionally dependent on you to “make them better.”

This month I want to give you a few tips to make your job easier.

First you need to ask yourself “Is counseling my gift?” An easy way to tell is this. At the end of a counseling appointment do you feel energized or drained? Do you feel that you have been giving out of a full heart or that the person is sucking the life out of you?

If you feel energized then you probably have the gift. You should continue to counsel but put firm boundaries around your time so that people don’t abuse your skill and compassion.

Or are you drained?

For those of you who are just drained. I suggest that you refer people to professional counselors who you trust. A model that seems to work in this situation is that the pastor would see a person initially to assess the situation and show supportive interest. Then he would refer the person to a professional. You could continue to meet with them regularly to review how they are doing with the counselor or doctor. This allows you to stay in contact, show interest and support but not be engulfed with their problems.

This method also prevents the counseling demands from taking you away from other important responsibilities.

They’re not getting better

What should you do about people who are not getting better or who are becoming emotionally dependent on you?

If a person is not getting better then you should consider that they may be chemically depressed. In that situation you can ask them if they can “shut their minds off.” Then you could use the checklist of depression symptoms from my book or web site. If they have the symptoms then you should suggest taking that information to a doctor to start treatment.

If they are still not improving while on medication, make sure they have eliminated caffeine from their beverages. Caffeine makes depression and anxiety worse so it interferes with the benefit of medications.

You should set tasks and goals for them and make a clear expectation that these goals be accomplished before the next meeting. In this way you place the responsibility to recover back on their shoulders and off yours.

For example, you could ask them to make an appointment with a professional and then ask for the date at the next meeting. You could give them emotional or relational homework that had to be completed by next visit. If they don’t follow through then you postpone the next meeting until the task has been accomplished. In this way they take responsibility for their recovery and you become more of a “coach” than a “rescuer.” As long as they participate in the program your door is open. If they refuse then your ability to help will be limited.

I hope that these tips will reduce your frustration and give you more satisfaction has you help people every day.

I have created books, seminars and recordings that will easily explain the diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders from a Christian perspective. You can see links to many of my resources here.

Leadership Q & A

  1. What is the best church growth strategy?
  2. Are you burning out?
  3. Is suicide the unpardonable sin?
  4. Can a person be too supportive of your ministry?
  5. Are you afraid of psychiatry?
  6. What is the unpardonable sin?
  7. Is fear a sin?
  8. Is counselling your gift?
  9. What is the key question to ask?
  10. Does depression have spiritual symptoms?
  11. Is your church “seeker friendly?”

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