Even though I’m our church’s Children’s Pastor I’m often called upon to counsel adults. It’s not necessarily because I’m super awesome at it but more because it comes with the territory of being a pastor.
Whether you have a natural aptitude at counseling or not chances are, if you work at a church, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll need to do it. Whether you’re a rookie or a pro here are 6 tips to improve your next counseling appointment:
1. Open in prayer
When I first started counseling I made the mistake of jumping immediately into whatever the issue was. One of the things that’s helped improve my counseling-side manner is getting to know the person/family a little but first, then open each session in prayer. It’s not so much something to cross off a counseling check-list as it is an opportunity to invite God into the conversation and gain some of His wisdom, direction, and healing.
2. Ask lots of questions
Questions are a counselor’s best friend. Ask lots of questions about their background, what’s going on right now, what they think led up to where things are at right now, what they think will help, and who can help them get from where they are to where they need to go. Most people know what they should do. They just need someone asking questions to bring that knowledge to the surface.
3. Listen and take notes
Before you start asking questions get their permission to take confidential notes. Every person’s story is complicated, filled with twists and turns our brain might not be used to. Notes become a roadmap to help you guide them to a better understanding of where they’re at and where they need to be. For most of your time together you’ll be listening more than you’ll be talking. This is a good thing.
4. Know when and where to Refer
Like me you’re probably not a professional counselor. Many times you will find yourself needing to refer people in your church to someone who has professionally training. Don’t feel bad about that. Have a list ready of counselors in your area your church feels confident in recommending. You may also want to refer them to a support group, class, or program your church runs to help facilitate the hand-off.
5. Close in prayer
Ask God’s blessing in their life at the end of your time (start your appointment by letting them know how much time they will have with you, otherwise you may find yourself spending hours on something you only had an hour to give). Make note of any important next actions you need to take to help them get the help they need.
This step isn’t always appropriate or necessary, but on those occasion when you know the person it’s usually a good idea to follow-up to see how they’re doing. Let them know you care and you’ve been praying for them. This can be a great opportunity to help them take the next steps they know they need to take.