One of the “wet blankets” that may hinder Pastoral Counseling and lay church-based Discipleship Counseling is the fear of a lawsuit. Although informal peer-to-peer ministry seems to avoid this stigma, when churches and parachurch helpers move into a more formal pastoral counseling role, the risk factor may come up. How can these fears be addressed? How can the counselor take wise precautions?
Adopt and ethics statement
Although professional code of ethics documents are more detailed than needed and are biased with secular values and professional policies, the Pastoral Counselor can adapt and use a policy document. Here is an audio lecture on ethics by Dr. Cry Lantz:
and a sample document: Ethics Policy
In formal personal ministry, have a second person present or nearby for accountability (for the benefit of the counselee and the counselor).
Use relevant forms
When forms such as Informed Consent and Waiver of Liability are used, this documents that the counselee agrees to non-professional, non-secular, Christian personal ministry sessions. These forms should be signed and kept with the client’s case notes. Here are sample documents that can be edited:
Informed Consent Form sample
Waiver of Liability sample
Get insurance coverage
If you’re doing formal ministry (appointments, goals, secure notes, donations received, etc.), a liability policy is reassuring and also affordable (relatively speaking). Consider this agency that covers pastoral/dicipleship counselors for about $100 or so per year. (800) 421-6694
As the apostle Paul admonished Timothy, let’s minister with integrity and confidence:
“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6,7).