“I felt so much shame, I thought I had done something wrong. I just wanted to die.”
My friend nearly wept as she shared this part of her story. She was sharing what it was like to tell her pastor that she was struggling with a mental illness. Unfortunately, her pastor did not respond well. As a result, she had to suffer for years in silence without getting the help that she needed.
As pastors, that should get our attention.
Many of us are unprepared to handle parishioners with mental health problems. And some do not see counseling or mental health as their primary concern. We view ourselves as teachers, preachers, and leaders. While we certainly have those roles, the needs and expectations of the people in our pews and our community are very different.
What People Expect
The need is real. Research shows that 1 out of every 5 people will have an acute mental health issue in their lifetime. Yet only 27% of churches have any plan in place to help people and families affected by mental illness.
So, whether we are ready or not, people expect us to be able to help. In fact, 65% of people who have family members dealing with mental illness want the church to help them deal with mental health needs.
While many pastors are hesitant to provide pastoral counseling, we have to be ready when people come to us.
According to Archibald Hart, 42% of people will go to a minister before they ever seek help from a professional counselor.
For better or worse, God has put us as pastors on the front lines of caring for people with mental health needs. We need to be ready
What Pastor’s Can Do
Pastors have historically provided a broad spectrum of care to the people in their churches. In his book Strategic Pastoral Counseling, David G. Benner (2003, Baker Academic) identifies five levels of care:
- Christian Friendship: The mutual support and love offered by friends sharing our beliefs and values.
- Pastoral Ministry: The broader ministry functions of worship, education, service and other ministry efforts that produce growth.
- Pastoral Care: The intentional ministries of compassion offered through prayer, blessing, compassionate listening, empathy, and reconciliation.
- Spiritual Direction: This practice does not seek to fix any problems, rather, it helps the seeker become aware of God’s leading in their life.
- Pastoral Counseling: The intentional practice of helping people find spiritual solutions to areas of crisis and distress.
As pastors, we have a wide range of helpful means to care for our people. As pastors, there are always precautions we should take. Check out this article for 6 Safeguards we should take, including informed consent.
What We Do Together.
For every pastor, there is a limit to the help we can provide. We can help with short-term crises, grief, marital coaching, and other issues that fall within our competence and training. However, there will be mental health issues we are not qualified to deal with.
Scholars like Gary Collins identifies the 6th dimension to our care spectrum that we as pastors often need.
In Christian Counseling, Collins talks about Pastoral Psychotherapy as “a long-term, in-depth helping process that a
ttempts to bring fundamental changes to the counselees personality, spiritual values, and ways of thinking” (2006, Thomas Nelson, 36)
Pastoral Psychotherapy is a powerful, transformative tool that can help people resolve past wounds and experience tremendous emotional and spiritual freedom. One the great strengths of Pastoral Psychotherapy is that it happens collaboratively with the person’s local congregation.
As a licensed psychotherapist, one of my greatest joys is to help other pastors and churches become restorative communities through this collaborative care.
To find out more about how Pastoral Psychotherapy can make a powerful impact in your church, please email me below. We can find some time to grab a cup of coffee or lunch and I can answer any questions you might have. Please let me know what days you would be available.Please select a valid form