Counseling Risks 101
Offering counsel is a valuable ministry, but it doesn’t come without its dangers.
Your church takes on risk in the following categories when it offers counseling services:
Negligent Counseling (Malpractice) “ Malpractice” is generally defined as a failure to exercise an accepted degree of skill in the performance of professional duties that results in injury to another person. Although many courts have rejected these claims against pastors, some have found them guilty of malpractice for sexual misconduct with a client or for engaging in “non-religious” counseling.
Sexual Misconduct A number of women have brought lawsuits against male pastors who seduced or sexually assaulted them in the course of a counseling relationship. Such pastors expose themselves and their church to potentially significant legal risk.
False Accusations A false accusation can be as devastating as a true one. Becauseof the unique temptations that counseling can present, and the possibility of false accusations, “defensive measures” should be taken by those who engagein counseling. Some precautions are presented later in this lesson.
Leader’s Guide » How to Use This Material
Training Materials 1. Counseling Risks 101 2. Why Your Church Needs Counseling Policies 3. Assess Your Risk 4. Reducing the Risk of Counseling 5. Protecting Your Ministry
Child Abuse Reporting Pastors may be criminally and civilly liable under state law to report child abuse to civil authorities. It is essential that pastors be aware of their legal obligations under their state’s law with respect to this issue.
Confidentiality The church and its counselors can be sued if they intentionally or inadvertently disclose confidential information to third parties. Some states provide exceptions to this rule in casesof child abuse reporting, or when a counselee threatens to harm others. Also, it is important to distinguish between “ privilege” and “ confidentiality.” The clergy-penitent privilege provides that clergy cannot be compelled to disclose in court what was shared with them in confidence. Generally, “ confidentiality ” refers to not disclosing to anyone what is shared in confidence.
Discuss 1. Is counseling worth the potentially devastating risks associated with it? Why or why not? 2. Which of the risks listed above could have the most damaging impact on our church? Why? 3. Do you know of other churches who have been affected by risks associated with counseling? What happened, and how did they face it?
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Confidentiality Further Resources Safeguarding Counseling Leader’s Guide Training Materials 1. Counseling Risks 101 2. Why Your Church Needs...