One of the most difficult aspects of a pastor’s job is the role of counselor. No two situations are the same, so there is no one-size-fits-all way to go into a counseling situation. Many times an issue can’t be resolved by just talking with a minister; a person may need time to work through issues. So a pastor needs to have resource information handy to either supplement or take the place of pastoral counseling. I am not a counselor personally, but the resources I will share with you have been recommended to me either by pastors or counseling professionals.
- Premarital counseling—Our church wedding policy, and my husband’s personal wedding policy, requires a couple to go through counseling before the wedding. Here in our state couples receive a pretty substantial discount on the cost of the marriage license if they have premarital counseling, whether it comes from a pastor or a secular counselor. My husband gives each couple he counsels a copy of Getting Ready for Marriage Workbook by Jerry D. Hardin and Dianne C. Sloan. He conducts six sessions with the couple: one to discuss wedding plans and introduce the workbook and five sessions to cover the ten chapters.
One of my counselor friends also recommends the book Preparing Couples for Love and Marriage: A Pastor’s Resource by Cameron Lee and James L. Furrow. The book is a four-session pre-marriage counseling resource. The authors also have a website, preparingcouples.com.
Note: If there is any one-on-one counseling about an issue that comes up, the pastor is never totally alone with either person. Many times I am in the vicinity of a counseling session especially should a situation arise where one-on-one counseling with a bride is required. If I am not available, a church member will be close by. This person does not attend the session but is nearby in the building. That applies not only to a premarital scenario but to any time a male pastor counsels a female one-on-one. This is for the pastor’s protection and should always be the rule. If no one is available to help with this, reschedule the session!
- Grief counseling— Loss of a loved one is many times unexpected. One counselor-recommended resource for those who have lost loved ones is Healing the Heartbreak of Grief by Peter James Flamming. Writing from pastoral and personal grief experiences, the author offers comfort and hope for those who are grieving.
Another recommended book for counseling those who are grieving a loss is When the One You Love Is Gone by Rebekah L. Miles. The book helps the hurting to move forward. If your budget (or the church’s budget) allows, you might consider keeping these two affordable books on hand for giveaway when an unexpected need arises.
- Anger issues—I had the privilege of working as editor with Dr. Les Carter on the update of The Anger Workbook. Carter is a psychotherapist, having practiced at Minirth-Meier Clinic for twenty-five years, and now at Southlake Psychiatric and Counseling Center in North Texas. He is an expert on the subject of anger management. This workbook is a good resource for those who need to work through issues involving anger. You can visit Dr. Carter’s website at Drlescarter.com. His counseling materials on other subjects are shown there as well.
- Marriage counseling—I also contacted Dr. Carter about resources for marriage counseling, and he said, “Funny you should ask.” He then began telling me about the new website he is launching, marriagepath.com. The site says it is “a place to grow, learn and find healing in your marriage.” It features MarriagePath Radio with free podcasts on various relationship issues and the opportunity to ask questions that Dr. Carter will answer in his podcasts. In the near future there will be video workshops for couples or small groups that can be downloaded for a nominal fee. Check it out!
Blended families can sometimes experience unique challenges within their households. The book Tying the Family Knot by Terri Clark is a good resource for addressing these challenges.
- Suicide, Addiction, and Sexual Abuse—One of my counselor friends recommended three books to assist pastors with the these topics: Suicide: Pastoral Responses by Loren L. Townsend; Addiction: Pastoral Responses by Bucky Dann; and, Sexual Abuse: Pastoral Responses by Len Hedges-Goettl.Two other helpful books in my husband’s library for counseling are Pastoral Care in the Church by C.W. Brister and Pastoral Counseling by Wayne E. Oates.
Finally, it is extremely important to know when the need exceeds your training and you need to send someone for professional help. A pastor can counsel a person on the spiritual side; but more serious issues such as addiction, abuse, depression, suicide, and others may require more than a pastor is trained to provide. After you have done all you can do, then stay prayed up and be available for support.
Maleah Bell is a freelance editor and pastor’s wife. She and her husband make their home in Middle Tennessee.