“Listen to counsel and receive instruction so that you may be wise in later life” (Proverbs 19:20).
You need a counselor.
Particularly if your work is demanding, the stress heavy, your schedule filled, and you’re finding the needs around you overwhelming, it would be good to sit down and unburden yourself with a friend with gifts for wise counsel.
I don’t mean a shrink necessarily. Perhaps it’s only a friend who knows the Lord and His Word, and has insight into human nature with a gift for discernment. Usually, that means a professional counselor, whether they call themselves “pastoral counselor” or “adolescent therapist” or something else.
Don’t get hung up on titles. And don’t be overly impressed by framed certificates on the wall. Wisdom is where you find it. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…” (Psalm 1:1).
I tease preachers about getting pedicures. I’m in favor of it, by the way. Some of them tease me in turn, saying I have to turn in my “man card” as a result of my monthly visits to the nail parlor in our neighborhood.
But I’m serious in saying every pastor would benefit from seeing a counselor from time to time.
So you will know, I came to this position late.
As a new seminary grad and pastoring a growing, demanding church in the Mississippi Delta, I refused to see a marriage counselor with my young wife. My actual words to her were: “You don’t understand, lady. I am the counselor, not the counselee!” (Shoulda been taken to the woodshed right there on the spot!)
A few years later, she gave me an ultimaturm. “See the counselor with me or I’m gone.” That got my attention.
What followed was a solid year of regular visits with Dr. Jack Follis, chaplain with the East Mississippi State (Mental) Hospital and weekly counselor at the Lauderdale Associational office. We drove 90 miles each way to see him, so went bi-weekly for two hours at a whack. Clearly, it took a full afternoon.
One day, Jack mentioned something about his counselor. I was surprised.
“You have a counselor? My counselor is in counseling?”
He laughed. “Of course. How can I help people if I’m unwilling to get help for myself? And how can I help others open up without understanding how the process works with me?”
I will say this. I became a far better pastor for my church members after that year.
There have been a few other times over the decades that I’ve sat in the counselor’s office to pour out something and receive his/her gentle probing, questioning, reasoning. Without exception, it was beneficial.
The funny thing is that pastors who counsel with church members all the time are often resistant to sitting in the office of a pastoral counselor themselves. Wonder why that is.
Okay. I think I know. Based on my earlier misconceptions, I think many pastors have wrong ideas about what takes place in the office of a “real” counselor. They think…
–the counselor is a referee, calling balls and strikes, flagging this penalty or that offense.
–the counselor is a debate moderator, telling who is off-sides, out of line, and needs to reel it in.
–the counselor is a mind-reader or shrink, able to look into the soul and know exactly what is going on.
–the counselor will solve my problems for me. (They will not. You will still have to make your own decisions.)
And so they “shrink back from the shrink.” But none of this is correct.
Think of the counselor like a wise friend. He or she will listen to you and eventually may come around to a question like “How can I help?” or “So, what brought you to see me today?” What they will not do is read you the riot act (unless you are a criminal or really abusive) or preach you a sermon (unless you need one really bad).
How does a minister go about finding a counselor? The answers must be as varied as there are people on the planet, but here are some ideas….
1) Ask around. Ask a friend, someone you trust, if he/she knows someone.
2) Call your seminary (assuming you have one; forgive me for making that assumption) and ask to speak to a veteran professor in the counseling department. See if they recommend someone in your part of the world. That’s how we found Dr. Follis.
3) Ask a neighboring pastor. If you fear the stigma (surely, we’re past this by now!), then phone a pastor of another denomination for a recommendation.
4) Do not rule out a secular counselor. Often, they are people of great principles and insight and can be trusted to listen deeply and give sound counsel.
5) In the absence of a professional counselor in your part of the world, consider going to another pastor. Dentists go to other dentists. Why shouldn’t pastors do likewise?
6) Ask your health insurance company for a name or two in the area.
7) Google the subject for your area. You’ll end up with a few names of therapists whom you can inquire about.
Some questions about a pastor seeing a counselor…
1) How much does it cost?
Some will charge you the standard rate and some will give you a discount as a minister. (How much is the standard rate? There’s no telling. Anywhere from $100 to $300/hour.) Your insurance might even cover the cost, so it’s worth checking. And, in some cases, the counselor will comp you as a professional courtesy.
Ask about the cost when you call to inquire about an appointment. If the rate is more than you can pay, you should not hesitate to ask if considerations are given to those unable to pay that amount.
2) How long will a session last?
Most are 50 minutes.
3) If I do not care for the therapist (counselor), must I return?
Of course not. Even if you made a second appointment at the end of your visit, you can cancel it the next day.
4) How will I know if this is working?
You will feel you have found a new friend and are being encouraged to take pro-active steps toward addressing whatever sent you there in the first place.
5) Should I tell others I’m in counseling?
I wouldn’t. It’s none of their business. After all, it’s not like you are receiving electro-cardio therapy or anything. You are simply visiting a friend to talk about some issues.
Now, as long as you’re out, preacher–run by and get a pedicure.