Although all counselors, religious and secular alike, face ethical issues in their practice of counseling clients, Christian counselors face special concerns. A Christian or pastoral counselor must exhibit an understanding of moral values in addition to emotional sensitivity, cultural awareness and professional competency. Learn more about the key ethical issues facing Christian counselors as they provide guidance for clients.
Some individuals and mental health organizations question the ethics of conversion therapy in Christian counseling. Conversion therapy, also called "sexual reparative therapy," is used to refer to the practice of attempting to “cure” a patient of his sexual orientation. Homosexual patients may visit Christian counselors by choice or by force, seeking help in changing their sexual orientation. The American Counseling Association opposes counseling practices that treat homosexuality or bisexuality as abnormal psychological behaviors. Christian counselors must carefully consider the ethics of conversion therapy before agreeing to treat clients who wish to change their sexual orientation.
Like all counselors and psychotherapists, Christian counselors are obligated not to disclose anything a client reveals to them during a counseling session, including the fact that the client is seeking counseling. The American Association of Christian Counselors directs counselors to maintain client confidentiality to the fullest extent allowed by law, church and denominational rules, and professional ethics. In limited, rare situations—such as reasonable suspicion that a client plans to harm another—a Christian counselor might have the right to disclose confidential information about a client to the proper authorities or another health professional.
Christian counselors may face a situation in which the best course of action for a client conflicts with Christian moral values. While most Christian counselors will only counsel toward divorce in extreme cases that involve physical abuse or adultery, there may be other situations in which a Christian marriage counselor might feel compelled to suggest divorce, such as psychological abuse. When encountering these issues, Christian counselors must prayerfully consider their options and, with written consent of the clients, request external advice from another Christian counseling professional.
Just as there may be a case in which a counselor is tempted to counsel a client to take a course of action she might usually oppose, there may be situations in which a client disagrees with the counselor on a major ethical issue. For example, if a client wants a counselor to guide her through a divorce or counsel her toward an abortion, a Christian counselor might not be able to do so in good conscience. Even if the counselor is able to refer her to another professional, the client might interpret the decision as rejection, particularly if she has a longstanding relationship with the counselor.
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images