August 17, 2016
As a ministry leader, you should understand the legal risks associated with pastoral counseling, and how you can protect your organization and staff against allegations of sexual misconduct.
Screen everyone and create guidelines
To help your organization avoid a potential lawsuit, screen everyone who you intend to appoint as a counseling to others. Review their qualifications, check at least two of their references, and verify that the counselor has no record of criminal activity or sexual misconduct.
Put your counseling procedures into writing. Conduct counseling sessions only on church premises when others are present in the building. Ensure that at least one other church leader is aware when the counseling session occurs.
Guard against the development of inappropriate attachments or relationships between the counselor and the counselee. Establish a set number of counseling sessions that a particular counselor can provide to an individual. Instruct counselors to refrain from any speech or physical contact that the counselee or others could construe sexually or romantically. Even hugging could be misunderstood.
Prohibit any pastor or counselor from privately counseling individuals of the opposite gender and make sure that a parent or other adult is present when counseling a minor. Few counselors start out with the intention of committing sexual abuse, so assign accountability partners who regularly check with counselors to see if they are struggling with any problems.
Keep records secure and confidential
Counselors should take notes during all counseling sessions—documenting the duration and time of the appointment, who was present, and any topics covered during the session. Document all one-on-one contact with people who are currently in counseling or who have been in counseling previously. Secure all notes and records relating to counseling sessions and keep them strictly confidential.