Like anyone else, pastors can suffer from mental illness and mental health issues, and when they do, they should seek the professional help of a competent Christian clinical therapist. But is there any reason for a pastor to engage the professional services of a clinical therapist if they aren’t suffering from a mental illness or struggling with mental health issues?
In fact, there are several positive reasons why pastors might consider having an ongoing relationship – with themselves as client – with a skilled, experienced Christian clinical therapist. The work ministers do deeply impacts the lives of the people they serve, so making sure pastors are mentally and emotionally healthy for their work can directly contribute to how some pastors minister to others. Having a clinical therapist as part of a pastor’s inner circle of personal and professional resources can be beneficial for several reasons, like these 12 …
A safe and helpful person to talk to. Pastors routinely talk about how lonely ministry is. Some churches actually believe a pastor should NOT have personal friends from among his congregants, and some pastors aren’t very good about making personal friendships from among people they serve. Other pastors are afraid to reveal themselves at a deep, personal level to elders, or other church leaders or members, for fear of negative reactions. Having a confidential client-counselor relationship with a professional, Christian clinical therapist provides pastors with a person who is “safe” to talk to about anything, and have professional skills they don’t that can be helpful to them.
An invaluable check on their thinking. Many (most?) people who engage the services of a clinical therapist don’t do so because of mental illness, but because of irrational thinking. So much of our thinking is done on a subconscious level, but we’re often not adequately aware of the overall content of our conscious thoughts or patterns of thinking. Because of that, so much of our thinking is irrational. It’s easy for our thoughts to lean toward the irrational, even to the point of becoming patterns of irrational thoughts, habitual cognitive distortions, irrational attitudes, and even irrational core beliefs, all of which can develop into a practice of “defective systems.” Such thinking negatively infects decision-making and how a pastor thinks about others and serves them. A clinical therapist skilled in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can help a pastor identify any patterns or systems of irrational thinking and learn how to more consistently think rationally.
Enhance self-awareness and other-awareness. Most of us are sorely lacking in self-awareness, and we’re even more lacking in other-awareness. A skilled therapist can help a pastor learn how to be more self-aware and other-aware, both of which will benefit leaders in understanding themselves and others better, and how to more effectively minister.
Resolving wounds and deficits. All of us have been wounded by others and have experienced detrimental deficits in our lives. Left unhealed, these open wounds and unresolved deficits can negatively impact our lives and our capacity to minister to others. A competent counselor can help pastors work toward healing and resolving any remaining wounds and deficits in their lives.
Maintenance of personal relationships. A clinical therapist can provide pastors with counsel for their own marriages, families, and other relationships, and support their ongoing health.
A cathartic outlet. A life overflowing with busy and demanding ministry can be stressful and tempting to foster anxious thoughts and behaviors. Meeting with a Christian clinical therapist can provide a catharsis for dealing with the stresses and anxieties of ministry.
Improve communication skills. Some pastors are “master communicators” when it comes to speaking to large groups, but are far less effective at communicating one-on-one. A skilled therapist can help equip pastors with greater interpersonal communication skills.
Improve problem-solving skills. All of the above (making sure thinking is rational, improving self- and other- awareness, etc.) contribute to pastors improving their problem-solving skills, and many therapists can train pastors in assessing issues, resolving conflicts, and rationally resolving problems.
Equipping for their own counseling responsibilities. Wise pastors will take what they learn in counseling and put it to use in their own counseling they conduct with others.
A hedge against burnout. Fully dealing with life’s issues, including mentally and emotionally, helps to provide a hedge against burnout. An insightful counselor can warn pastors against patterns and behaviors that would lead them to experiencing burnout from how they are conducting their ministry.
Deeply personal accountability. Clients share their deepest secrets with therapists they trust, especially knowing their relationship is fully confidential. Experienced therapists know how to be a source of accountability as pastors work on their own personal issues.
An example to the congregation. If a congregation is aware that a pastor has regular visits with a clinical therapist as part of his personal and professional support, it helps to remove the stigma that is still strongly associated with “going to counseling” or getting help from a mental health professional.
I’m not saying in this post that all pastors “need to see” a counselor; I am saying an ongoing relationship with a skilled clinical therapist can be a great resource to have in navigating the challenges and stresses of ministry. Pastors are human beings, and the support a clinical counselor can provide to them can help them with their weaknesses and can support their strengths.
I’m also not saying pastors should see a clinical therapist every week on an ongoing basis. A beneficial, ongoing relationship with a Christian therapist starts with the usual assessment, intake, and initial addressing of anything identified during the assessment process. But then maintaining visits every few months — or whatever the minister and counselor together deem beneficial — can be a great outlet for ministers to foster and maintain robust mental and emotional health for their work, and receive support for peak leadership performance.
A final note for CHURCHES AND CHURCH LEADERS – It could be wise to consider including in your church budget providing for the support of a Christian clinical therapist for your pastoral staff.
This article originally appeared here.