What should I expect in a Christian counselor I use as a referral for others?

When it became necessary for me to recommend one of my parishioners to a professional Christian counselor, the following guidelines were most helpful in determining that choice.

1. Someone who can be trusted to keep confidentiality
It is very important that people in your congregation who have been referred do not hear their stories from the pulpit some Sunday or in a gathering of community Christian leaders.

2. Someone who is a good listener
People go to a counselor to be heard. It is so critical they be given a hearing rather than a sermon by the counselor.

3. Someone who will not turn the client into a counselor
Occasionally counselors spend more time revealing their own weaknesses (especially sexual ones) or reflecting on their own failures or problems than putting focus on the need of the counselee. This should not be.

4. Someone who has integrity and experience
Just because a Christian counselor visits a pastor seeking clients does not mean he/she is qualified. Before you recommend anyone to anybody, please check their credentials and experience. Don't just pull out a card from your desk drawer and use it as "an easy out."

5. Someone who is adequately educated by a reputable school
I know degrees and accreditations can be misleading, but for the most part you can tell a great deal about the Christian counselors you choose by where they have received their training and done their internship.

6. Someone who is affordable and can be recommended without feeling guilty
You should not expect any counselor to do what they do for free, but you should expect them to work with you and those you recommend to them to: 1) terminate the series of counseling sessions in a normal time; 2) provide a sliding scale for those who cannot pay full fees; 3) be up front about any insurance coverage available.

7. Someone who tracks with me theologically
This will vary from person to person, but you most often should recommend a therapist who agrees with, or is at least sensitive to, your theological position. You do not want to be doing damage control with your parishioners over biblical teachings.

8. Someone who is diligent
You need to make sure your parishioners are treated with the utmost respect , that "honest" counseling and therapy is going on, that the 50-minute meetings are well-organized, that good records are kept, and that the purpose of the meetings are realized. Every counselor needs a game plan for each person they see.

9. Someone who is a team player
The healing community (physician, psychologist, minister, etc.) must work together and not be threatened by one another's opinions. I want any counselor who sees my people to work with me, talk with me when permissible, and not be threatened by my input in our mutual parishioner/client relationship.

10. Someone who is faithfully available
All parties involved should be able to reach their counselor and expect a response in a timely manner. If someone is taking their calls, then the client should have knowledge of this and have a non-threatening comfort level with the "stand in."

I am sure all of you are very careful whenever you turn your flock over to someone else. The thoughts above are somewhat random and just my own, but they are steps I determined to follow as I prayed for total healing in the minds and hearts of those who trusted me not to lead them astray.