However you choose to describe the impact of the coronavirus on our world, it’s been hard. It’s been hard on pastors and church staff, and it’s been hard on congregations. You may be considering how your church can respond to the mental health needs in your community. But wait. Before launching a response, consider these best practices.

Clarify

Be clear on what type of services you are providing. Are you offering long-term therapy or a brief mental health check-in? Are you doing some form of mental health assessment? Or perhaps you are providing increased pastoral counseling during this time. Even more likely, you’ve got volunteers who want to be there for those who need to talk. Whatever direction you choose to go, name your ministry or counseling service appropriately. Write up a one-page disclosure statement or informed consent that summarizes what you are providing and what you are not. Being clear on the boundaries up front can avoid a lot of complicated situations down the road.

Train

Before offering any mental health ministry, counseling or assessment, be sure that those who are performing these services are trained to do so. Churches and pastors have been sued after providing mental health services that went beyond the scope of their training. While it might sound nice to commission willing congregants to be a listening ear, have they received training in suicide prevention? What about boundaries or confidentiality? These are just a few of the many areas that require specialized training. Licensed counselors who are supervising a ministry or offering a clinical service need to operate within ethical guidelines and state regulations. Saddleback Church’s mental health ministry provides a good framework, along with Stephen Ministries.

Connect

The good news is that most areas have mental health services nearby, and many therapeutic services are now online. Christian counselors that may have been inaccessible prior to this time may now be available to help your congregation. Do some research to identify the mental health services in your area and in your state. Find out who has openings for new clients, what type of health insurance they take or what fee they charge, and which platforms they are using for telehealth. You can also build bridges by offering words of encouragement or inviting these counselors to speak to your church.

A final note: Be sure to take care of your own mental health. If you are serving in ministry, you’ve most likely put a lot of effort into meeting the sudden, unexpected needs of others. Pause to assess your own mental health. You aren’t alone.

This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.

Kristen Kansiewicz
Kristen Kansiewicz is executive director of Church Therapy Associates and has served as a counselor in a church setting since 2005. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in counselor education and supervision from Regent University. Kansiewicz graduated with a M.A. in counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a B.A. in psychology from Wheaton College. She has been supervising master’s-level counseling students since 2012.