Identity and Ethics: Pastoral Counseling

The process of providing pastoral counseling, through the support of the Holy Spirit and the word of God, is hinged on the pastoral counselor knowing who they are as a Christian counselor (Howard, 2015). Acknowledging and exercising the ethical considerations of their profession is crucial for integrity and professionalism (Trull and Carter, 2004).  This page of pastoral counseling presents a brief discussion on the development of professional identity within the pastoral counseling paradigm.  This paper is not an exhaustive presentation of the subject of identity and ethics paradigms faced by pastoral counselors.  However, it presents a knowledge-base that enables the pastor who counsels to provide pastoral counseling support to a future care-seeker. It is a representation of the application of research that is synthesized into the practical application of the skills acquired by seminary students whose MCM proffer the focus of pastoral counseling.

Professional boundaries for a biblically responsible vocational paradigm

The profession of pastoral counseling speaks to the theology supports of the vocation.  However, pastoral counselors must be cognizant of their own limitations and level of competence (Palm, 2015, Know your limits: Johnson & Johnson, 2014). It is the intention of all pastoral counselors to counsel in a therapeutic manner, at the same time, not all pastoral counselors are trained therapists. The counselor guarantees that multiple relational boundaries are not blurred; if this paradigm presents itself the counselee should be referred immediately (Johnson & Johnson, 2014; Justice & Garland, 2010).  Kollar (2011) details the violation of ethics when a counselor participates in a sexual relationship with a counselee.

Confidentiality of all particulars about the counselee is paramount to the ethical relationship between the counselor and the counselee (Kollar, 2011, p.6).  According to Johnson & Johnson (2014), the only time that confidentiality can be breached is within the following context.

  1. When the client is acutely suicidal and or homicidal.
  2. When the client raises self-care concerns.
  3. When the client indicates that they have abused or neglected a minor child or an elderly adult.
  4. when the clients choose a litigious or ethical course of action against the counselor and
  5. When a court of law compels the therapist to do so  (Johnson & Johnson, 2014,”Confidentiality”).

Consequently, the counselor must apprise the counselee of this possibility prior to the commencement of the counseling session; this is called “informed consent” (Johnson & Johnson, 2014, “Informed consent”). The counselee must know what procedures will come into play when this situation arises. Trull & Carter (2004) argued that the ethical implications for pastoral counselors include: 1) the minister’s level of education; 2) an expert person of a specific group of vocational skills; 3) an institutional person [they are members of associations], professional organizations that are specific to their calling; 4) responsible and competent persons who maintain high standards of ethical conduct and 5) dedicated persons who hold the values of Christian ministry and service in high regard  (as cited in Glasse, 1968, p.13).

Trull & Carter (2004) expanded the construct of the ethical implication for pastoral counseling with biblical references:

  • Education. The minister will prepare for Christian service by experiencing a broad liberal arts education, followed by specialized training in theology and ministry. Ministers will also be committed to a lifelong process of study and growth that prepares them for continued service (e.g., a consideration from Inspiration: 2 Tim. 2:15).
  • Competency. The church shepherd will develop and refine pastoral gifts and vocational skills in order to act competently in any situation that requires his or her services (e.g., Inspiration Considerations: Eccl. 12:9–14; 1 Cor. 12:7–11; Eph. 4: 11–12).
  • Autonomy. The minister is called to a life of responsible decision-making involving potentially dangerous consequences. As a spiritual leader, the minister will make decisions and exert pastoral authority in light of the servant-leader model exemplified by Christ (e.g., a consideration of Inspiration: John 13:1–16).
  • Service. The minister’s motivation for ministry will be neither social status nor financial reward, but rather agapē love, to serve others in Christ’s name (e.g., critical considerations from Inspiration: 1 Corinthians 10:24; 13:1–13).
  • Dedication. The minister will “profess” to be attentive to his Master’s bidding (Rom. 12:1–2) in order to provide something of great value, the good news of God’s salvation and the demonstration of God’s love through Christian ministry. To these values the called of God is dedicated (Rom. 1:11–17).
  • Ethics. In relation to congregation, colleagues, and community, as well as in personal life, the ordained will live under the discipline of an ethic that upholds the highest standards of Christian morality (e.g., leadership considerations from Inspiration: 1 Tim. 3:1–7; 1 Peter 5:1–4) (pp. 39–40; Tanner, 2015).

The pastoral role of counselor requires careful thought and consideration. Accordingly, the counseling paradigm joins with the work of the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of the counselor and counselee, to resolve the perceived problem through as adherence to identity and ethical paradigms are maintained (Hawkins, 2015).

Professional partnerships

The inclusion of professional partnerships by the pastoral counselor aids in their growth and development. The pastor/pastoral counselor presents the following organizations:

  1. American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) located in Fairfax Virginia is a membership and certification organization. The AAPC provides theoretically sound integrated counseling.  It is a collaborative community-based service. Its members are offered training and education to enhance the well-being of the care-seekers who procure their services.  It determines professional and ethical standards for over 2000 Pastoral Counselors and 75 Pastoral Counseling Centers.   The membership levels range from;
    • Member Standards and Application: A member supports AAPC’s mission to bring healing, hope, and wholeness to individuals, families, and communities.
    • Student Member Standards and Application for students enrolled in an AAPC approved training program, a seminary or an academic program – undergraduate or graduate
    • Pastoral Care Specialist Standards and Application Pastoral Care Specialist (PCS) is a category of membership for those who have completed AAPC Approved Training and Supervision for pastoral care in congregations and institutions. The Pastoral Care Specialist category was designed for pastors, students and lay pastoral counselors.
    • Training Programs for Pastoral Care Specialist
    • International Affiliate: This category proffers members to international persons who are educators, ministers, pastoral counselors or who practice pastoral counseling as defined by the Association.  Fees are associated with all levels of membership for this organization ethics (“American Association of Pastoral Counselors: Membership,” 2012).
    • To remain a member of good standing with AAPC members must adhere to the nine principles of the organization’s code of ethics (Clinton et al. 2012, “American Association of Pastoral Counselors,” Code of ethics). The site lists approved service centers that pastoral counselors may refer patients.   The writer’s ministry serves person through the nation and internationally; therefore, this partners is an appropriate one for the ministry.

Training determines the levels of certification received by the counselors; Certified Pastoral Counselor, Fellow, and Diplomate. The Diplomate is the highest level of certification with a minimal requirement of meeting at least three of the following areas: 1) academic (Doctoral level degree), 2) research 3) publication, 4) leadership in AAPC, 5) contribution to church and community and,  6) contribution to another mental health discipline (“American Association of Pastoral Counselors,” 2012, Certifications).

  1. The Association for Pastoral Counseling and Supervision (APCS) provides clinicians with support and supervision for parish pastors, pastoral counselors, and addiction counselors. APCS also provides experienced guidance leading to licensure and certification.  It offers online supervision for its members (“Pastoral Counseling and Supervision for Pastors, Counselors, and Interns,” n.d., Online supervision). “Utilizing the “world wide web” will provide the convenience of support to qualified persons, even in the most remote locations of the world” (“Pastoral Counseling and Supervision for Pastors, Counselors and Interns,” n.d., Online supervision). The site is still under renovation, so all resources are not listed.  APCS is an excellent partnership because it is web-based and offers services that meet the needs of the writer’s online ministry.

Referral service and local association of peers

  1. The Lowcountry Pastoral Counseling Center (LPCC) integrates faith the care seekers healing process. LPCC is a local agency is based in Charleston, South Carolina. LPCC charges for the service it provides.  LPCC stipulates that its fees are affordable. The therapeutic services provided by this center range from pastoral counseling and addiction therapy to clinical psychology.  All therapists have a masters or doctoral degree and are licensed or certified by one or more of the following: SC Board of Examiners for Professional Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, SC Board of Social Work, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, National Board of Certified Counselors, American Association of Pastoral Counselors, National Association of Social Workers, American Counseling Association, SC Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, and Board of Examiners in Psychology (“Lowcountry Pastoral Counseling Center,” 2015, About our staff).
  2. Psychology Today is an online referral service. When looking for a therapist in their local area a pastoral counselor can input the counselee’s zip code into the search engine. A list of reputable therapists and or counselors appear at the end of the search.  The therapist’s credentials, areas of specialty, certification, and biographies appear at the end of the search (“Psychology Today Therapists,” 2015).
  3. Lowcountry Psychiatric Associates (LPA) is located in Bluffton, South Carolina.  These professionals provide psychiatric care for care-seekers with that need.  They are certified psychiatrists.  Services are provided for general adult, adolescent and geriatric psychiatry (“Lowcountry Psychiatric Associates,” 2015).
  4. Counseling in South Carolina: Christian Counselors. Thrive is an organization in South Carolina for counselors in general.  The writer specifically wanted a network of Christian Counselors.  The search produced a list of names and biographies of the Christian counselors in the state  (Warneck, 2015).  A local pastor who is also the Celebrate Recovery leader for Bluffton uses this service when pastoral counseling and Celebrate Recovery is not working for the care seeker.
  5. Life Choice is the LLC for an organization that provides Celebrate Recovery services for individuals with addictions or life choices that they have identified as concerns.  It is a biblically based therapeutic process that calls on theology and belief in “the higher power” as the resolver of personal and relational concerns (Graves, 2013, Welcome to Life Choice)
  6. The writer believes that a comprehensive referral guide should be available at every counseling center.  The time limitations of this course will prevent her from writing one; however, Pack, (2013) has a simple one that the North Ashville Baptist Church utilizes for its pastoral counseling program. It is an excellent example of an exhaustive list.

7.      The final resource is the Society of Christian Psychology. It is in this section because the resources page is extensive. The membership fee is only $48.00. Finally, the society’s scholarly newsletters and articles are online and easy to access (“Resources,” 2015).

The counseling process is a three-pronged process and is ineffective without the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Hawkins, 2015). Consequently, the care seeker’s case history is an essential part of the preparation for the first counseling session.  The pre-counseling intake package will facilitate that process.  Procuring information that gives insight into the care seekers familial background, attitudes, weaknesses, strengths etc., will form a picture that will point out some areas of concern as well as areas of celebration for the care-seeker as attentive listening, and collaboration begins. The pre-counseling package includes the pastoral counseling intake form, code of ethics, informed consent, and confidentiality clause for pastoral counseling form, referral process form, and interview form.  All of the forms except the interview form will be sent to the care seeker before the initial counseling session.

The ministry presented a concise discussion pertaining to identity and ethics. The relationship that the Holy Spirit plays in the counseling process is paramount not only to counseling but also to the identity and ethics paradigm that steers the counseling sessions. Professional boundaries for a biblically responsible vocational paradigm presented the research of Palm, (2015), Johnson & Johnson, (2014), and Kollar (2011). The discussion on identity and ethics show the symbiotic relationship between the ethical implications for pastoral counseling and guidance from the Bible on the topic.


American Association of Pastoral Counselors. (2012). Retrieved from

Biblical counseling general intake form [PDF]. (2015, March 3). Retrieved from’s/Womens%20Ministry%20PDFs/Biblical%20Biblical%20Counseling%20Form.pdf

Clinton, T., & Hawkins, R. (2009). The quick-reference guide to biblical counseling: Kindle Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.

Clinton, T. E., Scalise, E., Jenkins, D., Nichols, K., Ohlschlager, G., & Maxon, J. (2012). Code of ethics. Retrieved September 27, 2015, from

Code of ethics for pastors. (2012, June 01). Retrieved from

Graves, R. (2013). Welcome to Life Choice – Hilton Head Island South Carolina. Retrieved from!services

Hawkins, R. (2015). Finding additional information that helps for session two phase two [html]. Lecture presented at Week 6: PACO500_B01. Retrieved September 23, 2015, from

Johnson, W. B., & Johnson, W. L. (2014). The minister’s guide to psychological disorders and treatments[Kindle edition] (2nd ed.). NY, NY: Routledge.

Justice, J. A., & Garland, D. R. (2010). Dual relationships in congregational practice: Ethical guidelines for congregational social workers and pastors. Social Work & Christianity, 37(4), 437-445. Retrieved from

Kollar, C. A. (2011). Solution-focused pastoral counseling: An effective short-term approach for getting people back on track. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Lowcountry Pastoral Counseling Center. (2015). Retrieved from

Lowcountry Psychiatric Associates. (2015). Retrieved from

McKinney, J. (2009). Pastor’s counseling policy [PDF]. LifeWay Christian Resources.

Pack, J. (2013). Asheville area services referral guide [PDF]. Retrieved from

Palm, M. (2015). When should a pastor refer to a professional counselor? Retrieved from

Pastoral counseling and supervision for pastors, counselors, and interns. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Psychology Today. (2015). Retrieved from

Resources. (2015). Retrieved from

Tanner, M. (2015). Pastoral counselor’s identity and ethics [Class Handout]. Reading presented at Baptist Theological Seminary in Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA.

Trull, J. E., & Carter, J. E. (2004). Ministerial ethics: Moral formation for church leaders (2nd ed.) [Google Books Version]. Retrieved from
(Original work published 1993)

Turner, R. (1998). Referral: Safeguarding the integrity of the counseling relationship. Enrichment Journal – Enriching and Equipping Spirit-filled Ministers, Summer. Retrieved from

Warneck, W. (2015). Christian counseling services. Retrieved from

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