Lay Counseling vs Licensed Care

It’s critical to draw a line between counseling from a professional licensed by the state and counseling on spiritual or biblical matters from a lay counselor. Most states require individuals who hold themselves out as a Marriage and Family TherapistProfessional Counselor, or other similar professions to be licensed in their fields. This usually requires a certain level of education, a minimum number of clinical training hours, and passage of a board-approved competency exam to become licensed in such fields.

In contrast, lay counseling and spiritual care ministries do not involve formalized training. Instead, they provide a platform for the natural discussion of personal matters on an informal basis. Still, it’s likely that issues of abuse, confidentiality, suicide, or threats to other people may arise in these discussions. Church leaders should determine which issues the lay counseling ministry can address, which ethical and legal issues will be beyond the competence or scope of the lay counseling ministry, and when to refer a counselee for professional help.