The following forms are recommended for a church lay counseling ministry:
Lay Counseling Agreement/Informed Consent form. A Lay Counseling Agreement/Informed Consent form sets forth the conditions under which the church will provide lay counseling. It’s critical that potential counselees review, understand, and agree to these terms before beginning counseling. Counselees have the right to receive information and ask questions about the counseling process so that they can make well-considered decisions about care. Successful communication about the relationship fosters trust and supports shared decision making.
Written counseling agreements can help establish appropriate expectations for counselees and set forth the conditions under which your ministry will provide counseling. These conditions can include, but are not limited to:
The duties of each party
The scope of counseling is biblically based and not with licensed mental health practitioners.
A limit on the number of counseling sessions available
The ability of either party to terminate counseling sessions at any time
An indemnification and hold harmless provision in favor of the ministry, which usually includes a release of liability by the counselee
Confidentiality and Disclosure. Generally, if a counselee discloses private, confidential information to a pastor or lay counselor in a non-public setting, the counselor must not divulge the information unless an exception applies. Some exceptions may include, but are not limited to:
It is legally required (such as being subpoenaed to testify by a court).
It can be legally justified (for example, a duty to warn or a duty to protect).
It is specifically authorized by the counselee (or the counselee’s parent or guardian if the counselee is a minor).
Intake Form. This form contains standard background information about the counselee that may help the lay counselor better understand the counselee and provide appropriate Biblical guidance. Use a distinct, modified form for minors being counseled. Both the counselor and the supervisor should review this form.
Counseling Minors. Generally, counseling ministries that intend to provide services for minors are encouraged to use a separate agreement that accommodates confidentiality issues that pertain to minors. If the counselee is a minor, the minor’s parent or guardian should sign the Lay Counseling Agreement/Informed Consent form on behalf of the minor.
Counseling agreements will often specify some exceptions to confidentiality, including providing information to parents or guardians. A counselor would likely want parents or guardians to know about a minor’s thoughts of self-harm, a self-harm incident, attempted suicide, or contemplation of suicide. Additionally, having a parent or second screened adult present when counseling a minor can reduce the risk of liability.
Counseling Progress Notes. It’s recommended that lay counselors maintain brief notes of all counseling sessions. Notes that are written in a timely manner will help a counselor accurately recall matters if the notes are ever needed for a legal purpose. Paper notes should be kept in a secure location; electronic notes should be encrypted and password protected.
Note: Consult your church’s attorney periodically to update the church’s lay counseling policy and forms.
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