Protect Your Counseling Ministry from Sexual Misconduct Allegations

In today's increasingly litigious society, you need to know the legal risks associated with pastoral counseling and how to protect your organization and staff against allegations of sexual misconduct.

Preventing Sexual Misconduct

  • Put your counseling procedures in writing.
  • Offer only pastoral (spiritual) counseling.
  • Develop a referral network of other professionals who provide help beyond the scope of spiritual counseling.
  • Limit the length and number of sessions in which opposite-sex counseling is permitted
  • Screen everyone who will be providing counseling.
  • Consider conducting opposite-sex counseling by telephone. If this is not an option, consider having two counselors present.
  • Conduct counseling sessions only on church premises when others are present in the building.
  • Refrain from any speech or action that could in any way be construed sexually or romantically.
  • Keep the door to the counseling office open or install a window in the counseling office.

Cautions Concerning Counseling

1. Using secular counseling methods without possessing secular credentials increases your legal liability. If you use such methods, you could lose your First Amendment “freedom of religion” protection.

2. Youth ministries are at high risk for sexual misconduct allegations. Establish rigid guidelines for youth ministers and youth activities. Plan youth activities in advance and ensure that adequate adult supervision is present.

3. A growing number of states deem it a criminal offense for a counselor to become sexually involved with a client. Consensual sexual conduct is not a valid defense if a court determines that such a law was violated.