Note: You’re reading Part Six (the final post) in a blog mini-series on The Law and Church Counseling. Read Part One Caring Carefully, Part Two The Legal History and Climate, Part Three Scope of Care, Part Four Quality of Care, and Part Five Building Safeguards Into Your Ministry. I’m summarizing these posts from material in chapter twelve of Equipping Counselors for Your Church. To learn more about the book, which is now available for pre-order, visit Equipping Counselors.
Seven pertinent issues summarize the quality of care matters that every biblical counseling ministry should address: propriety, humility, referral, confidentiality, church discipline, documentation, and supervision. In Part Four, we examined the first three issues, and in Part Five the fourth and fifth issues. Today in Part Six, we explore documentation and supervision in biblical counseling.
Documentation and Biblical Counseling
If scope of care or quality of care issues arise, it will be extremely helpful if you have carefully documented your training. Have available copies of your training materials, and keep copies of your completed evaluations of trainees (see Appendix 10.1 of Equipping Counselors for Your Church).
You should also document each counseling relationship with basic case notes (see the Biblical Counseling Record Sheet in Appendix 11.1 of Equipping Counselors for Your Church). Case notes should include the name of the person seen, the date, the session number, a review of the previous session, goals for the current session, an in-session summary, a listing of post-session homework, and the next meeting date and time. On the back of this form, include a treatment plan that matches your training model. In this way, all record-keeping stays consistent with the training received. In case notes, assure that your graduates do not use psychological labels and diagnostic categories. Typically they lack training for this. Additionally, the use of such labels could be perceived as movement away from spiritual care to psychological and even licensed counseling.
Keep these records on site in a secure location—they should never leave the building. There is no clear, uniformed standard for how long to keep such records. Best practice ministries tend to keep them for three years, after which they are destroyed.
Supervision and Biblical Counseling
Note: In chapter eleven of Equipping Counselors for Your Church, I go into much greater detail about practical “how to” principles and practices of supervision and continuing education for church-based biblical counseling.
All graduates of your biblical counseling training must be supervised by qualified individuals. As part of supervision, the supervisor should discuss all counseling evaluation forms completed at commencement (termination), and these evaluations should be maintained. You should also document and keep records of all continuing education.
Final Thoughts: Count the Cost
I am not naïve. This is not an “easy” blog topic. However, I don’t like to pretend. We have to address these “elephants in the room.” They deal with the law of the land to which God commands us to submit and they deal with the law of love which God commands us to obey.
God calls us to be prudent in regards to our responsibilities to abide by and respect the law. And he calls us to be loving and above reproach as we minister to people. We are to be shrewd and wise as snakes and innocent and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).
There is nothing we can do to prevent someone from suing us. We can only provide the best practices possible to defend our actions before the legal system, and more importantly, before our God.
Nothing can, or should prevent us from ministering to the Body of Christ. Yes, we need to count the cost (Luke 14:28-33). And, yes, we need to serve God even when there will be a cost—as there always will. We can never allow the fear of man to stop us from serving God.
Practicing What I Preach
Regarding the law of the land, I need to practice what I preach with this disclosure statement.
As the author of this blog mini-series, I am not a legal expert. The reader should not consider this series legal counsel personally or for any specific church or ministry. I provide this series simply as a synopsis of my research of best practices designed to help readers to become more aware of some basic ethical and legal considerations. I encourage readers to take responsibility for remaining current, as legal interpretations change over time. I encourage churches to contract with an attorney who is an expert on the pertinent laws in their state, as laws vary from state to state. I encourage churches to maintain and provide malpractice and liability insurance covering the church, pastors, trustees, elected leaders, and those trained in the biblical counseling ministry.
Join the Conversation
Of all the principles in our six-part mini-series on The Law and Church Counseling, what do you think is most important? What would you state differently? What would you add?