Every pastor wants to help people. Yet some ministers may feel called to specialize in walking alongside those in crisis situations. Before letting just anyone guide your congregants through their toughest times, consider a few characteristics that are key to a person specializing in crisis counseling.
1. Training. Because the crisis counseling field is still actively growing and expanding, training includes both understanding how individuals are affected by crises and trauma—and the most effective interventions—as well as ongoing education.
2. Awareness of one’s own loss history. A counselor doesn’t have to be in perfect emotional shape to work with others, but he should be aware of his own loss history and of how his experiences might affect work with clients, especially in providing crisis, trauma or grief counseling. If a counselor is unaware of the personal impact of a trauma or loss, he may not be in the best position to aid others who are struggling. He must also exercise caution not to superimpose his personal experience with a specific trauma or loss onto the client.
3. The ability to be nonreactive in the face of grief and loss. When clients disclose difficult information, it’s usually accompanied by raw and strong emotions. If a counselor reacts, it may produce further feelings of shame and reduce the likelihood of future disclosures. Good crisis counselors function in a calm and low-key manner, giving clients a sense of safety and stability, and allowing them to talk openly about what has happened.
4. The capacity for tolerating chaos. At the scene of a tragedy, there are usually questions about the chain of command. If multiple agencies are present, there’s often confusion about how these interface with one another and who’s responsible for what. A crisis counselor must be able to function when things are unstructured, disorderly and confusing. He must be clear about his role and willing to function within the framework of the overall crisis intervention effort.
5. Knowledge of laws and licensure guidelines. Because trauma victims often have thoughts of self-harm, a crisis counselor must have a solid knowledge of licensure regulations and legal guidelines to know when and how to work toward a client’s safety. The counselor must understand issues such as confidentiality and dual relationships, and must function according to any licensures or certifications under which he is sanctioned to provide services. Because each state tends to differ regarding confidentiality regulations, it’s imperative that a counselor be aware of the guidelines and be willing to follow ongoing legislation or court decisions that affect these guidelines. He must also develop the ability to read crisis situations and ensure he is functioning ethically in every instance.
6. The capability of interacting with other professionals. Crisis counselors must be able to make referrals to medical doctors, psychiatrists and to hospitals. Effective communication and networking with these professionals increases the likelihood of helping certain clients. Whether or not a counselor is a staff pastor, he should still be comfortable interacting with pastors, youth ministers, teachers and school counselors. Though not essential, it’s also beneficial when a crisis counselor is aware of and has connections with local community agencies. This can help clients navigate through red tape and other headaches—all of which are common to agency life.