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Should A Pastor Counsel A Woman Alone?

It is a common practice for pastors to counsel women alone. The Bible does not forbid this and the practice has been carried out for centuries.

However, a pastor should never counsel a woman alone if he knows that she has been abused by men in the past and might feel uncomfortable with him being alone with her. He should also avoid counseling women alone if there are other people who are likely to gossip about what happens in the meeting. If you are a pastor who believes he should counsel women alone, then you should consider how you will explain your decision to those who do not agree with it. You may want to make sure that your reasons are based on scripture rather than on personal preference or cultural norms. pastoral counseling guidelines, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.

Should A Pastor Counsel A Woman alone?

Pastoral counseling, a clinical practice that integrates both psychological and theological concepts into its framework, is not unlike other modes of therapy when it comes to the therapeutic process. What sets it apart is the way faith, spirituality, and theology are incorporated into the model. Pastoral counselors believe this incorporation of spiritual exploration and support can foster wholeness, healing, and growth in those who are seeking help.

Beyond providing psychotherapy, pastoral counselors utilize resources such as prayer, scripture study, and participation in the congregation community to help guide people on their journey toward transcendence, transformation, and greater connection to others.


People have long turned to religious leaders for support, guidance, and solutions related to mental health issues, and ministers of all denominations traditionally provide counseling to members of their religious communities. Pastoral counseling was born from the idea that, although this kind of support is valuable, some issues may require a more professional level of help.

In the early 1900s, Reverend Anton Boisen, one of the founders of the Pastoral Education Movement, pioneered a unique enrichment program in which he connected theology students with hospital patients who were also experiencing concerns of a psychiatric nature. In the early 1930s, minister Norman Vincent Peale and psychiatrist Smiley Blanton formed the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, known today as the Blanton-Peale Institute. Clinical pastoral education programs like these laid the foundation for the development of the pastoral counseling field, which evolved over the next several decades as more and more members of the clergy sought formal training in psychology.

In 1963, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) was formed to provide certification, accreditation, and training in the field of pastoral counseling. According to the AAPC website, “pastoral counseling evolved from religious counseling to pastoral psychotherapy, which integrates theology and other faith traditions with knowledge, spirituality, the resources of faith communities, the behavioral sciences, and in recent years, systemic theory.”

In 2019, the AAPC united with the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) and the two entities now operate as one under the ACPE name.


According to a 1992 Gallup poll, 66% of survey participants reported a preference for a mental health professional who held spiritual beliefs and values, while 81% of people seeking mental health treatment stated a preference for a counselor with values similar to their own. This data may explain why some people seek help from religious leaders or counselors who share their faith. Pastoral counseling may offer benefit to people of all backgrounds, but it may be best suited to those seeking mental health support or guidance grounded in a theological or spiritual perspective.

People might choose pastoral counseling when they:

  • Want to approach mental health issues from a faith-based perspective
  • Are not comfortable in a formal counseling setting
  • Are facing end-of-life issues
  • Have concerns that secular counselors will not validate their religious beliefs
  • Have had negative experiences with secular mental health professionals


As pastoral counseling can provide specialized treatment to those seeking such but also meet more general counseling needs, it can be considered a versatile mode of therapy. Pastoral counselors are uniquely positioned to offer a professional level of mental health treatment, thanks to graduate training and education, while also providing spiritual guidance from a faith-based perspective.

Pastoral counseling can offer support to those seeking family, relationship, premarital, or individual counseling. More specifically, it may be helpful to individuals working through or challenged by any of the following situations: 

Pastoral counselors are uniquely positioned to offer a professional level of mental health treatment, thanks to graduate training and education, while also providing spiritual guidance from a faith-based perspective.

  • Spiritual assessment
  • Grief and loss
  • Issues related to chronic or terminal illness
  • Conflicts around spiritual beliefs
  • Mental health issues directly linked to religious beliefs or doctrine 
  • Crises of faith
  • Reintegration into community life after institutionalization or incarceration
  • Adjusting to mental health support when wary of the system


Pastoral counselors can range from ordained religious figures like priests, chaplains, and rabbis to practicing psychotherapists who provide what some call pastoral psychotherapy. They might come from any religious background and can be found in multiple settings—congregations, counseling centers, inpatient programs, and private practice, among others. 

Training and education is available for those who wish to practice pastoral counseling in various formats. There are pastoral counselors who are not credentialed that actively provide support to people in need. There are also pastoral counselors who are more affiliated with the religious aspect of their role and have less training in mental health treatment. But a vast majority of pastoral counselors seek certification. 

To become certified, prospective counselors must meet the requirements of their religious group, usually ordination, and receive graduate-level training in both theology and psychology, as defined by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC).

Requirements set forth by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors stipulate candidates must earn one of the following graduate degrees:

  • Masters in Divinity
  • Graduate or Doctoral degree in Biblical Studies, Theological studies, or Spiritual Studies
  • Graduate or Doctoral Degree in Pastoral Counseling

Candidates must also complete 375 hours of supervised counseling experience and a self-reflective clinical pastoral education (CPE) experience. The supervised CPE experience is coupled with classroom instruction and discussion to ensure candidates fully integrate their learning in theology and behavioral science. Once the training requirements and practical experience are completed and approved, candidates take part in a 90-minute interview conducted by a certification committee to finalize the process.

Currently, only a handful of states in the USA have license options for people in this field, including Tennessee (Clinical Pastoral Therapists) and North Carolina (Pastoral Counselors). In most states without this type of license, pastoral counselors must obtain and maintain one of the other types of licenses that permit the practice of psychotherapy: LCSW, MFT, LPC, LMHC, or similar. The majority of insurance companies do not reimburse pastoral counselors for services rendered, yet another reason is common practice for certified pastoral counselors to also pursue licensure in fields such as professional counseling, social work, or marriage and family therapy.


While some pastoral counselors have not had extensive training in the diagnosis of mental health concerns, many pastoral counselors are licensed mental health practitioners who are able to diagnose and treat any number of issues. Additionally, certified pastoral counselors are trained in mental health assessment and suicide/homicide assessment, and they are typically able to diagnose the warning signs and symptoms of other serious psychiatric concerns.


Although pastoral counseling is a well-established and viable mode of therapy, there are some possible areas for concern that mental health professionals and people seeking treatment may want to keep in mind. Some pastoral counselors view the therapeutic relationship as one that is multi-faceted and stretching across various settings and roles. Even for those who foster a private counseling environment, outside encounters may be inevitable when working with someone who is a member of the same congregation. The AAPC Code of Ethics explains that certified pastoral counselors are to take every precaution to avoid confusing dual/multiple relationships, as the balance of power can put counselors at an unfair advantage. However, in the cases of those who are not certified or believe that dual relationships enhance treatment, the people they treat may experience an increased risk. 

Another possible concern has to do with the role of confidentiality for clergy and where it differs from confidentiality requirements for other mental health professionals. Pastoral counselors may encounter ethical dilemmas if the two bodies that govern them do not agree when it comes to keeping information confidential. Some states have differing laws when it comes to pastoral duties to their parishioners as compared to the duties of mental health professionals and protected health information. Counselors may wish to educate themselves in the particular laws and regulations that speak to their role as an ordained religious leader and to those meant to guide their role as a mental health professional.

Why Pastors Have a Unique Responsibility to Counsel -

We should not counsel a woman alone. There are many reasons for this: First, it is unprofessional and could be seen as an abuse of power. Because pastors are often the only authority figure in a person’s life, there is a temptation to use that power inappropriately. Second, it is inappropriate because there is no accountability. In counseling sessions with men and women together, other members of the church can act as witnesses and hold the pastor accountable for his actions. When counselors meet privately with women, they have no such accountability. Thirdly, counseling can lead to sexual relationships which would be devastating to both parties involved.

I believe that we should not counsel women alone because it puts too much responsibility on one person’s shoulders. It also makes it difficult for people to be honest when they know they can’t speak freely without fear of being judged by others who may not agree with them or care about their situation as much as they do themselves (especially if those people happen to be their parents).

How to pastor women (without making them uncomfortable)

There are commonly two extreme—and opposite—answers to this question. The first is a pastor who carelessly sees his role to pastor women as no different than men.  This pastor thinks the same blunt conversations he has with men in the church can take place with women.  This mentality has led to many pastors, including several I have personally known, to lose their marriages and ministries because they foolishly placed themselves in compromising positions with women in their church—in the name of caring for them.

There is, however, another side that is a growing, particularly among younger pastors. It’s the pastor who so fears the foolishness of the first extreme that he completely neglects the pastoral care of women in general in his church. Motivated largely by fear, some pastors deceive themselves in the name of being “above reproach,” God will not still hold them accountable for the souls of female members entrusted to their care.

Because of these two extremes, the first thing to establish is a need for a wise balance. Wise, thoughtful, discerning, and balanced parameters need to be at the heart of every pastor’s approach. Here are four suggestions I have found helpful over the years in avoiding these extremes as I try to care for women in my own church:


I feel a freedom to visit an elderly widow in her home or the hospital alone if there is a sizable gap in age versus going to visit a needy, recently divorced woman around my age, which I never do alone! It’s wise not to compromise this rule. Remember, the rule is “grandmother” not “mother.”


I think it’s perfectly acceptable to communicate through email with women in the church.  Many email exchanges are solely administration issues (“Would you please put our women’s event in the bulletin?”-type emails).

However, if you intend to send any email to a woman in the church or receive one that involves anything personal in nature, your wife and the woman’s husband can be copied on it. It can be in the (cc) section so all corresponding can see the spouse’s involvement.  There are certain private counseling matters that would prevent someone else being copied in on email, but this is a good practice in general.  This may seem tedious, but can be helpful accountability where appropriate.


never counsel a woman alone. I know, that sounds extreme to some of you. Even if there is glass between us and the church secretary, I will not meet alone with another woman. I will, however, counsel a woman with her husband present. This practice can bear good fruit as the husband learns to better care for his wife as he sits and listens. Besides, many times the husband is part of the problem! I’ve learned that in my own marriage.

I’ve also learned this: sometimes a wife is not comfortable sharing some things with her husband in the room, which is why another woman or even another trusted pastor can be that extra person in the room.  This becomes essential for marriage struggles where a husband is controlling and domineering and a wife is afraid to share openly. If I’m trying to care for a single lady, my wife is the preferred choice of counseling companion, but I’m open to allowing another leader or trusted friend of the single lady to be present.  I’m flexible, but will not counsel alone.


Pastors need to deal with pastoral matters with everyone in the church. However, long-term issues that will require years of care and discipleship should eventually be handed to mature, godly, and capable women in the church who will report to the pastors on their progress, which still allows some kind of pastoral oversight and soul care.

These four lessons have helped me to shepherd the women in my church. However you do it, be wise, but don’t neglect to care for this critical sector of the body of Christ.

Pastoral Counseling Guidelines

1. Counseling requires a three-dimensional Bible.

No one enjoys a flat, one-dimensional story with static characters, a predictable plot, and an unsatisfying conclusion. Why? Because it doesn’t ring true to human experience, which is deep and multifaceted. Many folks shy away from Bible-based counseling because they assume the Bible is like a bad story, flatly giving instruction about behavior instead of offering a rich, colorful picture of human life.

The best counseling uses Scripture as God intended: as a living perspective of a dynamic world that holds authority over our own. It is not one-dimensional, but three-dimensional, able to address the many factors of life—from relational dynamics to self-perception to circumstantial difficulties. The Bible delights us even as it instructs us; it challenges the core commitments of our hearts even as it lifts our perspective above our sorrows.

The Bible attests to itself three-dimensionally. Just read Psalm 119 if you want to see a long, lingering view of how Scripture functions in the swirling currents of life.

2. Counseling requires a three-dimensional view of human life.

Just as we honor the Bible by using it as God intended, so we honor human life when we recognize it as God intended. He designed us to dynamically respond to the situations around us, and that response is multifaceted.

In life, people do not just think, they also want and choose. They need their minds instructed, but also their hearts captured. They need to make new choices, but also need to be shown a vision of what those choices will do for them. They need help understanding how their private thoughts affect the way they relate to the important people in their lives, or how the events that happened to them in the past affect their assumptions about the future.

In sum, counseling helps connect the dots between various aspects of a person’s experience. It helps them understand themselves better in light of what Scripture says. Using the Bible three-dimensionally allows counselors to show Christ’s loving authority over every dimension of human life.

3. You are more capable than you realize.

A living Christian with a living Bible is a powerful tool for change. You may think there is a category of person out there who is able to hear people describe their problems and automatically understand what to say in response. No such super-listener exists. So relax. You can’t auto-fill a person’s trouble—but neither can anyone else. You should not assume a paid professional is needed for a struggling person’s problems.

Don’t get us wrong. Doctors and professional counselors are a wonderful source of help. We are simply pointing out that your first impulse should not be to shy away from addressing the complexities of another person’s troubles. Your first impulse should be to serve them in those troubles. Why not be willing to step into the mess yourself? Why not partner with your struggling friend as she walks through the process of getting help?

If God has given you his Word and his Spirit dwells within you, there is much more you can do than you probably realize. Do not shy away from speaking truth into the life of a troubled friend.

If God has given you his Word and his Spirit dwells within you, there is much more you can do than you probably realize.

4. You are less capable than you realize.

Yes, the relationship between the third and the fourth points is paradoxical. With the first, we want every Christian with a Bible and the Spirit of humility to be confident that he can help a troubled friend in some significant way. But with the second, we want every Christian to acknowledge the limits of his own wisdom.

You will come across problems you’ve never heard of, situations you know only some of the facts about, relationships you don’t have the capital to speak into yet. Humility is the best protection from hurting someone when getting involved in a delicate situation. Humility recognizes the limitations of your own perspective and experience.

Some Christians tend to think that knowing the Bible means they will automatically apply it wisely in complex situations. But this is not the case. We need the Spirit to grow us in both love and knowledge so that we can discern what is pleasing to God in the dynamic situations before us (Philippians 1:9-11). Sometimes, the right thing to do is to encourage a struggler to seek out someone else who is further along than you, particularly as it relates to specific troubles. This doesn’t mean you say nothing. It only means that you should be quick to listen and slow to speak.

5. Counseling is problem-initiated.

The nature of counseling is that people come in only when they are struggling with a problem. When your car breaks down, you take it to the shop to get it fixed; when a Christian is not doing well, she seeks out a pastor or a counselor for help. Counseling is arranged in response to perceived trouble in a person’s life.

This perceived trouble is important to address if you are going to love someone well. Many times, Christians want to get straight into familiar territory when having conversations with people in trouble. They don’t quite understand everything going on, so they quickly move to portions of Scripture that they do understand well. The result is often a faithful-but-not-very-pertinent application of the Bible.

We should respect the problems that people face by listening carefully and seeking understanding.

6. Counseling is not problem-focused, but Christ-focused.

Having acknowledged that counseling is problem-initiated, we need to point out that it is not problem-focused. The focus should be on Jesus Christ and how the person’s heart should respond to him amidst the sorrows they are facing. Counseling is not primarily about fixing problems, though we do a lot of that. It’s first about reorienting worship from created things to the Creator by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The most important question in counseling is not, “How do I get better?” but “What is my heart worshipping?”

If a single woman is fighting to free herself from patterns of promiscuity in her relationships, certainly lust is involved. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that she may wrestle with a longing for safety and security, seeking it in the arms of men who take advantage of her. Or if a married couple is in constant conflict, on the surface it might seem like they are debating their finances. But if you plunge below the surface, you’ll often find that his fear of failure has a choke-hold on their home. His heart, designed to worship God, is using that functionality to seek his identity elsewhere.

7. Counseling is for everybody.

Because counseling is about the heart responding rightly to the complex problems of life, every Christian should acknowledge his need for help. Discerning how to respond faithfully to uninvited feelings of depression or intrusive fears often can’t be done alone.

Every Christian is living her life in a world marked with futility and difficulty; none of us should assume we can navigate through such a world without the honed skills of other Christians. Counselors are often those whose skills have been honed to discern the interplay between difficult circumstances and heart responses. A few conversations with a battle-tested counselor can sometimes do wonders.

8. Counseling is not for everybody.

Another paradox for you. The last point was that counseling is for everybody, but this point is giving another layer of nuance. Counseling is not needed when a person has the basic ability to understand how he ought to be responding to the situation he finds himself in.

The regular Christian life is marked with difficulty, but it is also marked with the regular means of grace in the preaching and teaching ministries of the Word, in the fellowship and accountability of intentional friendships, and in the prayerful seeking of God as a body. These regular means of grace keep a person clear-headed and clear-hearted in their approach to life, enabling many Christians to go through long seasons when counseling is not necessary.

In the mystery of God’s providence, some Christians will be spared from the worst kinds of griefs or given the best kinds of church community and thus not need counseling for the most part. Others will have different routes. In light of this, Christians should think of counseling as neither the universal ideal for everyone nor as unpleasant rehab for the particularly unfortunate.

9. Counseling is time-limited.

Counseling is not a permanent state of being. Often, it’s not even all that long. Often, a struggling Christian establishes better patterns of response and starts to see his problems from the broader perspective of God. And as he gets better in these ways, he won’t need counseling anymore. He will not need to continuing coming in because the depression is lightened, the porn addiction is not overwhelming, he’s learned to sacrificially love in his marriage, she’s eating normally again, or she’s able to rest from her anxieties. The original problem that drove them to counseling has abated.

Good counselors try to work themselves out of a job, entrusting folks to the broader ministries of the Word in the context of the church.

10. Even the worst situations have hope.

Jesus Christ does not abandon anyone to the complexities of life. In the regular life of a church, the number of difficulties in the body can at times be overwhelming. But this is no surprise to Jesus, who told us that this world would be trouble. But he also told his people to take heart, for he has overcome the world (John 16:33).

The word Jesus speaks in the churning trouble of this world is peace. So even the worst situations have hope—though not because there is an easy way out. Jesus’s promise is that he is able to insert a foreign virtue into the suffering. The peace of knowing God as a worshipper changes the whole dynamic of a person’s life. The gospel of Jesus Christ has turned countless addicts, prostitutes, abusers, and arrogant fools into worshippers of the one true King. We’ve seen it, and it is amazing to behold.

There is nothing like a transformed life to make you think, “The gospel really works.”

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