When a woman comes to you or another leader with her struggles, you may find yourself maxed out in terms of knowledge, experience, time, or personal involvement. At that point, it’s time to seek other ways within your church or community to help this individual (and her husband/family when appropriate).
Here are 10 scenarios that merit referral to a professional Christian counselor.
1. The amount of time necessary to help her exceeds your time as a caregiver. Taking care of others in these situations must not take over your life. Balance is essential.
2. Her struggles are beyond your emotional resources. When working with others in a caregiving role, you must monitor your emotional state to make certain that the process is not damaging emotional viability.
3. You don’t have the physical energy to help the individual. You can easily develop fatigue while caregiving, and continuing to give in a depleted state can be dangerous to you and the woman involved.
4. You don’t have the expertise to help this individual. Often, a hurting woman’s issues may be greater than your ability to provide help. Others who are more thoroughly trained can provide greater care that will move the individual toward healing. Ask yourself, “Is my care the best care possible?”
5. Continuing to provide care could be harmful to the individual, you, or your family. Caregiving can unintentionally promote dependence by the counselee on the caregiver, which is called enabling and can cause harm to all involved.
6. You have a “dual relationship” with the woman you are trying to help. A dual relationship is a situation where you wear more than one hat in the life of the counselee. For example, are you a small group leader, an accountability partner, or a ministry leader trying to assist a woman in your group? The dual relationship may cause confusion as to which hat you’re wearing. This dual relationship can be worked through, but it can be risky.
7. Despite your efforts, it appears the individual is getting worse. It does not matter how well-intentioned she may be—if your attempt to assist is not working, then referral to another caregiver is a healthy option when all other avenues have been exhausted.
8. The woman becomes a threat to herself or to others. When an individual threatens suicide, it must always be taken seriously. Referral or intensive connection or both may be necessary to deal with the crisis this creates. When someone is suicidal, do whatever is necessary to keep them safe from themselves. If it means calling in her family to watch until she can be hospitalized, going to sit with her in the emergency room, clearing out the medicine cabinet, or removing a gun from the premises, do it. If the woman gets upset or threatens you, recognize that you may be the only lifeline she has at that moment. To distance or disconnect at that moment might mean the end of her life. This is not the time to be kind. It is the time to be lovingly expeditious. Involving authorities is helpful because it can remove you from the power spot. Knowing someone’s counselor’s or physician’s phone number can be critical in those times to put someone else in that position of ultimate responsibility. However, when there is no one else, you may be that responsible party.
9. Personality differences can limit your ability to make a positive difference in her life. Sometimes there is just not a fit with someone who needs help. That disparity must be accounted for, and referral may be the best alternative for making certain she gets the assistance she needs.
10. The spiritual issues involved are beyond your understanding. If spiritual issues are beyond your ability to provide support or understanding, it may be appropriate to refer her to your pastor or another leader who can better assist in the spiritual struggle and theological understanding.
You don’t have to bear the burden of counseling alone. It’s important to know when to draw your boundaries in caregiving and bring in professional help. By generally assessing the well-being of the individual, your involvement as a counselor, and the health of the counseling situation you can be better equipped to help a woman in crisis get back on track.