A Case Study: How One Ecclesia Started a Counseling Program
Our contracted counselor has helped a lot of people. He has maintained confidentiality, without exception. Confidentiality is one of the foundational principles when dealing with sensitive issues.
More than 20 years ago I was sitting in the back row of our hall during a business meeting, listening to a discussion about our “lost sheep.” It dawned on me that many people who leave the Truth do so because of marital problems. It’s not so much that they changed their mind about our doctrines or one specific doctrine, but because of embarrassment, a fear of being judged or the weight of dealing with the problems.
I proposed in that meeting that we strengthen our ability to help these brothers and sisters by developing a relationship with a trained, licensed counselor—one with a connection to “Christian” values and beliefs. I was given the task of fleshing out that suggestion.
To start, I accessed a list of licensed “Christian Counselors” and called several with a series of questions. I wanted to know what their beliefs were on divorce. I also asked about politically correct male/female role attitudes. Christadelphians have a wide range of positions on these subjects, so I tried to make my queries reflect the norms adopted in our ecclesia.
I felt better asking them, if only to put the doctors on notice of possible areas of concern. I wasn’t looking for 100% agreement, but I wanted someone who was not antagonistic to Biblical guidance on morality in general. I recommended one counselor to our ecclesia.
We never know who or what the issue is. It’s anonymous, and we just get a bill. The costs have not been onerous.
This counselor subsequently attended an Arranging Brethren’s meeting, gave a short presentation and answered our questions. Our Arranging Brethren agreed to work with him. Since that time, other ecclesias in our area have also adopted our system and are using the same counselor. The result of our ecclesial involvement has been two-fold: we have carefully vetted a trusted counselor, and we have made it easy and economically accessible for our members.
HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS
- A person (or couple) makes an appointment with the counselor. We used to have one Arranging Brother serve as a “gatekeeper” but no longer find a need for this step.
- The counselor is assigned a code number, unique to a specific ecclesia, for billing purposes. We never know who or what the issue is. It’s anonymous, and we just get a bill. The costs have not been onerous.
- We do not limit our program to marital problems. Things that can derail attendance, such as depression and abuse of several kinds, are other situations where we want to help. See below for premarital counseling.
- The ecclesia pays a set rate per session (75%) and the patient co-pays a given amount (25%) per session for the first ten visits. While we want to make it easy and economically possible for them to seek help, we still think they should make a personal financial commitment, if possible.
- For the next ten sessions, the payment percentages flip. The ecclesia pays 25% and the patient pays 75% per session.
- After that, it’s negotiable. Depending on the situation, we are flexible about the cost and have helped outside the norm. We’ve also paid for individuals whose ecclesias do not have a program such as this when we’ve been approached.
- We do not make our involvement contingent on someone’s ability to pay. A few might be able to contribute more, but for every one of them, there are many more who can only afford the counselor’s services with our help.
- Some have taken the unspoken “permission” given by our system to seek other non-Christadelphian counselors and found and paid for them on their own. Ultimately, they must make a connection with their counselor. It is a very personal relationship.
We also developed a pre-marital counseling system. The process works as shown below.
- The counselor holds an initial session with the engaged couple, along with a Christadelphian mentor couple.
- At some point, the individuals each take a comprehensive written test to pinpoint areas that could challenge their marriage, such as identifying needs, communication styles, finances, sex expectations and how to handle conflict.
- The counselor reviews the findings with the couple, together with the assigned Christadelphian mentors, who help them make a plan to work on the challenging areas in follow-up sessions. The proactive nature of this counseling, as well as the establishment of an ongoing mentoring relationship, has worked brilliantly.
- The downside of any pre-marital system is that the engaged couple is often way down the road to tying the knot, and there is an inclination to not turn back. One can only hope the sessions instill a pattern to follow if problems later arise.
- Our ecclesia pays 100% of the cost of this counseling. We make it a condition of using our ecclesial hall for the wedding ceremony.
In the past, there were only a few wise brothers and sisters who were sought out for counseling. You might be tempted to think that if there were more learned brethren willing to take on this work, we perhaps wouldn’t need a professional counselor. Some Christadelphians feel it is amiss to use counseling outside the ecclesia.
our contracted counselor has helped a lot of people, he has maintained confidentiality, without exception
Jesus was not endorsing any of the world’s unethical ways when he said: “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8) The idea is to be smart in the same way, but for what is right. Consequently I believe that the professional counselor we selected has the experience, training and ethics (which we vetted) to make him better equipped to counsel. Here are my reasons for believing this.
- He has no family allegiances, something that can make it difficult for ecclesias.
- He has a first-class radar detector for deception. His experience also helps to recognize delusional thinking patterns.
- After working with Christadelphians for many years, he understands our uniqueness.
- Sadly, almost everything in the world is also in the brotherhood—it presents some very ugly things the normal Bible student might not feel competent to handle. The counselor is better prepared to address these.
The bottom line is that our contracted counselor has helped a lot of people. He has maintained confidentiality, without exception. Confidentiality is one of the foundational principles when dealing with sensitive issues. We are told,
Our contracted counselor can be trusted and helps prevent sensitive matters from becoming subjects of gossip. This confidentiality aspect has one drawback, however. There is limited opportunity for the ecclesial community to circle the wagons around a wounded member and be a loving support group.
Since its inception, we have never regretted this program. I hope this case study will serve as a model for other ecclesias to create their own counseling programs. I encourage you to modify it as you see fit and set it up before you ever need it. It’s a proactive approach to “feeding the flock.”
Verdugo Hills, CA