Adopt a Therapist. Adopt a Church.

How to Be a Better Volunteer Counselor

When my wife and I first led a marriage group at our church, we were excited to be doing this ministry. We had taught marriage classes in the past and now we were leading a small group.

A couple came in and she started to complain about her husband’s drinking. I felt like I didn’t know what to do. What do I know about alcoholism? Honestly, I didn’t know much. I focused on what I did know – practicing good communication techniques.

We got through that session, but I had questions. Luckily, one of the pastors at our church was there to guide us through it. Later, we suggested that the couple also get some help for his alcohol abuse and he agreed.

How do you get support when you don’t know how to handle a situation?

Churches – Adopt a Therapist

I recommend that churches adopt a Christian therapist or a Christian psychologist. Find someone that will donate some time to coach you and help you to be more effective. This can be part of your training and supervision.

At our church, we asked for help from a psychologist that attends. We asked her if she would be willing to give us coaching.

She was very generous with her time. We frequently brought issues to her and asked her how to handle it. Her coaching was very helpful.

Here’s a few methods that you can try.

Apprentice Mentors

If you have an experienced counselor, learn from them. In our church, we have new mentors sit in with an experienced mentor as an apprentice. It helps them to see someone with experience in action.

Sit Ins

We sometimes will have an experienced counselor sit in on a session. We ask for permission from the group or couple first and explain that this is part of our training and supervision. We explain that the role of the supervisor is to help train and coach us.

Typically, the experienced person doesn’t say much during the session, but provides a debrief to the mentor at the end. Now that we are experienced, my wife and I sit in frequently.

Role play

Role play different scenarios to practice different ways to work with a couple. I have found this to be an invaluable way to practice in a safe environment.

Record a Session

This is a common way that new mental health professionals are trained. The actual session can be played back for your supervisor and you can talk about other ways to handle issues. Be sure to ask permission before you record.

Session Reviews

We ask the experienced counselor to be available for session reviews. We’ll talk through how we handled specific issues. It give us a chance to ask about things that we weren’t sure how to handle.
We gradually grew more proficient and we needed less time. We now lead a group of mentors and we coach them on how to be more effective. We still have a mental health professional come and answer questions.


We want to keep information confidential. Actually, that is a key ethical practice. Since we do have supervision in place, we always explain to our mentees that as part of our ongoing improvement and, in the interest of helping them, we may need to share information with a pastor or a mental health professional as part of that supervision. We don’t use names to protect confidentiality.

Therapists – Adopt a Church

Are you a licensed mental health professional? Adopt a church!

In my church, we often see couples that don’t, or won’t, see a therapist. But, they will attend a marriage education class. It’s not uncommon for a couple to both attend a marriage education class and to be receiving therapy.

Your help and time can be an incredible ministry to your church. I have greatly benefited by having coaching from Christian counselors. It’s also been helpful to have someone that we refer people to when it’s beyond our capabilities.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Seek to Improve – Seek to improve by being open to coaching. You will be more effective.
  • Adopt a Therapist – create a relationship with a professional that can coach and help you.
  • Inform your Couples – Be sure to explain that you may need to share information for your own supervision.