Lay counselling provides additional support that is not as structured or restrictive, and generally runs alongside professional counselling sessions. A lay counsellor is a trained individual who understands the importance of providing a listening ear, support and guidance and that sometimes this kind of help and understanding cannot be restricted to appointment times only. Whilst a lay counsellor has counselling knowledge this person may not work as a therapist or counsellor, and has acquired counselling skills as additional vocational experience (Martin, 2015).
Lay counsellors provide support to individuals experiencing emotional issues and problems. The level of training acquired will provide the lay counsellor with an understanding of how best to support individuals going through particular difficulties. Their training will not, however, equip them with the professional knowledge to provide the level of counselling guidance required if the individual has medical conditions that complicate their emotional issue (Martin, 2015). A lay counsellor therefore must be able to demonstrate an understanding of behavior identification, as well as the best way of providing support in each situation.
Being able to confidently priorities issues as they arise allows the lay counsellor to provide continual support over a period of time. Understanding that individuals experiencing emotional problems should not be identified by personality type and tendencies will enable the lay counsellor to provide the level of support most needed (Martin, 2015). Lay counsellors in the community provide a supportive service that complements the work provided by other trained professionals. This often means that the service offered by a lay counsellor is somewhat limited and/or specific.
Nonetheless, this additional support makes a valuable contribution towards helping individuals overcome emotional hardship and issues (Martin, 2015). Increasing care through lay counselors or lay caregivers is both a biblically based ministry as well as one that has received much research support. Research shows that lay counselors are effective in helping people with their problems in living. There are at least five steps to follow (Enrichment Journal).
1. Choose an appropriate model of lay counseling ministry. a. The informal, spontaneous model. People care for one another naturally and simply, without any further organized structure. b. The informal, organized model. Lay counselors are specially selected, trained, and supervised, but they do their caring and counseling ministry in informal settings such as homes, restaurants, and hospitals. c. The formal, organized model. Lay counselors are specially selected, trained, and supervised, but the caring and counseling ministry takes place by appointment in a more formal office setting or lay counseling center.
The real choice is between the informal, organized and the formal, organized models. Some large churches actually have lay caring and counseling ministries that utilize both models, thus providing different levels of people helping to those in need. Furthermore, in some cultural contexts such as ethnic minority churches and churches in specific parts of the world, the informal, organized model may be more appropriate since the stigma against formal counseling and having to set up appointments may still be great.
2. Obtain the full support of the pastoral staff and church board for the lay counseling ministry. It is crucial to have the full support of pastoral and church leaders so that the lay counseling ministry can get started properly. Such a ministry should be seen by church leadership as an extension of pastoral care and counseling and as a biblically based ministry that is essential for the health and growth of the church.
3. Screen and select appropriately gifted and qualified lay counselors from the congregation. Selection may be open or closed. Open selection involves making a public announcement to the entire congregation inviting people to pply to become lay counselors but without making any guarantees about who will eventually be selected. Closed selection involves pastoral and church leaders nominating potential lay counselors from people they already know quite well who seem to be appropriately gifted for this area of ministry. Whether open or closed selection is used, potential lay counselors still need to be interviewed and then eventually selected for training. Final selection of lay counselors is usually done at the end of the initial training provided.
The following are some helpful criteria to use for selecting potential lay counselors: spiritual maturity; psychological/emotional stability; love for and interest in people; appropriate spiritual gifts such as exhortation or encouragement; adequate life experience; previous training or experience in lay counseling or people helping (helpful but not necessary); age, gender, socioeconomic, and ethnic/cultural diversity relevant to the needs of the church; availability; ability to keep confidentiality (with exceptions to confidentiality usually including child abuse or elder abuse and danger to self or others).
4. Provide an adequate training program for lay counselors There are various training pro grams available. They usually range from a minimum of 24 hours to 50 or more hours of training in basic listening and helping skills. The training sessions can be spread over several weeks to several months, meeting weekly or biweekly, for 2 to 3 hours each time. The number of lay counselor trainees for such an initial training program is usually limited from a few trainees up to 25.
Gary Collins, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, has recommended that the following content areas be covered in any good training program for Christian lay counselors: basic Bible knowledge relevant to people helping ministry; knowledge of counseling skills with opportunities for practice through role playing; basic understanding of common problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, and spiritual dryness; awareness of ethics and dangers in counseling; and knowledge of the mportance and techniques of referral. Lay counselors should also know how to obtain informed consent from counselees before starting lay counseling with them. Counselees also need to be made aware of limits to confidentiality, which usually include situations where there is child or elder abuse or danger to self or others.
5. Develop programs/ ministries for using the trained lay counselors. The specific programs or ministries for increasing care through lay counselors will depend on the model(s) of lav counseling already selected. Ongoing training and supervision of lay counselors should also be provided, if possible, by a licensed mental health professional or at least by an experienced pastor or church leader who has been involved in caring and counseling ministries. Regular supervision of lay counselors, usually in small groups and one-on-one when needed, should be held on a weekly or biweekly basis (Enrichment Journal).