Pastoral Counseling Boundaries

According to Parent (2005) the church has been held to a high standard of ethical decision-making and is governed by laws against anyone who intends to cause harm intentionally. Following the ACA code of ethics (2005) the responsibility of the counselor is to not harm the client, consider his or her welfare, and respect the counselee. Even the AACC Code of Ethics (2004) affirmed that the counselee was not to be harmed.

When it came to boundaries Stone et al., (2004) wrote a pastor’s identity can be tainted or destroyed when boundaries are crossed and unethical decisions are made. Not only does the pastor have to deal with these issues but also it can create shockwaves through the family of the pastor, the church, and the local community along with the greater international community of believers. This study explores the idea that the pastor is not only spiritual leader but also a human being. It helps to make the reader aware of prevention and clarity in the area of ethics. Clergy may serve in a non-profit location but is still not above the law. Malpractice has plagued the church as it has the private sector.

Fain (2011) pointed out that clergy have been accused of malpractice and many pastoral counselors have been called to court for negligence or having had caused harm to others. Not only has it destroyed any practice but it has destroyed entire Christian communities as well. In the article Fain provided a number of suggestions to keep pastoral counseling liability to a minimum.

According to Banks (2002) discipline has been a major topic crossing some boundaries with giving parental advice. Although childhood discipline is an important issue for parents, it is seldom emphasized. Behavior problems are relatively common but frequently under-recognized even by physicians. Opportunities to counsel parents about safe, effective methods of discipline are therefore missed. Discipline should be instructive and age-appropriate and should include positive reinforcement for good behavior. Punishment is only one aspect of discipline and in order to be effective it must be prompt, consistent, and fair. Time-out is frequently used to correct younger children, but because it is often enforced improperly it loses its effectiveness. Corporal punishment is a controversial but common form of discipline that is less effective than some other types of punishment. Its use is linked to child and spouse abuse, as well as to future substance use, violent crime, poor self-esteem, and depression. Despite the possible negative effects of corporal punishment, it is still widely accepted in our society.


American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). (2004). AACC code of ethics: The Y2004 final code. Retrieved from

American Counseling Association (ACA). (2005). Code of ethics and standards of practice (Rev. ed.) Alexandria, VA. Retrieved from

Banks, J. B. (2002). American family physician: childhood discipline: challenges for clinicians and parents. American Family Physician. 66(8), 1447-1453. Retrieved from

Fain, C. F. (2011). Minimizing liability for church-related counseling services: clergy malpractice and first amendment religion clauses. Akron Law Review, 44(1), 221-260. Retrieved from

Parent, M. S. (2006). Boundaries and roles in ministry counseling. American Journal of Pastoral Counseling, 8(2), 1-25. doi: 10.1300/J062v08n0201

Stone, H. W., Cross, D. R., Purvis, K. B., & Young, M. J. (2004). A study of church members during times of crisis. Pastoral Psychology, 52(5), 405-421. doi: 0031-2789/04/0500-0405/0 C


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