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Traps to Avoid in Chaplaincy

First and foremost, you must be grounded in scripture and understand that the Bible was written by God through men, so that every word carries weight. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2 Timothy 3:16) Counseling anyone without being doctrinally sound is the first mistake of Christians in counseling situations.

Chaplains may have experience in one aspect of counseling care, but are inexperienced in others, so you need to know your limitations. [1] My personal plan, if I choose to continue perusing Chaplaincy, would include:

Being aware of my limitations

I have limited experience with counseling, so I should expect to refer people to professionals. I would only counsel those I felt I could help in a realistic and responsible way. This would also alleviate any possible compassion fatigue. It would be almost like handing off the baton in a race. Where my knowledge, skill and ability left off, another more experienced professional can take it and run with it.

Being wary of manipulation

People, by their sinful nature, prefer to manipulate things to go in their favor. This is especially true in people with addiction problems. Everyone wants to not only have their thoughts heard, but also justified. If I feel I’m being manipulated, I will refer the person to someone better equipped to care for a counselee demonstrating this behavior.

Avoid transference and counter-transference

In layman’s terms, transference is the thought that the counselor reminds the counselee of someone that was influential in their life. The counselee begins transferring thoughts concerning a father, an uncle, or teacher from their past to you and your relationship with your counselee.

Counter-transference is when the opposite happens and you begin relating to your counselee as you would your sister, friend, favorite or least favorite cousin. In either situation, you lose track of reality and transfer your thoughts and ideas of individuals from your past or present to the individual you are in the counseling session with. This can skew your perception and should be avoided. I would refer this person to another counselor.

Financial compensation

I wouldn’t expect any, unless employed by a facility like a hospital, nursing home, police department, etc. where my specific paid position is Chaplain.

Pride in counseling

Understanding how harmful pride is and that I can’t fix everything will be the key. I would refer anyone that wasn’t showing progress. If pride is trying to force me to continue counseling the person, I would just need to step back, realize that my pride is getting in the way, and refer the person to someone with more experience.

Relational pitfalls

Counseling sessions can, if permitted, become intimate. This must be avoided at all cost, because it not only affects the counselor and the counselee, but their families, friends, relatives and potentially their Christian testimony. Per Benson, if I perceive the warning signs listed below, I will refer the counselee to another counselor. [2]

Counselee to counselor

· Flattery, amorous behavior, obsession with discussing sexual topics, expressing loneliness, demonstrating dependence, prolonged physical touch and gift giving.

Counselor to counselee

· Thinking of the counselee between sessions, likening the counselee to your spouse, having fantasies about the counselee, considering the counselee special, justifying prolonged contact both physical and extending sessions and the desire to share your own personal problems with your counselee. Remember Matthew 5:28, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Counseling as part of Chaplaincy can be rewarding and gratifying. Helping individuals is always rewarding, but it must be done properly and with the utmost integrity. When in doubt, refer the counselee to a more experienced counselor.


[1] Daniel Moore, Lesson 13 - Avoiding Traps, (Master of the Chaplaincy Studies, 2018).

[2] M. Wayne Benson, "Navigating Pastoral Counseling Pitfalls," Enrichment Journal, last modified 2018,

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