When it comes to being in a religious leadership position, clergy or other roles we are often called upon to help members of the folk, congregation, church or community. While not all of us are skilled and trained in counseling and mental health, I wanted to talk about what makes a successfully pastoral counseling encounter. This is geared toward those helping but could just as easily be looked upon by others in terms of what to expect when asking for help.
First: Be open about your abilities and limitations. Some of us are trained in counseling, others aren't but we can all listen, offer spiritual guidance and help find needed resources.
Second: Be open about confidentiality and it's limits. With few exception, I won't share what I'm told without permission. Different areas give us different amounts of legal protection and for the most part I'd need a subpoena before I'd violate trust and even then not without a fight. That being said it's fairly universal to my understanding that it is required or at least allowed that if someone is in danger, especially children or the elderly we have a duty to report. If I'm helping you and you or someone else will hurt you, I'm going to do something to protect you. If you are going to hurt someone else, I will protect them from you. When the police or ambulance are at the door, it's too late to start talking about limits to confidentiality.
Third: Listen. While being trained for a counseling job, I was told something that sticks with me years later. If you are the one talking, you are the one getting therapy.
Overall be gracious, don't judge or take sides. Asking for help involves being vulnerable often when it's the hardest to be. It involves openness, honesty, caring, and informed consent.