Counseling Referral Checklist

William Miller has put together an excellent format for pastors to ask questions of professional counselors.

1. Clients. What kinds of clients do you like to work with? With whom do you work best? Are there particular problems or age groups with whom you have special expertise?

2. Training. What degrees do you hold, and from where? What special training have you had for dealing with the kinds of clients and for problems you work with?

3. Approach. What is your general approach to therapy? What do you do with clients? (A favorite answer here is “eclectic,” which is very non-informative. It may mean that the person has no particular system for formulating and uses a collection of techniques or poorly specified methods. On the other hand, it may mean that the person is skilled in a range of alternative interventions and chooses an approach based on reasonable and valid criteria. Be sure you clearly understand and feel comfortable with where the person is coming from in their approach and goals for their counseling.)

4. Evidence. An interesting question to ask, particularly when a specific client or problem area is being discussed: What scientific evidence is there for the effectiveness of what you do? What proof is there that this approach actually helps? The individual may cite specific research or may dodge by referring vaguely to “many studies” or “my years of professional experience.”

5. Length of Treatment. How long do you usually see a client? What is the average number of sessions? (The answer ought to be different depending on the presenting problem. Some problems are relatively easy to treat while others require a somewhat longer course of treatment.)

6. Fees. How are fees determined? Is there a sliding scale? Is the person eligible for insurance payments? Does the person accept public assistance clients, whose fees are paid (usually on a more minimal scale) by the state or federal government? Is payment in advance, on monthly billing, or on time payments?

7. Credentials. Is this person certified or licensed in his or her field? By whom? If not, why not? If the person is currently working toward credentials under the supervision of another professional, clarify the extent of supervision and find out more about the supervisor.

8. Group. Is the individual part of a professional group, such as a group practice? What other professionals does he or she work with regularly?

9. Religious Views. Here we refer not to a personal statement of faith, but rather to the professional’s general views on religion and its relationship to mental health and treatment. How, in the person’s opinion, is religion involved in the processes of health and treatment? How comfortable does the person seem in talking about religious issues? How forthright are the answers?

10. Collaborations. How willing is the professional to collaborate with you? What about progress reports, consultations, and joint sessions as called for?

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11. Recommendations. Finally, it can be very interesting to ask each professional to recommend other professionals in the same field or related fields with whom he or she has had good experience in making referrals.

From William Miller’s Practical Psychology for Pastors (Englewood Heights: Prentice Hall, 1985), p. 174. Used by permission.

Copyright © 2006 Jim Burns, Used with permission.

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In response to the overwhelming needs of parents and families, Jim Burns founded HomeWord (formerly YouthBuilders) in 1985. HomeWord is a Christian organization designed to provide assistance to adults worldwide as they help young people make wise decisions and lead positive, vibrant, Christian lifestyles. Multiplication and Leverage: While absolutely committed to young people, HomeWord equips parents, grandparents and youth leaders; those who daily reach out to kids. By equipping adults, and leveraging those adults to reach kids, HomeWord reaches more young people more cost effectively.

About Jim Burns

bio-burnsJim Burns, Ph.D., is a renowned youth and family expert, an acclaimed author, and the founder of HomeWord, a radio program that reaches more than a million people across the country each day. In partnership with Azusa Pacific University, he established and now provides leadership for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family, a research and training institute offering biblically based resources for parents and youth. Under Burns, the center has become the largest provider of Christian parenting and youth seminars in the United States. His passion is communicating to adults and young people practical truths to help them live out their Christian lives. Burns is a three-time Gold Medallion Award-winning author and has written books for parents, youth workers, and students. He also speaks in person to thousands of people each year around the world. Burns and his wife, Cathy, and their daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi, live in Southern California. For more information about Burns, visit
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