At Woodland, we believe that part of being the church is addressing mental health. Mental health is a complex issue, with overlapping factors of biology, relationships, spirituality and more. Each component is important, and we see lay counseling as one part we can play in contributing to health and healing.
Our lay counselors are a group of trained volunteers under the supervision of professional mental health providers. Usually these are people who are gifted with encouragement, shepherding and have the ability to help people grow. Each lay counselor goes through a rigorous nine month training program to equip them with various therapy techniques and tools for an integrated faith approach. After completing the program, they are supervised by Trista Weber, Woodland’s Care Coordinator and Rob Kistler, Woodland’s Care Pastor, both licensed therapists.
This year was a first for our lay counseling program as we expanded to involve out-of-state students. The current class of 14 includes students from Oregon, North Carolina, Missouri, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Maybe someday our lay counselors will even include international members!
Maggie Hackenberger is a student who joined in from Pennsylvania—one of the perks of Zoom! She says about the course, “I love that the approaches we have learned about are based in the most current research available and have a strong scientific background but there is a focus on the healing Jesus can provide as well. Honestly, the class itself has been worth it for the knowledge I have gained to apply in my own life! ”
While there is a theological perspective underneath the counseling, it is not exclusively “Christian” counseling, and clients who come don’t need to be Christians. Lay counselors meet people where they are at, and work within their specific circumstances. The philosophy is, “let’s not exclude people just because we’re a church.”
Peer counseling offers a big benefit that professional counseling does not have, in that the session fee is $10, and if that is not feasible, a sliding scale is available. This money does not go to the volunteer lay counselors, but into Woodland’s general fund. For people who cannot afford professional therapy, this provides an opportunity to receive support that otherwise would not be accessible.
Clients know that the person across from them is only there because they care. Rob Kistler says, “What’s super beautiful is these lay counselors just want to love people and help people. The clients recognize that, and there’s something more open in that connection, because the relationship is founded on a person who cares.”
Maggie echoes this: “For people interested in receiving lay counseling, please know that we respect the courage that entering into any kind of counseling takes. It is awesome that you are considering this step for yourself! We care deeply about you and your journey.”
One client affirmed that in a testimony about their experience, “My counselor made me feel safe and listened to all of my questions and concerns without judgement. We got right down to the areas of growth that I wanted to do work in, and throughout our time together I have experienced a renewed connection with the Lord. I was able to finally identify and do business with some childhood trauma and this new understanding has freed me to be the person whom God created me to be.”
We are thankful for the hard work our lay counselors put in, and for their heart to come alongside people.
If you are interested in receiving counseling, you can learn more on our website here.