On the show today we are talking about how to know when it’s time to refer someone you are supporting.  People are looking to you for support, but you only have a limited amount of resources, skills and capacity to support people. 

As supporters or ministry leaders people often think we have the answers to some of life’s most challenging issues.  As caregivers, the expectations others put on us are just not realistic.  In this episode, I’m going to identify three types of supporters as well as identify 7 signs that indicate that it’s probably time to refer or bring in other supporters.  





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Course:  Finding Hope in Helping

Course: The Caregiver Toolbox


It doesn’t matter if you are a friend or neighbour or if you are a clinician, there are times when the support you can offer is not able to meet the needs of the person you are supporting or they may impact you personally and you need to refer people to receive support from others.  Referring to new or additional support is not a sign that you are lacking, but that you are offering the best possible care for the person seeking support.
But let’s start with identifying the 3 types of supporters 


3 Types of Supporters

  1. Professional – clinicians offering treatment, 
  2. Pastoral/coaching – Non-clinical supporters who have additional training in a specific area. 
  3. Peer – those who support others with their lived experience 


All three types of caregivers have value and contribute to a care team.  Some people think that you only refer to others when you don’t have the skills to support the person, but there are times when those with the highest level of skills bring in other support so that the person needing the support has the best outcomes possible.   Use these 7 indicators to signify that you either need to transfer support to a different person or bring in additional support to be part of the circle of care.


7 Signs that it’s time to refer


1. When you are personally triggered

I talk about this in more depth in my course, Finding Hope in Helping, a self-guided program for those who are struggling with burnout and compassion fatigue. Those in helping professions, whether it’s pastoring or counselling, volunteering in a church we often choose this work because we have experienced difficult times and have been a recipient of support and want to give back.  However, Even though we feel called and find great purpose in supporting others often how we respond to others is impacted by our past experiences.  This doesn’t disqualify you, it can be a great strength; however, awareness is key.  Having healthy boundaries is necessary so you can honour your skills and experiences, and ensure longevity in your people care work. 

When you find that your support work is reminding you of your past, or you feel compelled to help a person because of an experience you had this is a sign that it may be time to refer to a new supporter.  It’s healthy and helpful for you to connect the person seeking support with someone else. 


2. When there are case management needs

Have you ever gone out for coffee with someone thinking they just needed to vent or talk through a situation only to discover that they are facing challenges in multiple areas of life.  Finances, kids, relationships, mental health, addictions, trauma.  Finally, they take a breathe and make eye contact with you desperate for hope and help. When the person you are supporting has multiple issues going on at the same time, this is a signal that you need to bring another person into the circle of care.  

You are one person and you can’t support someone through ALL of their issues and problems.  By referring other needs to those who are best suited to support them, it offers the best care and prevents burnout and compassion fatigue in yourself.


3. When you feel like you’re researching how to support someone

We are all familiar with the overwhelmed feeling that comes when someone asks for advice or support in an area that we know very little about.  Initially, we can feel the responsibility to research and discover how to so support the person in this issue. However, I feel this is a sign that you need to refer. 

Bringing in someone else isn’t a sign that you don’t know what you are doing.  You have amazing skills and gifts.  It’s a sign that this is an opportunity that you can learn alongside this person. If you feel that the support request is outside of your area of expertise, it’s a sign that you are to refer to someone else.


4. When there are safety concerns

If there is a concern for safety this is a clear indication that the person needs further support. If someone is in imminent danger ie. actively suicidal, child abuse or domestic violence please call emergency services.  If you have safety concerns that are not imminent then contacting crisis lines, calling the person’s doctor and reporting your concerns, bringing in other supports is necessary. You cannot be responsible for people’s safety alone. 


5. When you are in a season of rest

I speak about boundaries and needing seasons of rest in the course The Caregiver Toolbox.  This is a course that offers strategies and training for lay leaders on how to care for others.   In this course, I talk about the impacts of caregiving and the need for boundaries and rest.  It is healthy for you to have times of rest and refuelling as a caregiver.  But people don’t stop having needs just because caregivers need to rest.  So when you are in a season when you are resting and refuelling you need to refer people to other supports.  

If you don’t refuel you will burn out.  You will feel the negative impacts of compassion fatigue and slowly lose your ability to empathize.  You will become numb and resentful. so, when you are in seasons of refuelling, this is a time to refer to other supporters.


6. When there are specific goals

When I described the three types of supporters, professionals, pastors and peers you can see how each one has specific skills and value to offer.  If a person comes to you but would be more appropriately served by one of the other types of supports you should refer them, or bring them into the circle of care.  You can’t be all things to all people.  But you can ask curious questions to find out what they are looking for and connect them to the right person to provide that type of support.


7. When there are chronic Activities of Daily Living needs

The phrase Activities for Daily Living(ADLs) may be new for some.  ADL’s refers to the daily needs that someone has.  This could be cooking, shopping, attending appointments, transportation etc. So often I see churches rallying around an individual to help them with these chronic issues only to become exhausted. There are many situational items when helping with meals or errands are needed, for example, after surgery, a death, or a new baby.  But when these needs become chronic or long-standing I encourage churches to look to the community for these supports. 

Often in communities, there are programs that help individuals remain living independently while getting support for their ADL’s.  The church can then do what it does best, support with belonging, purpose and hope and not get worn out trying to meet the high ADL needs. 


In Exodus 18, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law is visiting Moses in the wilderness and witnessed Moses sitting as a judge with people all around him from morning to evening. Jethro’s response when we witnessed this is

“What you are doing is not good.  You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you.  You are not able to do it alone.”
(Exodus 18:17-18 bold and italics one)


Jethro identifies that both Moses and the people would become worn out; not because the job wasn’t necessary, but because Moses was doing it alone.  Jethro described the job of hearing problems all day as being too heavy.  Moses, a man who was able to lead the Israelites to freedom and was used by God to perform miracles was not able to solve problems all day by himself.  

As caregivers, we can feel isolated in our support work.   We are tempted to meet the needs of those in front of us.  This could be our own expectations or perhaps people ask us not to tell anyone.

But serving alone and helping people all the time is not good.  It’s too heavy.  As a caregiver, it is good to refer to others regularly to transfer care to others as well as expand the circle of care for someone.


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