The Counselor’s Sexuality

Whenever two people work closely together towards a common goal, feelings of warmth can often arise between them. Sexual attraction between counselor and client has been called the “problem pastors don’t talk about.” Intimate details which would never be discussed between a man and a woman (not married to each other) can be discussed in a counseling session. This can be sexually arousing to both the counselor and the client. The potential for immorality tends to be greater if the client is attractive or tends to be seductive, and the counselor does not have his own sexual needs satisfied elsewhere. Ministries, effectiveness and reputations have been destroyed over this issue.

  1. Spiritual protection: Meditation on the Word of God, prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit are all crucially important. In addition, the counselor must watch what he does with his mind. Focus on purity, truth and honor. Don’t make the mistake that, “this sort of thing can’t happen to me.”
  2. Awareness of danger signals: There are several clues that can indicate a potential shift from counseling professional to dangerous intimacy:
    1. Communication of subtle messages of a more intimate quality (smiles, raising an eyebrow, physical touches).
    2. Desire of both persons to maintain the relationship
    3. Eagerness (especially by the counselee) to divulge details of sexual experiences or fantasies.
    4. The counselor permitting himself to be manipulated by the counselee.
    5. The counselor’s recognition that he needs to see the counselee (which is a sign of going under).
    6. Increasing frustrations in the counselor’s own marriage.
    7. The lengthening of times and frequency of sessions, sometimes supplemented by phone calls.
  3. Limit setting: Once detected, the counselor can stop the sessions, make a referral, or possibly discuss these feelings with the client. Before any of this, it is best to set clear limits:
    1. Prescribe the frequency and length of sessions.
    2. Refuse to engage in long phone conversations.
    3. Discourage lengthy discussion of sexual topics.
    4. Avoid physical contact.
    5. Meet in a place, and seat yourself in a way which discourages wandering eyes or an opportunity for personal intimacy.
  4. Examining attitudes: There is nothing to be gained by denying your sexual feelings. They are quite common, but can be controlled. Remember:
    1. Social consequences: Ruined marriage, reputation, effectiveness.
    2. Professional image: This will never help your counselee, and will never advance the counselor’s professional work.
    3. Theological truth: This is sin and must be avoided, and we are responsible for our own behavior.
  5. Support group protection: A trusted confidant, accountability.
    1. Spouse: Often this is missed do to embarrassment or fear. There is also support that if a client becomes a threat to one’s marriage, there were underlying problems in the marriage long before the client came along.
    2. Trusted friend: Accountability.
    3. The client? Some may interpret this as an invitation, others may talk about this outside of the sessions which could have disastrous results.

The Counselor’s Burnout

We would think that the field of counseling would offer a lifetime of satisfaction and vocational fulfilment. But it is hard work that is emotionally draining and very stressful. Contributing to this are the feelings of futility, powerlessness, fatigue, cynicism, apathy, irritability and frustration. To help prevent burnout, we can utilize these ideas:

  1. Spiritual strength that comes from regular periods of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures.
  2. Support from a few others who accept us for who we are and not what we do. We all need a person to whom we can cry if we need to, a person who we can trust.
  3. Solitude: take time off from the demands of people. Jesus did.
  4. Share the load by training a few capable leaders to be sensitive lay counselors and burden bearers.

If you are burned out already, take the phone off the hook and get away for a time of re-evaluation. Consider your leisure activities. How can you lighten your load and add self-fulfillment and relaxation? We are beings who need both work and rest and play. Otherwise life will become boring and routine.

Homework in Counseling

Each person has a special way of learning. Some people learn best by hearing (listening to the words of others), some people learn best by seeing (reading books, watching movies, looking at diagrams), while still others learn best by doing (completing projects, participating in role plays, or acting out their feelings).

One session in your office is separated by 167 other hours filled with other activities. Homework assignments are essential to enabling people to extend their learning beyond the counseling sessions and permit seeing and doing in addition to hearing. The word “homework” usually sends a red flag so “task agreement” might be a better term for the client to gain addition information, develop and practice new skills, eliminate harmful behavior, or test what he has learned in counseling.

Some assignments can be: giving one compliment to your wife each day, read a chapter a day in the Bible, spend time with a specific relative, keeping a record of time-use, or making a list of one’s values and priorities. There are basically five types of homework task agreements:

  1. Testing: questionnaires, sentence completion forms, standardized tests, writing assignments, listing life goals; then brought in for discussion.
  2. Discussion and study guides: Sometime these appear in the appendixes of books, but entire volumes have been written to guide home or small group discussions.
  3. Behavior assignments: The person can be encouraged to change their actions in small and important ways between sessions: saying “thank you,” giving periodic compliments, not complaining about an annoying practice by your spouse, getting to work on time.
  4. Reading: Books and articles contain helpful information which can supplement the counseling sessions. There is the danger that the counselee might misinterpret the information or pull it out of context. It is almost impossible to screen all the resources available.
  5. Recordings: Music therapy (the use of music to help people with their problems) is at least as old as David and Saul.

The Counselor’s Vulnerability

Not every client will be honest and cooperative, and some will be deceptive and manipulative and have a desire to frustrate the counselor. There are two major ways people will attempt to frustrate the counselor:

  1. Manipulation: Some people are masters of getting their own way by controlling others. Sessions might lengthen and become more frequent; one counselor even began to running errands, making phone calls and giving small loans for the counselee, who consistently expressed gratitude and mournfully asked for more. These people have made manipulation a way of life. The counselor must ask, “Am I being manipulated?” “Am I going beyond my responsibilities as a counselor?” “What does the counselee expect from me, or really want?” One must deal with the manipulation and expect their denial of it, then restructure the counseling in a way that prevents this manipulation and exploitation of the counselor in the future.
  2. Resistance: Many people want quick relief, and when they discover it will take time and commitment on their part, they begin to resist. Resistance is a problem that often requires in-depth professional counseling. When a counselor begins to work, a client’s psychological defences are threatened and this leads to anger, anxiety and non-cooperation. When clients are fairly well-adjusted, this resistance can be discussed gently and openly. The client needs to know that he (not the counselor) is ultimately responsible for his improvement.

Crisis Intervention

There are several goals in crisis counseling:

  1. To help the person cope effectively with the crisis situation to his usual level of functioning.
  2. To decrease anxiety, apprehension and other insecurities that may persist after the crisis has passed.
  3. To teach crisis-solving techniques so the person is better prepared to anticipate and deal with future crises.
  4. To consider biblical teachings about crises so the person learns from the crisis and grows as a result.

The counselor can make a difference during a crisis in several ways:

  1. Make contact: People in a crisis don’t always seek a counselor, so more often we must go to them to show support, warmth, understanding and genuine interest. The person make drift into daydreaming, and eye contact can bring them back to reality. Touching can give reassurance, but one must be cautioned that a hug or hand holding can be interpreted with sexual overtones. Remember to ask about your own motivation for touching. Is it something that can give comfort to your counselee in their crisis?
  2. Reduce anxiety: The counselor’s calm, relaxed manner can help reduce anxiety in the client, especially when the calmness is accompanied by reassurance. Remind the client that there ARE ways to deal with this situation. State your approval of something done effectively. Encourage taking deep breaths, relaxing of muscles, using comforting verses from the Bible as well.
  3. Focus on issues: There are at times a mass of confusing facts and one can be overwhelmed. Which are the real problems and the ones on which need to be worked on first. Focus on the present and not on the possibilities of the future.
  4. Evaluate available resources:
    1. The counselor’s willing to help.
    2. The spiritual resources we have in Christ.
    3. The client’s personal resources: Intellect, skills, past experiences, motivation.
    4. Interpersonal resources: Friends, family.
    5. Tangible help: Medical, legal, psychological, financial and community.
  5. Plan intervention: Deciding on a course of action is very helpful, “What do we do now?” How realistic is the plan? What should be done first? Our goal is not to put more pressure on the client to make these decisions, but also we don’t want them to become dependent on someone else to solve the problem.
  6. Encourage action: It is possible to decide on the plan and be afraid to move out in faith to get it all going. Taking action involves some risk. There is the possibility of failure or later regret. There are some crises that will never be resolved even with action taken: death, terminal illness, failure to get the promotion. They will need help to face the situation honestly and adjust to the reality of it.
  7. Instill hope: This can bring relief from the suffering. It is based on the belief that things will be better in the future. The Christian counselor does this through:
    1. Sharing of Scriptural truth, stimulating faith in God.
    2. Help them to examine their self-defeating logic, like “Ill never get better” and “Nothing can get worse.” These should be gently challenged.
    3. You can get the counselee moving and doing something, even if it is minimal activity can bring hope in the steps toward the goal.
  8. Environmental intervention: Encouraging others to pray, give money or supplies, give practical help or otherwise assist. The client might feel embarrassed by the attention, or threatened by the implication that they need help. They might even become angry with the counselor.
  9. Follow-up: Crisis counseling in short-lived. The time moves on, and we wonder if anything has been learned? Will the next crisis be handled effectively? Is the person getting along satisfactorily?