Personal Boundaries in Counseling - Part III
How should counselors respond to the
In our two earlier
installments, we highlighted the importance of counselors carefully guarding
their own personal boundaries while working with troubled people. Respecting the boundaries of those we seek
to help is equally important. Here are
a few thoughts on the topic:
- We must teach and model healthy boundaries -
grow up in dysfunctional families tend to believe that they are not
allowed to have personal boundaries. Though abused and mistreated, they do
not feel they deserve anything else. As mentioned earlier, a personal
boundary is, essentially, the line that divides me from you. Without boundaries I can't tell what's
my stuff and what's yours. Something as simple as saying "No" to
drugs and alcohol - or to sin in any form - is a boundaries issue. To do so takes a commitment to caring
about myself, while seeking to maintain a growing relationship with God.
So, teaching and modeling healthy boundaries is vital if these folks are
to begin the road to recovery.
- "Fixing" vs. "Empowering"
- Healthy recovery cannot happen until an individual is able to
establish a program of "self-care." At the Pool of Siloam, Jesus said to a crippled
man, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." (John 5:8) In a very real way, this illustrates
how we ought to minister to troubled people. The goal is not to carry (or enable) people through the rest
of their lives. We don't want to
do their part for them. Our part
is to give them the "tools" they need in order to make good
decisions. Their part is to take
those "tools" and learning to live sober and godly by applying
them to "real life" situations. Of course, imparting the tools can be a very lengthy process, which
also involves removing the many "roadblocks" to recovery, such
as denial. Still, we need to be mindful about keeping the focus on each
individual taking responsibility for their own lives, helping them to
understand fully the consequences of the decisions they make.
- Allowing People to Feel - The return of the emotional life is
a signal that people are beginning the road to recovery. Repressed
emotions, some very scary and painful, often begin to surface. These can include anger, sadness,
loneliness and fear. Christian
workers sometimes do not feel comfortable with strong feelings being
expressed by others. By dismissing, rejecting, or shutting down those
feelings, we can end up sending the same signals they received in their
dysfunctional families. Instead,
in a kind, supportive manner, we must allow them to talk their way through
those feelings, even when they don't seem very realistic or accurate
reflections of their current situations.
- Clear Expectations - Every well-run program needs
written policies, rules, and procedures. Setting appropriate boundaries begins the moment the
client walks into our facility. Each of them comes to us with a different set of needs and
different expectations about what we can do for them; what participating
our program really will be like. So, a formal orientation
procedure is essential. This is
most easily accomplished by creating an actual checklist of the rules that
apply to all program participants, along with the program's expectations
of those who are involved. And, we
must be sure that once we have informed them of our policies and
expectations of them, we must be sure to enforce the rules in a fair
- Individual Attention Given - Clients need to know that we have
their individual best in mind. The
mission is there for them, and they not are just there to give their labor
to keep the mission going. Along
with providing one-on-one counseling sessions, establishing personalized,
written goals and objectives provides clients with a sense of purpose and
direction in the recovery process. They need a set of objective measures for their own progress (or
lack of progress). Efforts
expended toward adequate needs assessment and development of
individualized written plans tells clients that they are truly important
to the program staff. This is so
important because if people in your program are feeling used or ignored,
they will certainly shut themselves down to the recovery process.
An important element of the mission's "therapeutic
environment" comes when we give residents all the dignity and respect that
they are entitled to as children of God. And even though their defenses are up and they are angry, still they are
God's children and deserving of every bit of dignity that we can give
them. Respecting their boundaries is
respecting them. Doing for them what
they should do themselves is not affording this dignity. Instead, the message we just may convey the
message that we don't believe that they can actually change.
~ * ~
Copyright 1996-2012 by Michael Liimatta. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Liimatta is the past President of Christians in RecoveryŽ
and currently serves on its Advisory Counsel. He is a Social Entrepreneur, Consultant
to Nonprofit Organizations with OneAccord, Chief Academic Officer at City Vision College
and has been involved with drug and alcohol counseling and recovery education for 30 years.
Visit his web site
This copyrighted series originally
appeared in RESCUE Magazine, published by the Association of Gospel
Rescue Missions, October 2001, December 2001, and February 2002 issues.
Reprinting without permission is prohibited.