Personal Boundaries in Counseling - Part I
What do you mean when you say that program
staff members should practice "professional distance"?
or later, every rescue mission worker will face the fact that they are not able
to help everyone who becomes involved with their program. Recovery programs can have a very high
turnover rate among their residents. Among rescue mission workers, some have reacted to this situation by
becoming discouraged, "burned out," or even skeptical about the
chances of any homeless addict "making it."
- Why Professional Distance is Needed
when people first hear the term "professional distance", they
think it means are to be cold, unloving and uninvolved with those we
counsel. Actually, it is just the
opposite! Over involvement on an
emotional level causes counselors to lose their objectivity. They cannot exercise proper judgment in
their dealings with those with whom they are seeking to help. Instead, counselors can practice
favoritism toward some residents and even end up feeling rejected by them
when they don't respond favorably to their attempts to help them.
Mostly, a lack of professional distance is manifested when workers have an
improper sense of responsibility for the actions and decisions of their
clients. And, it is important to
remember that, since so many of those we work with at rescue missions have
a background of addiction and codependency, they know how to make others
feel guilty about not "taking care of them."
Mission workers must be committed to being part of the solution and not a
part of the problem. Their own
unresolved issues will inevitably hinder their ability to minister
effectively to others.
- Professional Distance is All About Boundaries -
To be a
successful counselor in a rescue mission setting, an individual needs good
personal boundaries. This means
allowing residents to be responsible for their own decisions and actions -
and allowing them to experience the consequences fully. My job is not to fix you. My job is to
share what I found out and you can either take it or leave it. Whatever
you do with what I'm sharing with you is your choice. I'm not going to own
any of that for myself. It's being
able to leave residents and their problems at the mission when we go home
- Professional Distance Means Knowing When to "Let
Go" - In over twenty years of ministry to troubled
people, I have found that there are basically just two reasons:
||They are not a ready for the help we have to offer
||They have problems we are not equipped to handle
At times, people may have more problems than a mission's facility and
staff is equipped to handle. This can
be especially true when we encounter individuals with severe mental problems. For them, the most loving direction is
certainly a good referral to a place where the help they need can be
found. So, staff members need to know;
a) what resources are available in-house, and b) resources are available to meet
residents' needs in the community outside of the rescue mission.
On the other hand, there are people who simply are not ready for what
we have to offer. With mission program
participants this usually shows up in the form of resistance. One manifestation of resistance is a refusal
to abide by expectations and rules to which they initially agreed when they
first entered your facility or program. Using alcohol and/or drugs while in the program is another form of
resistance. Keeping such people around
can be both bad for them and unfair to those who do have a sincere desire for a
Certainly, troubled people need a lot of love and compassion. Yet on the other hand, like Jesus, rescue
mission staff members do need, at times, to confront people who are in sin and
denial. Truth is always uncomfortable
to the hard-hearted. People continue to
abuse alcohol and drugs (and persist in dysfunctional behaviors) as long as
they feel the benefits outweigh the costs. While it can be extremely difficult to dismiss certain people from a
program, we really are doing what is best for them. For those in denial about their problems, consequences can be
their salvation! People only recover
from addiction when they learn to take responsibility (with God's help) for
their own actions and lives. We cannot
do this for them!
Responsibilities of the
Rescue Mission Counselor
Take the time to determine the real needs of program
||Help program participants to identify these needs
Help program participants overcome denial if they
have and alcohol or drug problem.
||Identify resources in the community that meet needs
for program participants that may not be addressed at the program (e. g. legal
aid, medical services, vocational training, and self help groups)
||Help program participants to accurately evaluate
their options and to see progress - establish "benchmarks" for
Help program participants to develop new personal
and social resources that will contribute to a positive life style.
||Help program participants access needed resources
that have been identified for themselves.
||Help program participants develop strategies for
handling problems which must be addressed by the individual rather than
agencies. We succeed when we are no
longer needed. We ought never to
institutionalize ("missionize") people.
a healthy godly lifestyle. Be an example in word and
deed of the principles you hope the program participants to
||Help the program participants to learn to walk with
the Lord on his own; listening to his conscience, personal prayer and Bible
resources by Michael Liimatta see:
He has also contributed
to the Christian Recovery
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.
~ * ~
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