Issues of Personal Boundaries in Counseling - Part I I
How much of my own personal struggles should I share with counselees?
I've been asked how the concept of "professional distance" relates to sharing with clients how God has worked in our own lives. Some therapists are trained to avoid "inserting their own personalities" into the counseling process by not sharing anything about themselves with counselees. It is possible, though, to strike a balance between over-involvement and being so objective that those we work with never see our "human" side.
A. The benefits of "self-revelation" in the counseling process - There are many good reasons to share our own spiritual journeys with those we seek to help, especially if we ourselves have overcome an addiction to drugs and alcohol.
ˇ Knowing we've done many of the same things can help clients to trust us more. Knowing we've struggled with some of the same issues, helps them feel that we are able to understand what they are experiencing in the early days of sobriety. Hearing our stories can convey hope that helps them believe that they, too, can overcome the obstacles they face and find truly satisfying, sober lives.
ˇ Knowing that we struggle currently with a number of issues, too, can also be helpful. Many newly sober people feel so "terminally unique" that somehow their problems are so bad they can't change. This results in a very discouraging type of shame. So, there's a lot to be gained when they understand that they are not alone in their struggles and that others (ourselves included) have some of the same feelings and have made the same mistakes, and still end up doing many things we regret.
Thoughtful self-revelation is an important tool for the Christian counselor. The Bible encourages us to "comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV) When we work with wounded people, there's much to be gained by letting them see us as "fellow travelers" who are walking the road to recovery with them.
B. A few words of caution
- The rescue mission long-term residential program creates a somewhat
unique counseling environment with some special pitfalls. Not only do people actually live in the
facilities where the staff members work, they also remain in the programs for a
longer period of time -- sometimes a year or more. This can allow us to get to know clients better and to develop
more significant relationships with them. On the "plus" side, this is allows us to work with them on a
deeper level and can potentially create an environment for some powerful
discipling and mentoring. On the other
hand, this environment has some unique dangers where a proper understanding of
"professional distance" - maintaining proper personal boundaries - is
Working with hurting people can be a very rewarding endeavor. We grow in our own faith as we see God work in their lives. But, anyone who works in this field must have their own support network firmly in place in order to avoid these pitfalls
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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.
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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