As a substance abuse counselor who works with those who have co-occurring disorders, I have run across some bias among some of my colleagues and other clients. I expect a certain amount of bias, especially from clients, but hope that an open mind will prevail among my coworkers. Although I have only recently graduated with a Master of Arts in Counseling, my life experience is quite extensive. People have always been drawn to share some of their deepest and darkest secrets with me as far back as high school. I try not to be judgmental. Sometimes this is difficult for anyone, even counselors, to do especially when the person being counseled admits to being a child molester as well as a substance abuser.
When the big bomb of “child molester” hits your desk, office, your brain, how do you react? Sitting across from a client relating such a nightmare is difficult not to react to. How do counselors put aside their own beliefs and counsel such an individual? First do no harm. Would a negative reaction do harm to the client? How does a counselor – who is also a human – keep from widening their eyes at such disclosures? Fortunately for me, I have been blessed with a kind and sympathetic face, and a deep, abiding belief that everyone has the right to therapy. That is not a feeling shared by many of my colleagues. When we work in behavioral health, we have to realize that there will come a time when we will meet someone, or some populace, that we cannot work effectively with due to our own biases. Being a child molester is not a choice. Sometimes it is accidental, sometimes premeditated, never good, and always stressful to others. I have worked with child molesters and have found that the majority of them were also abused as children. We learn modeled behaviors. If what is modeled is considered bad behavior, is there fault when those behaviors continue? What about the substance abuser?
Considering the likelihood of arrested emotional development from the time use begins, even though a person is an adult in body, are they not immature adolescents in mind? What about colleagues who have little regard for the child molester? I think everyone deserves treatment and if a person is seeking out help to find out why they did such a monstrous thing, don’t we have an obligation to give them as much attention as someone who comes in for any other disorder? The next time someone comes in and drops the “CM” bomb, try not to react in disgust or horror. The clients are already usually aware that what they did is wrong or socially unacceptable; most wish they never did it, no one understands why they did it, and some are fighting a compulsion to do it again that is so strong it rivals that of any addict without their substance or drug of choice. Combine that with a substance abuse disorder, and it just might lead to a very intense situation. Our job is not to judge but to show compassion and understanding, care and concern for our clients, regardless of what they have done or who they are. If we can’t, we are obligated to refer the client to someone who can work with them without prejudice.
Linda Magnelli is a counselor who works in Phoenix as a substance abuse and mental health counselor specializing in difficult cases.