Is it a secret to many clients that counselors sometimes also need counseling? Although I have read and experienced enough to believe that self-care is very important to counselors, how do we identify when it is necessary or appropriate for the counselor to be counseled?
I attend church quite regularly and have a number of friends who are pastors, or who I will also refer to as counselors, though not for sake of generalizing our profession, but in an effort to make this article easier to read. In all fairness, pastors are required to take a few counseling courses as part of their degree program and are considered to be spiritual counselors. Generally, pastors are held in high esteem and are often the first person of choice by their members who need “help”. Members are encouraged to see their pastor when they have family issues, sexual challenges, emotional stress, and spiritual concerns. For example, I know of someone who had a high position in a church who was ready to divorce his wife. He later decided against it and went to see his pastor for guidance as he felt he still had unresolved issues. I suggested that he also see a counselor who may be able to add other dimensions to resolving his issues. He told me the pastor advised him not to do so because the pastor felt he was now ok. Although the couple appears to be doing ok, I still suggest they receive professional counseling.
Pastors, much like counselors, are expected to be in ‘perfect condition’ – no flaws. We all know this is far from the truth but this belief gives church-goers and clients a sense of reassurance and, I suppose, comfort. Consequently, it inflates their expectations of us. And so, when we fall or fail, it’s a big deal which may cause a great deal of frustration and confusion for those who “believe” in counselors.
Being placed on a perfection pedestal, can cause great emotional and mental distress. The counselor or pastor may feel compelled to hide or ignore personal issues that need their attention. The pastors that I know seem to believe they should not seek professional help even if they have identified issues needing attention. Apparently, it makes them feel vulnerable. It seems they feel they always have to be seen as being infallible. The unfortunate thing is that many of them really need a good counselor and possibly psychotherapy.
When the counselor identifies issues, whether physical, mental or emotional, I suggest that they take immediate proactive actions and seek counseling. They may also need to take themselves out of the picture for a while and refrain from offering or providing professional services until the issues have been resolved. If other counselors have identified such issues, they should respectfully point it out. It benefits no one to be dancing around obvious issues. In fact, that has the possibility of resulting in great harm to the counselor, his/her clients, and the profession, in general. I believe when counselors themselves receive counseling, it demonstrates confidence in the process which may provide clients with some reassurance. I was invited to someone’s house for dinner some time ago and they served a lovely meal, at least to the eyes. When everyone sat down to eat, I noticed that the hostess was not partaking of the meal herself. Miraculously, I no longer felt hungry. I refused to partake of something the owner or creator did not also noticeably participate in.
I have researched and identified some top reasons and signs indicating when it may be time for the counselor to sit in that chair.
•For understanding. How can counselors, especially beginners, understand what they are asking of clients unless they themselves have undergone their own counseling?
•To learn self-acceptance and patience. Some indications that you might require counseling are: If you find yourself becoming impatient with clients; casting judgment on them; or imposing your own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
•If you, or someone else, have identified personal issues that could possibly jeopardize your role as a counselor
•To really know yourself. Irvin Yalom believes that counselors' heightened awareness of their feelings provides "the best source of reliable data" about clients. He also suggests that the counselor receives counseling at different stages of their life.
It is likely that some people would feel comfortable knowing that their counselor is also receiving counseling. However, as a colleague recently told me, it is better for counselors to choose to have counseling than to be mandated to do so.
Pete Saunders is a counselor in training at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com