Dangers in Counseling
We are our brother's keeper. Not only does the parable of the Good Samaritan tell us so in Luke 10:30, but the Bible is a reference book on caring. We are to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2,5), bear the infirmities of the weak (Rom. 15:1), and weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15). Yet in the midst of our caring, we must be aware of ourselves and the position in which we put ourselves by having that concern.
Those of our number who are troubled, lonely, or depressed and who come to us for counsel are vulnerable. Any professional counselor is trained to respect that fact. And if there is a difference in gender involved, it is the wise care giver or friend who will be cautious.
Anyone who becomes a confidant to a person of the opposite sex must be aware of the dangers. Dangerous to be "a friend" to someone in trouble? Yes. There are too many documented cases of sexual involvement and the resultant broken marriages which grew from what started out as innocent friendships. The tone of the relationship can change from casual to intimate at the point of the sharing of a personal problem with which one of the parties is struggling.
How Vulnerable Is the Helper?
At times, we who would reach out to help a friend over estimate our strength and self-control. Not only is the perplexed friend at risk of being vulnerable, but so is the helper. The need to be needed is basic. It fulfills us. We may be overwhelmed by the appreciation shown us for our understanding and complimented by the trust our friend has in us. A bond can easily develop. There may be a sense of security in this new relationship we share.
Though we may recognize the dangers involved in an alliance for assistance, we can allow ourselves to feel obligated. Thoughts such as the following may haunt us: "He/She needs me - I wouldn't be a good Christian if I desert him/her," or "If I reject this person, it may be the last straw for him/her and I'd be responsible."
The Nature of the Problem
All too often people are innocently pulled into relationships, not suspecting that the temptations can pull them under. Like a whirlpool that traps them unexpectedly, their resolve to resist temptation can be swept away before they are even aware that it is gone.
Mark (not his real name) worked in a store with an attractive married woman. She began to talk to him about her problems at home. Her husband drank too much and her life was miserable. He sympathized. She confided and he listened, giving her the understanding she was not getting at home. He told his roommate about her terrible plight. He warned him not to get too close to the situation. Mark agreed and said it would never happen. It was just not that kind of relationship. The friendship grew. The roommate warned more vehemently. By now Mark was miserable. He knew this was a relationship that was becoming dangerous. He even said he knew that it would be wrong and that he was going to stay away from her. The attempt to leave her and her problems alone lasted only days. The next development that his roommate heard about was the first time Mark spent the night with her. Devastated by his fellow Christian's adulterous act, his roommate moved out. Mark was not inspired to leave the woman who was now his lover.
So what is the answer to what can become a problem leading to sin? The solution is probably as simple as using common sense and a dose of assertiveness.
Mark knew when the tenor of his relationship with his female friend at work was changing. All of us can feel it when temptation is there. Joseph knew when to leave his cloak in the hands of Potiphar's wife and run away from her as fast as he could. The price he paid for the right decision was high. But he retained his honor and the Lord rewarded him. There are still sacrifices that must be made for doing that which is right.
Being worried about hurting the feelings of your friend or offending them may block your appropriate responses. Be aware that even if you are the only one who feels uncomfortable, your feelings count. You would be naive to overlook those feelings. You have spent years in Bible study trying to train your conscience. Don't turn it off now when it strives to protect you. You can still be kind, but with that kindness you must also be assertive. Responses such as the following are completely appropriate:
"I am no longer comfortable with this. . ."
"You need more help than I can give; you need to talk to one of the elders (older church member, see a counselor)
who is more equipped to help you."
"I have to be honest with you, I feel like I'm becoming too emotionally involved with your problems. I need to step back."
If your friendship with someone of the opposite sex has reached the realm of over-involvement, you need to be keenly aware of that. Many times the fact that you may have to deal with that person at work or at school or at church places the burden on you to be watchful. Innocent comments to or routine involvement with your friend may now take on different connotations than they once did. Now everything is seen through different eyes and may be distorted in importance in your friend's mind.
Wisdom would lead you to be cautious. It would be to your advantage to consider the following:
1. Don't be alone with your friend. This can be misconstrued by your friend as well as others. It puts you in jeopardy of being misunderstood. It leaves you open to accusation for which you have no defense because you have no witnesses.
2. Don't allow your space to be violated. Your home is your space. Your car is your space. The area around your person (most say, a radius of two feet) is your space. If you are uncomfortable admitting someone into any of those areas, say so. It may take courage, but steel yourself and speak up. If someone comes to your home and you are not comfortable inviting them inside, either say so or step outside with them and carry on a brief conversation there. It is a public area. They will feel that and qet the idea. You are not being rude, you are simply maintaining your comfort level.
3. Don't make that person a part of your life to any greater extent (and don't be afraid to pull back your involvement when something inside, call it conscience if you will, tells you to do so). Again we're talking comfort level. There will be shared activities that may not be avoided at work, school or church, but scheduling activities in which your friend is involved may be asking for too much interaction. Certain invitations need to be kindly rejected. Yes, you risk hurting that friend's feelings. But the greater risk may be more familiarity and an increased sense of intimacy between you and the friend you are trying to distance.
4. Do stay busy with other people and other activities and say that you're busy. Absence may be just the thing needed to cool the fires or extinguish the spark before the flames erupt. You may in this manner encourage your troubled friend to get help that is appropriate. Taking away the prop that you have provided will often force a person to stand on his or her own or to lean more heavily toward a more appropriate helper.
Don't beat yourself up for caring. We must love one another. It is required by God. The scriptural references in a concordance under the word "love" fill the page. In each of our lives there are opportunities after opportunities for helping. There are friends in various stages of development physically, spiritually and emotionally who need our understanding. All we have to keep in mind is that we do not do anything in a vacuum. There are factors to consider in any relationship we undertake.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 18, pp. 560-561