Dual Relationships: Pastoral Counseling, Term Paper Example
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Statement of Issues
In a consistent and inevitable irony, the elements within pastoral counseling that render it highly desirable for persons in need generate potential conflicts, and in arenas both ethical and clinical. Essentially, the pastor or spiritual presence turned to is a source of stability and guidance in an individual’s life, and this typically evolves over years of acquaintance and interaction. Consequently, relationships between the pastor and the individual develop, or may be in place before the precisely pastoral relationship begins; friendships are forged as intimacy deepens, and/or the parishioner simply knows the pastor through shared living in the community. Other, more direct connections may be in place as well, of familial or employer/employee kinds. In any event, however, the reality is that some form of relationship exists, and this must inherently affect any counseling procedure undertaken.
Not unexpectedly, there are schools of thought that incline towards viewing this potentially negative factor as beneficial. It is certainly arguable that the better understanding of an individual’s complete life would go to better enabling the pastor to provide specific and valuable guidance. Conversely, it cannot be ignored that the pastor, as a human being, is subject to the human frailties of bias and affection; the same character of the individual that has drawn the pastor to both esteem and desire to help them may then cloud judgment, and render objective counseling difficult to provide. In the following, a variety of opinions regarding these challenging points will be examined, with a focus on certain, specific issues which may arise from such dual relationship scenarios. Exploring these points will allow for an assessment of how dual relationships may best be addressed in pastoral counseling, with an emphasis on the fact that there is an inevitability to these relationships. Simply, as long as people turn to pastors as known and trusted presences in their lives, so too will they continually seek them out when counseling is needed.
In “Dual Relationships in Pastoral Counseling: Asset or Liability?”. Authors Montgomery and Debell present an extraordinarily even approach to the dilemma of the subject. Upon defining that the pastoral presence is traditionally enhanced, if not mandated by, a commitment to personal knowledge of the parishioner, and that it is established that the pastor remains the most commonly sought figure for most people when difficulties in their lives arise, they move on to aver that most pastors willingly comply with ethical proscriptions regarding the issue. That is to say, based on the authors’ research, the majority of pastors do not wish to enter into counseling relationships with persons wherein a dual relationship is present (Montgomery, Debell, 1997, p. 30). They are acutely aware that such circumstances bring with them ethical conflicts, and they recognize that the client’s needs, which are the basis for the counseling procedure, are vulnerable when such conflicts exist.
Interestingly, there is something of a qualifier here, for Montgomery and Debell maintain that the compliance of such pastors goes to an acknowledgment of the need for caution on their parts, rather than any, overt refusal to enter into dual relationship counseling. This indicates an important awareness that some form of dual relationship is intrinsically within the pastor/client connection. Certain situations, such as when sexual behavior is a factor in the relationship, emphatically demand an ethical abstention from pastoral counseling, and few pastors equivocate regarding such extremes of intimacy as being necessarily destructive to a counseling process. Unfortunately, virtually every other potential circumstance is more ambiguous, and for more than one reason.
One significant component in the ethical dilemma of pastoral counseling is that the exact nature of the pastor’s role itself is subject to dispute, and it is crucial that the authors address this. Plainly, different pastors view their obligations and responsibilities to their parishioners differently. For some, the job is to be rigorously religious in application; they are there only to provide purely spiritual guidance, which then translates to forms of counseling completely in accord with the spiritual tenets of the faith. Other pastors, particularly in more modern times, take a more secular point of view, and feel that the church, and the member of it, is better served by a an approach to that member’s life beyond worship. The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), as interpreted by Montgomery and Bell, corroborates this viewpoint, in that it promotes an idea of pastoral counseling ethics very much akin to those of secular counseling (p. 33). Ongoing relationships are ethically dubious, at best, where counseling is concerned, and the direct affiliations of employment or student/teacher relationships more clearly transgress proper ethics. Essentially, the AAPC code takes no more strident a stance in regard to pastors and counseling than to assert that any situation wherein the integrity and professionalism of the counseling is compromised is an ethical violation, and to be avoided.
The question arises, then: how is a pastor to serve his congregation in a dutiful and caring manner, yet remain distant enough to provide individual counseling which is in no danger of being tainted by poor ethics? As noted earlier, the answers are diverse, and typically contrary. In this article, the authors point to several authorities on the subject who, while acknowledging the difficulties of it, nonetheless believe that the pastor’s relationships with the congregation promote, rather than discourage, effective counseling. The impetus is clear; the more a pastor can understand the full life of the client, the more invested he is as a caring advocate, and the more, useful information he has, to counsel effectively. Then, and obviously, intimacy of some kind is an inherent result of living within a community served by a single pastor, or a community which has evolved around a single church. Awareness of the many and varied activities of the populace becomes known to all, including the pastor, and this exponential form of familiarity creates bonds of personal knowledge which must be helpful to the counselor.
This perception of the dual relationship as potentially advantageous is very much related to the circumstances of counseling in the military, which has long struggled with ethical issues of the subject. Military bases are tightly-knit, small communities; everyone shops at the same store, and everyone’s children go to the same school. Moreover, the counselor is virtually always of a higher rank than the client, which adds the further ethical dimension of the client’s freedom of expression. The military scenario, in fact, appears to provide a more structured template of the pastoral circumstances; in the military, dual relationships are both omnipresent and actually necessary, as well as stratified, yet counseling is equally demanded. As ostensibly problematic as this must be, the reality is that all the evidence points to the counseling processes in the armed services as unhampered by dual relationship drawbacks (Zur, Gonzalez, 2002, p. 317). What is most compelling in this illustration is that it appears this success rate is largely due to military initiatives regarding the issue. That is to say, the inherently intimate nature of military life, along with the structure of it, has made the potential dilemmas of dual relationships in counseling a clearly prominent issue, and one which the military approaches in a singularly direct manner. As the ethics are vulnerable to a number of blatant conflicts, so too has a fully proactive approach been necessary.
Nonetheless, the arguments affirming that dual relationships are essentially and intrinsically dangerous are equally urgent and rational. Montgomery and Debell cite Richard L. Krebs, a clinical psychologist who later became a Protestant minister. Based on his extensive experience, Krebs adamantly maintains that actual, long-term counseling is inappropriate as practiced by pastors. Aside from the enormous issues of transference, confusion of roles, and the misplacement of the pastor’s true priorities, Krebs also, and interestingly, refers to the more prosaic component of the client’s seeking an inexpensive or free form of professional counseling. (p. 35). It appears that Krebs’s viewpoints typify the worst of what may occur in counseling wherein the dual relationship is present, as he also seems rather embittered by his experiences. This latter reaction, however, must not diminish the very real problems he documents, particularly in regard to the spiritual dilemma faced by the pastor in terms of duties.
It must be remembered at all times, in any examination of these issues, that the pastor is not elevated to a standing of superior judgment by virtue of his or her clerical office. Pastors are human beings, no matter the spiritual nature of their calling, and human beings may easily, and for the best of intentions, confuse their priorities and obligations. Pastoral counseling, in a very real sense, compounds this difficulty, for the pastor is no longer distanced by the element of addressing a congregation. In counseling, the pastor is wielding influence of a more direct kind, and that this influence is sought because the pastor is looked to as a higher and wiser authority, as must often be the case, essentially presents a temporal temptation. When the congregation admires, and is guided by, the pastor, the effect is diffused; when the single individual turns comes for help, it is likely that the pastor may assume a sense of counseling expertise and authority not necessarily in his or her possession. Add to this the component of the dual relationship, and the pastor is further “ennobled”: the client’s perception is that here is a person with a greater spiritual awareness, as well as personal knowledge of the client, and the trust of the community. This is not a licensed, trained, psychological professional, subject to the more prosaic doubts counselors are by clients who come to them as “customers”. The counseling process, however, is essentially the same, and consequently the pastor is vulnerable to an unjustified and lofty sense of their own abilities.
This moral and ethical danger is stressed in J. D. Craig’s “ Preventing Dual Relationships in Pastoral Counseling”, for Craig paints a rather bleak portrait of how the dual relationship is fraught with peril for both pastor and individual. There is, in fact, a distinctly cynical aspect to Craig’s treatment of the issue, and one heavily reliant on how the clergy itself is viewed in more recent years. Disrepute and scandal have increasingly erupted within established faiths, which has gone to vastly discrediting pastors and eviscerating levels of trust from parishioners. Then, Craig does not limit the difficulties to these things alone, as he refers to the paucity of attention paid to pastoral ethics in the first place. Broadly, he asserts that demeanor and appearance more commonly ensure pastoral placements, and that little to no investigation as to psychological fitness is usually conducted by clerical authorities (Craig, 1991, p. 51). Most interesting here, in fact, is the timing of Craig’s work; in the twenty years since its publication, the church, and most especially the Catholic church, has suffered from widespread abuses from within Craig would most certainly have seized upon as further evidence.
More helpfully, Craig goes on to isolate specific issues that greatly endanger the ethics of the pastoral counselor, and which go as well to the dual relationship factor. The pastor’s vocation, in fact, is a “dual relationship” as seen by Craig, for more than one member of the congregation may be party to what should be a limited and private experience. That is to say, an individual’s crisis may frequently be brought to the pastor’s attention by a concerned third party, which adds a further ethical dilemma; is the pastor obligated to offer counseling where none has been solicited by the relevant individual? Furthermore, there is the interesting and additionally problematic concern of the pastor’s greater responsibility to the parish, in regard to a single counseling experience. For example, if a client relates in confidence to the pastor a circumstance both damaging to the client and to the community, the pastor must be encouraged to address this circumstance to all. It may be that an adolescent is deeply troubled by bullying directed at himself and, in being counseled, reveals to the pastor that this is a common abuse within the local school. The pastor, responsible for overseeing the well-being of the community, will be moved to speak of this to the congregation, yet in doing so must violate the confidence of the teen.
Craig’s points are meaningful, if disturbing. They are logically sound, yet they ultimately weaken their own impact by virtue of the narrowness of the approach. That is to say, examined through so merciless a lens, virtually any form of counseling, temporal or spiritual, professional or lay, is inherently open to incalculable vulnerabilities. If the pastor faces conflict from, as noted above, his dual responsibilities to client and congregation, so too must even the most objective analyst never be able to confidently separate some manner of personal agenda from counseling. The nature of all counseling is imperfection, or rather an effort to derive the best results from a host of unmanageable and complex variables. It is this, more lenient, approach that is taken by Thomas Frederick in his “Models of Psychotherapy: Implications for Pastoral Care Practice”, which gently sets aside Craig’s adamant cynicism in favor of a more hopeful treatment. Frederick does not by any means ignore the problems of pastoral counseling and the dual relationship. His approach, however, is marked by a singular regard for what pastoral counseling may achieve not evident at all in Craig, for Frederick esteems the process itself. He draws an unusual, and perhaps daring, comparison between it and “professional” counseling and, with research to support his assertions, concludes that no form of treatment is essentially more valid than another (Frederick, 2009, p. 352). What matters is how each counseling is conducted, and there can be, in his estimation, no underestimating the value of the spiritual component in encouraging a positive counseling experience.
With regard to dual relationships, Frederick comes to the subject only in an oblique, and rather extraordinary, fashion. Having validated the worth of pastoral counseling, he lays out a framework of psychological, anthropological, and biblical perspectives to support a more effective form of pastoral guidance. The greatest stress is laid upon psychological implications, which are then related in terms of a Christian platform, or understanding. Essentially, Frederick promotes the factor of reciprocity in interpersonal relationships as both vastly instrumental in the encouraging of healthy ones, and as integral to the pastoral counseling process. Drawing on biblical incidents in an insightful and, surprisingly, clinical manner, he stresses the commonality of human impulses, as he – again, obliquely – points to the pastor as being poised to exercise the greatest levels of empathy. In substantiating the worth of pastoral counseling through so academic a route, Frederick essentially undercuts the vulnerabilities generated by dual relationships. It very much appears that, in his estimation, such dilemmas are minor hindrances to far more beneficial gains. Moreover, and refreshingly, he illustrates a point going to something of an inevitability regarding pastoral counseling: “One may presume that individuals seeking care from a pastor want spiritually oriented counsel” (p. 362). Simply, the pastor may have no choice but to guide an individual known to him or her. The obligation, then, is not to avoid the dual relationship scenario, but to approach it in as empathetic, and simultaneously knowledgeable, a manner as possible.
This is a point of view largely echoed by Foskett in his “Pastoral Counseling”. Here, again, the general challenges of the profession are noted, but the overriding focus is on the historical effectiveness and desirability of pastoral counseling. The dual relationship issue is only one of many hurdles to it, and the author deals with it it an almost abstract manner. Nonetheless, his suggestion is compelling, and is employed in the following.
Conclusion and Summary
The literature reviewed, as disparate as certain points are, shares a single element: pastoral counseling is a difficult terrain, and the factor of dual relationships creates enormous, potential dilemmas. Differences in emphasis and viewpoint notwithstanding, each article conveys the same, unalterable conviction, that ethical burdens exist within the realm of pastoral counseling unique to the calling itself, and only a concentrated effort at ethical vigilance can surmount these problems.
This established, several courses and implications present themselves, This first is the irrefutable permanence of pastoral counseling as a desired entity. As long as there are congregations, there will be in them those individuals who, trusting to the general, spiritual guidance of the pastor, will turn to him or her for individual help. Then, that aspect of the dual relationship, if problematic for the pastors, engenders trust within the individual. The irony is extreme, but unavoidable, for that which draws the parishioner to the pastor is precisely that which the pastor must profoundly take into account, before the counseling process commences.
It must also be accepted that today’s pastor faces obstacles certainly less prominent in past ages. If scandals and abuse have weakened faith in the inviolability of the clergy, the pastor must all the more maintain a focus on proper ethics, and err, in fact, on the side of caution. That is to say, in today’s wary climate, the pastor unsure of the dual relationship’s impact on the counseling must honestly address this with the client, and incline towards suggesting other options for that client. This, in turn, goes to Foskett’s conclusion: “It is important for pastors to explore with their clients the problems and possibilities of counselling as a part of their ministry.” Plainly speaking, if there are ethical dilemmas present in pastoral relationships, they equally concern the parishioners, and taking a congregation-wide initiative in confronting them serves all concerned parties. It unites them in an understanding of, in a sense, of what must separate them, as it convey a tacit respect for all individual concerns, and for whatever dual relationships already existing. As noted earlier, this is the way the military confronts the dual relationship issue, and pastors might do well to utilize the same, proactive treatment.
Moreover, the pastor taking this practical approach is laying an ethical foundation of honesty which must reflect a sincere commitment to the congregation, as well as empower it to assume some of the responsibility for arriving at a mutually satisfactory means of proceeding. In a further, if less disagreeable, irony, this mode of action confirms the best aspect of the pastor’s relationship to the community, for it relies upon unalloyed trust. In this sense, then, the pastor is turning the dual relationship into an advantage, and the pastoral counseling which may ensue from it will be engaged in with ethical parity of interests.
Craig, J. D. (1991). Preventing Dual Relationships in Pastoral Counseling. Counseling and Values, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 49-54.
Foskett, J. “Pastoral Counselling”, in Dryden, W., Charles-Edwards, D., & Woolfe, R. (Eds.) Handbook of Counselling in Britain. London, UK: Routledge.
Frederick, T. V. (April, 2009). Models of Psychotherapy: Implications for Pastoral Care Practice. Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 351-363.
Montgomery, M. J., & Debell, C. (October, 1997). Dual Relationships and Pastoral Counseling: Asset or Liability? Counseling and Values, Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 30-40.
Zur, O., & Gonzalez, S. (2002). “Multiple Relationships in Military Psychology”, in Lazarus, A. A., & Zur, O. (Eds.) Dual Relationships and Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Springer.
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