Are counselors and psychologists an impaired lot?

We’re closing in on the last of the school year. Two weeks to go. Tonight in our ethics class we’ll be discussing the matter of abuse of power, impaired clinicians, and similar issues. In the world of counseling we discuss the problem of impaired counselors/students/trainees when we talk about those who,

(a) do not have the requisite skills, 
(b) have character/attitude deficits, or
(c) reactions to current crises,

AND are unwilling or unable to repair the situation.

First, we ought to be aware of those who are attracted to being counselors. Jeffery Barnett, et al, report the following data from other studies (as cited in the 2007 Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 38(6), pp 603-612):

  • 70% of female psychologists had been either sexually or physically abused as children
  • 33% of male psychologists report the same
  • 33% of psychologists report being abused as adults
  • They feel the effects of these difficulties (and other family crises) just as non counselors
  • They may be less likely to get help due to knowledge and professional identity
    • 60% acknowledged being significantly depressed during some point of their career
    • 29% reported being suicidal at some point
    • 4% had made suicide attempts

Gizara & Forrest (2004 Professional Psychology: Research & Practice,35(1), pp 131-140) reported supervisors experiences of trainee impairment in APA accredited internships (doctoral level). Many of the supervisors had a hard time defining impairment in counseling but had sort of what I call the “I know it when I see it” mentality. What they often described were the disruptive, persistent relationalconflicts that are obvious to most. They did identify that it is hard for supervisors to address these matters because they (a) are trained to be empathic and to try to save everyone, and (b) not wanting to deal with conflict, destroy a career, or make oneself vulnerable to attack that they are holier than thou.

But, I noticed not much discussion or research regarding the one who doesn’t have obvious abrasive relational skills who is prone to using clients and others to make themselves feel good. This kind of person is dangerous not because they disrupt the counseling center but because they are so well liked that they make others overlook “minor” ethical infractions. Further, the person is rarely cognizant of their using others for their own sense of well-being.

To answer my question. No, I don’t think counselors are an impaired lot–at least any more than others. If we are aware of what drives us to be counselors (the good AND the self-serving), are willing to be counseled, discipled, held accountable, etc. (are willing to be transparent), and see our work as God’s first, then I think we are rather a safe lot.

Watch out for those of us who think we have arrived or no longer need teaching. I’m reminded of Aslan’s question to Prince Caspian at his coronation:

Aslan: Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the kingship of Narnia?

Caspian: I-I don’t think I do sir. I’m only a kid.

Aslan: Good, If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would had been a proof that you were not.     


Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology, Relationships, self-deception, teaching counseling

9 responses to “Are counselors and psychologists an impaired lot?

  1. Amy

    Hmm…interesting post. I always wondered if I was too impaired to be a counselor, and then decided I obviously was and that I would never do such a thing again. But Henri Nouwen and some other incidents (including this post) have made me realize that we really don’t have any idea the plans that God has for us.

  2. Scott Knapp, MS

    How much more truly impaired is the counselor who thinks his counselee’s are fortunate he chose to go into this field! I sought to get into a prominent counseling program in Colorado about 15 years ago, when I was young(er) and immature, and fortunately they saw though me and didn’t admit me into the program! God’s timing in my development has been impeccable.

    • Good thoughts here. Remember the Satanic abuse ritual, over-diagnosis of multiple personality disorder and False Memory Syndrome of the 80’s & 90’s? Hurt a LOT of people, made counseling look like “voodoo” & made it so that those who HAD truly been abused were also just making it up. I wonder if the people who got into that sort of thinking refused to have the light shined on their work.

  3. Pingback: the impaired lot « lessons dished out by life

  4. jangle2

    Having begun to use skills that are added to my tool belt I remain humbled everyday I have a client that wants to share a part of themselves. Never feeling sufficient in myself, but knowing His grace is all I need to offer them a glimpse of the Hope within. Thank you for your ongoing posts and musings. I seek your wisdom even though I am no longer sitting among you.

  5. George Ong

    I think there is always that fine line in knowing when I am doing it for myself and when I am doing it for my client. It is not easy. It parallels what I know my responsibilities are, and which are God’s responsibilities… so that I do not attempt to do His job… which I still tend to.

  6. Winston Smith

    I’ve often made the personal observation that many counselors have faced or face significant struggles of their own. I’ve also noticed that in some settings, like alcohol abuse or drug abuse groups, having personal experience, even an ongoing battle, with the problem is almost a prerequisite to helping others.

    I appreciate the so important “AND” that you included in your posting. Counselors will and do have personal problems of every size and shape, but must be willing to face them. From a gospel perspective we must realize that only those humbled by their own need for Christ, can point others to that same savior with credibility. In a sense, I would say that we are an impaired lot, but as Christian counselors, a lot that know, first hand, how healing and growth work.

  7. I agree with your thoughts on this topic.

    I truly believe that God has allowed me to go through difficult experiences in my life in order to shape me into the counselor that I am today. I know the depth of pain and the freedom that comes when I allow God to heal me. As part of my preparation to be a counselor, I went through counseling myself with a very godly therapist. God used the therapist to speak truth into my life and heal some of my deepest wounds.

    Am I a wounded helper? Yes. But I think that enables me to help…gives me credibility and the ability to truly empathize. In a somewhat similar way, I find that I can trust and relate to God more because Christ experienced temptation and hardship in His life.

    I have met a number of peers, however, that I believe are extremely wounded and seem to be using their role as a counselor to make them feel better about themselves. I find that very unhealthy and unethical. I think it is wrong to “use” our clients to deal with our own issues.


  8. Louie Buses

    2 Co.1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 1:4 who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

    The cautions about inspecting our motives are good and necessary. However, it should be no shock that God puts us through troubles before leading us to help others. Glory to Him!

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