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.