Should Counselors Talk about Themselves?
Phil Monroe has been blogging about whether counselors should talk about themselves. You can read his most recent post here.
In professional counseling language, the issue is called “counselor self-disclosure.” It addresses how much or how little the counselor should share about his or her own life, situation, struggles, etc.
Biblical Counseling Ethics
It is an important issue in the broader topic of biblical counseling ethics. What are the ethical standards by which a counselor relates to a counselee?
Dr. Monroe’s overall approach is to be quite cautious about counselor self-disclosure. He noted that in his first post he, “cautioned counselors to ask some questions first before talking too much about self.” Then in his second post he said, “I would like to press the caution just a bit more.”
Phil’s concluding summary is also cautious.
“Despite these efforts to avoid letting our selves intrude too far into the session, sometimes life gets in the way. A counselor has a health or a family crisis. Clients have ways of finding this out and often want to ask how things are going. Here it is appropriate to say something brief, thank them for their concern and then start the session. In other situations a client discovers a shared passion for food, a sporting team, a connection through mutual friends. Enjoy these connections, acknowledge them, but be sure not to linger there during the session proper. We are, after all human. Don’t be surprised when counselor and client humanness come into contact.”
His summary has the feel of, “If you have to connect personally, do it briefly, and then quickly move on to the real stuff of counseling.” He wants you to be relational, but seems to say that such relationality comes through empathy, good questions, listening, etc., much more than it does through counselor self-disclosure.
I understand that professional model. I also understand the great need for care and caution that inappropriate boundaries are not breached. And I respect Phil’s cautious approach and appreciate his addressing the topic.
Where Do We Derive Our Ethical Relational Standards?
There are some broader questions that I think we need to address, such as:
- What is the biblical, theological, relational principle that would drive such concern about self-disclosure?
- Would Trinitarian relational principles suggest that it is unhealthy or unhelpful if self “intruded” into the counseling relationship?
- Would Trinitarian relational principles suggest that it is unhealthy or unhelpful if counselee/counselor common humanness came into contact?
This discussion also raises the vital issue of what a model of pastoral counseling ethics would look like and be based upon. Of course, I would say we can and should base it upon biblical principles of pastoral/shepherding ministry.
A few thoughts/reflections we would want to ponder:
- How can we frame the counselor/counselee relationship in positive ways that reinforce biblical Trinitarian, shepherding models? Ethical standards almost always focus on what not to do, and rarely breathe the fresh air of positive relationships incarnated in Christ and embodied in the Body of Christ.
- What would ethical pastoral counseling standards look like that were built upon the incarnational model of Christ in passages such as John 4; Hebrews 2; and Hebrews 4 (and many more)?
- What would biblical counseling ethical standards look like if they were built upon Paul’s ministry of “self-disclosure” in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 and his ministry of intense relational intimacy in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 2; Acts 20:32-21:2; Colossians 1:27-3:3 (and many more)?
It’s interesting to me that the modern biblical counseling movement has been labeled at times as “all truth and no relationship” (a false label, I believe). Yet, a truly biblical model of counseling ethics would suggest an intense level of soul-to-soul connection, including incarnational ministry, personal vulnerability, and “counselor self-disclosure.”
Join the Conversation
Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “A truly biblical model of counseling ethics would suggest an intense level of soul-to-soul connection, including incarnational ministry, personal vulnerability, and “counselor self-disclosure.”
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