I recently had an interesting conversation with a pastor who invariably counsels. She (I didn’t know they could be a she!) is doing a postgraduate degree in counseling in order to avoid being a quack and providing (another word for genuine) help to people when asked. She is genuinely compassionate, spirited and a wonderful person altogether. The problem, in my view, then, arises not in her faith but in the implications of it. You will understand where I am coming from as you see how our conversation unfolded. Continuing with our story, in the flow of our conversation I asked her if and how they counseled homosexuals. This is what she told me.
“We help them get out of it. We have never yet gotten a homosexual who believes what he is going through is natural and is ok with it. Everyone who has approached us has been suffering with it and they have always approached us in order to get rid of the affliction and lead a normal life. They have had major feelings of guilt regarding their behavior. They never chose to be homosexuals, most were forced. So, you see, there is no conflict there. We all have the same belief system. We have provided them with therapy and worked with them in order to get rid of this behavior and most are leading satisfied lives now.”
There are varied dimensions of this issue that have varied implications.
In this situation both the counselor and the counselee agree on what the problem behavior is. Both have an agreed perspective on what the ideal outcome should be and the corrective course of action that implies. Problem solved, everyone is happy.
Everything seems right with the situation but a vital assumption has been made here that makes the situation ugly or at least creates the possibility of it being so. The assumption being that “Because the counselees point of view matches mine it must be right and since we’re all agreed, let’s move ahead with it.” Assuming that the point of counseling is not for the counselor and the counselee to agree in their beliefs but in providing conditions for maximizing self-awareness and growth of the counselee enabling him to live a fulfilling life, there are many issues that arise.
In cases as such, is there the freedom to explore alternatives? For instance, could it not be that the counselee in this case is feeling guilt and self hatred because his beliefs are shaped by a society and a religion that he has learned to believe in since before he realized what belief means and what he is feeling now, his homosexual inclination, is in such sharp contrast with those predefined values that it is creating intolerable conflict within him. (Not because homosexuality is unnatural and a sin/disorder and hence obviously he feels this way.)
If the counselor realizes this through his interaction with the counselee, and therefore helps the person deal with the guilt and the self recrimination without “working through the behavioural issue” in a way so that he can lead a “normal life” but help him accept and flourish within his identity as a homosexual, it would help the person escape the fate of living with lifelong guilt and suppression of his sexual and human expression in relationships.
Yes, this comes from my belief that homosexuality is an absolutely normal form of sexual and self expression however, my beliefs don’t matter. Point of the matter is that in the first case the counselors beliefs did and came in the way of a holistic examination of the matter that might have given the counselee complete facts and a chance at making his own choice.
Could his pre formed beliefs have been strong enough that he would reject his homosexuality anyway?” Of course. And in that scenario the earlier course of action would have been apt. I would have done the same if I were the counselor in that case (despite my belief to the contrary) and the decision of the counselee would have been an informed choice. Also, this does not apply to the percentage of people who are indulging in homosexual behavior but do not have a homosexual inclination (cases of forced sex or situational homosexuality like in jails etc.).
In case the counselor operates from the first paradigm of “I believe what he does so let’s go with it”, it does not even allow the possibility of a different outcome than that which has been agreed upon before the process even begins which completely belies exploration and growth. A little like the scientist who assumes the hypothesis and then operates from the experimenter’s bias to do only those experiments that prove the assumption.
Moving beyond the issue of homosexuality and to the principal of the argument:
We just cannot be selective counselors…rather, let us be selective counselors if need be, not taking on cases wherein we operate from a fixed point of view and work with it rather than counseling selectively. Be it any case and any belief. For example a pro-lifer, if he lets his view interfere with his counseling should probably not counsel a girl who is of the same view and is pregnant at the age of 15 with a rape and financially, socially and emotionally unable to care for the infant. Could she anyway choose to have the child and give it for adoption? She could. And she should if that is what she feels is right and that is precisely the point, it is about her feelings and choices; not mine, not yours. If as a counselor/coach/helper we cannot provide her with that then it’s a conspiracy, not counseling; especially if she agrees with us.