When Not To Counsel

Knowing when not to counsel is probably the most important part of being a counselor. Much as we would like to be able to help others with our advice and support, there are times when the problem being presented is just going to be too complicated for someone without professional training to handle. In those cases, you could act in a way that you thought would help and end up responsible for a tragic outcome. Don't let your ego or your desire to help get in the way of providing what is best for your student/counselee. Remember, the Wiccan Rede says, "An it harm none"!

1. The problem you are being asked about conflicts with your own value system.

Each of use must walk their own path, and it isn't fair to impose your beliefs on another. If the question being asked conflicts badly with what you believe, you may not be able to be objective in your recommendations. For instance, if you strongly believe that monogamy is the only "right" way to conduct a relationship, you may have difficulty helping a student or other coven member work through problems arising from a polyamorous or open relationship. It would be better to refer the person to another Initiate who shares that person's beliefs more closely.

2. Counseling would involve the sharing of information of an intensely personal nature which either individual might later regret having shared.

Relationships change. How would you feel if you spoke to someone about a very personal and painful problem and then found that you and that individual were no longer particularly close? Also, in the pain of the moment, a person might tell another something very personal and painful which they would later regret having said. Now they must sit in circle knowing that someone knows some of the darkest secrets about their personal lives. If the problem is so uncomfortable that the counselee has difficulty being willing to share it with you, suggest that a professional might be a better choice.

3. The problem is a long-standing psychological one.

A non-professional is not apt to be much help in solving the effects of child abuse, prolonged depression, drug abuse, etc. Offer your support and love, but suggest that professional help is needed.

4. The individual is hearing or seeing things which are not there and which are telling him things which are not true.

We are a religion which believes in perceiving the unseen and in the powers of intuition. However, as Initiates we must be sure that we can tell the difference between intuition/vision and delusion. If you are unsure as to which the person you are counseling is describing, try to ask them some additional questions to clarify the issue, or talk with someone else in the Initiate's council and get their opinion as well. The Powers with whom we deal would not tell someone to do an act that would cause harm. Hallucinations or delusions could be the sign of a serious psychiatric problem and could lead to someone harming themselves or others. They need professional help to recover.

5. The individual is expressing intention to harm themselves or others.

Unless the person is clearly joking, always take statements of this kind seriously. Don't put yourself in the position of being responsible for a tragic outcome by trying to handle this yourself.

6. The individual is in professional counseling already and is coming to you to validate what his counselor is telling him.

Counseling for a long-standing problem can be a difficult process, and people are reluctant to give up ingrained behaviors. They may seek to avoid what the counselor is trying to have them do by attempting to get others to say that there is no problem or that the counselor is wrong. Send the individual back to their counselor with their questions.

7. The individual is depressed.

Clarify what is going on. If this depression has been short term and caused by a specific event such as the breakup of a relationship or a bad day at work, it is probably acceptable to work with them. If the depression has been doing on for more than 2-3 weeks, or if there is a significant change in the person's ability to function on a daily basis (ie: he can't
get out of bed to go to work in the morning) professional help is necessary.

8. The individual is expressing a sense of total hopelessness or if there is any discussion of suicide.

People will often not talk directly about suicide, but they may give clues to the fact that they are thinking about it in other ways. Expressing feelings of hopelessness, that things will never get better, is one way. Or they may say things such as "the world would be better without me", or "I wish I could sleep and never wake up". A person suddenly disposing of their possessions could be another clue. These are warning signs of a potential suicide and should be treated very seriously.

9. Avoid becoming involved in marital disputes.

All married couples have the occasional argument or problem, and it would not be out of line to discuss possible solutions with a person if asked. However, there is any long-standing problem with the relationship, or any indication of violence or abuse, it is not an undertaking for a non-professional. Remember that many dysfunctional couples may initially turn to an outsider for help, then turn on that individual afterwards. Taking sides, or getting in the middle of a marital dispute helps no one and could get you hurt.
There are shelters available and professional counselors as well that can assist in this type of situation.

copyright © Lark 1998

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Last updated June 26, 1998