I believe a healthy family is based on a level of mutual respect for other members and themselves. I believe that a healthy family should provide a level of support for its members, however, each family is a unique system (much like the individuals within it) and each individual will play “roles” within the family system that they are comfortable with. Individual role-players may exert varying degrees of influence when change occurs (like death, illness, financial issues, or divorce). Every member of the family should enjoy a sense of security or “belonging” to the family, and all members should share good interpersonal relations with each other. Healthy families are loyal to each other, and ideally members offer each other unconditional love. My universal definition of family extends beyond the nuclear family to include multigenerational and extended families… it might also include groups of people with whom you have come to cohabitate (like a college fraternity).
I am less traditional than most (I suspect) in the respect that I do not narrowly define “marriage” as a relationship that can exist between a man and a woman. In that respect, my definition of family is predominantly relationship based. The reader could correctly infer that I am supportive of same sex relationships. I could potentially see issues in the counseling relationship if I were to counsel someone who was critical of that lifestyle… I might be inclined to suggest that is more “normal” than some people are comfortable with. All that aside, I would be the first to admit that I have not always taken such a liberal position… perhaps that’s proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks?
On the eve of a spectacular win for the gay/lesbian bisexual population, let us consider some of the fallout for those of us who endeavor to support those populations.
How do we as therapists come to terms with our more conservative clients?
I’m not sure how I would react if a client started “gay bashing” in my office, but it’s fair to say it would be extremely difficult for me to remain objective. I think my reaction to the situation would probably manifest in both intentional and unintentional reactions. Even if I said nothing, I am pretty confident that even the most indiscriminate client could tell it bothered me… especially if they knew me well (my forehead gets really flush when I get upset). Before I jumped to the last resort, a referral, I would at least attempt to inquire what in the clients experience causes them to feel like that. Perhaps that worldview comes as a result of a generalization based on one (or a few) bad experiences with members of the gay community? (I digress) In any event, I would try to control my feelings as best I could, and depending on the situation and the context, I may be able to get through the session and continue to be productive in therapy. Without a doubt, I would probably walk away from the session thinking less of my client, which is definitely not “objective” by any means. It would suffice to say that it would probably be best for me to refer some of these clients who present this perspective.
I think the best way to make your boundaries known is during intake, since at that point the client can determine whether or not to work with you at the outset. I think if you are anything less than “full disclosure” about your limitations from the outset, you are doing are potentially doing more harm than good. In as much as I would like to be “a fix-all,” in most situations I don’t think I can fix that. In the end, I think it would depend a lot on the specific situation and the history I have with the client. I would probably react a lot differently if it was with a client with whom I had a long client-counselor relationship. I would rather “nip that in the bud” and disclose my position right away… it seems like it would save me a lot of time and headaches.
Are you a professional that is forced to deal with the H8? I’d love to hear your perspective on the issue!