Call a Professional! I’m in Over my Head! – Part 2

April 4th, 2013 No Comments

He Said — She Said.  It’s an everyday experience when you’re doing counseling.  Sometimes the wars between husband and wife or parent and childNew Steeple -cropped become so confusing, that — even as an objective, impartial, third party – it’s nearly impossible to figure out what’s going on.  Moments like this can lead to some of our worst assistance as we feel compelled to do something or, worse yet, fix it!  After all, particularly when you’re in a position of “spiritual authority,” one tends to feel some unrealistic pressure of resolving anything and everything.  This mindset, whether debilitating or empowering to the counselor, cripples your wisdom and easily chases you into the arena of pat answers and scripture tossing.

I’ll clarify with some examples.

Tom and Cindy are in your office again.  Cindy is in tears, again, and Tom looks dumbfounded, again.  Cindy quietly cries, wiping her face, verbosely describing Tom’s inflexibility and tantrums.  Tom, once again, has a look of utter disbelief on his face – which is turning deeper shades of red even as you watch.  When Tom finally has a moment to speak, he says, “My inflexibility?  My tantrums?  If you’re referring to Wednesday night, yes, I was inflexible!  You were starting on your second bottle of wine and were saying highly inappropriate things to our kids!”

“See?” Cindy demands, “Do you see what I mean?  He won’t even let me have one glass of wine after a long, exhausting day!  He’s taken away every freedom I have!  And now he’s accusing me of being a bad mother!”

You get the idea.

This is a perfect moment for a foolish counseling remark.  Typically something like, “Now, I know you two love each other, so let’s pray for God to restore your love and you head on home and work this out like you know you should.”  Perhaps a scripture reference (maybe one with an inaccurate interpretation) is made for added impact, “Well, the Bible does say that we shouldn’t be drinking wine.  Wine leads to all sorts of problems, exactly like you two are experiencing, so no more wine, okay?”

Or what about Tamara, a 19-year-old, whose mom brought her to you for counseling because Tamara seldom leaves the house and, most days, she barely makes it out of bed before 3 pm.  She’s dropped out, or more accurately – been kicked out of college, because she simply stopped going to class or doing any homework.  Tamara used to be a vibrant young gal with a few good friends and a decent part-time job.  “Tamara’s gotten so rebellious!” Mom complains.  “She won’t listen to anything her father or I tell her to do!  Can you help me?”

And here is yet another great moment to reference scripture.  “‘Children obey you parents,’ the scripture says,” you begin, yet you realize although Tamara is physically in the room, she’s not actually here.  You’d like to quote the scripture verse again, maybe a little louder, but there’s something about Tamara’s countenance that makes that idea just feel mean.  So you don’t.  Instead, you look at Mom and quip, “You know teens.  They just go through these moods sometimes.  She’ll be fine.”

But you know she won’t.

When this all started, you wanted to care for people, help them, make their lives better, but through the years, the reality of caring, helping, making better can get a little convoluted with even the kindest and wisest counselor getting stuck.  What you don’t know about Cindy and Tom is that they each have 2-3 personality disorder diagnoses, and Tamara?  Tamara was raped when she was 16 and has yet to actually tell a single soul.  In both of these case studies, kind words, encouraging scripture, and an 83-second prayer will likely do nothing.  It’s not because kind words, scripture, and prayer have suddenly lost their power; it’s because you’re in over your head.

In our first “Call a professional! I’m in over my head!” discussion, I referred you to the PHQ-9, a depression assessment that you can administer in less than 5 minutes.  Although the PHQ-9 might be helpful with both of these scenarios, it’s not going to give you the complete picture.  There is a very accurate and thorough battery of psychological assessments that a professional can administer that will at least point the counseling in a more accurate direction.  No test can ITBSget Tamara to tell you she had been raped, however, the Trauma Symptoms Inventory (TSI), for example, will provide a clear indication that something traumatic has happened, which can often be the stimulus to opening the door to that discussion.

There is a plethora of psychological assessments, so find a professional who is well-versed and appropriately trained in administering, scoring, and interpreting the tests.  In order to purchase from an assessment provider, specific training and experience is required, which makes the discerning process easier for you.  Some of the most popular assessments are the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Million Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI).  These are general assessments that give a professional a broad range of information.  Beyond that, a clinician can select tests screening depression, trauma, dissociation, ADHD, anger expression, anxiety, and much more.  I encourage you to build a working relationship with a therapist who is qualified and comfortable with administering psychological assessments so you have a referral to pass along to counselees who appear to need some deeper investigation.

One time soon, we’ll revisit a term I used earlier in this blog, “personality disorder.”  But for now, as you head forward with counseling folks, keep in mind that there are resources available that can provide you with information that the counselee cannot or will not give you himself.  When you feel stuck and confused, it might be the time to call a professional for some psychological assessments and clinical therapy.

Leave a Reply