Sacred vs secular
Wright, N. (2002) ‘Sacred vs Secular’, The Christian Counsellor, April-June, Issue 13, pp43-44.
I thought I’d write because I find myself in a fairly difficult situation which other readers may be able to identify with. I work as a counsellor in a secular GP practice and, as the most experienced counsellor at the surgery, also hold responsibility for providing supervision for two other part-time counsellors. Clients are referred to the counselling team by the GPs and it’s my job to decide which counsellor should work with which clients.
Generally-speaking, we work well together but there are occasions on which I feel torn between supporting development of the approaches adopted by the other counsellors (which they have learnt through secular training) and those I believe to be right Biblically. I’m beginning to find this very stressful personally and also beginning to wonder whether this really is my professional calling. I’d appreciate any advice you could offer.
You are working in a hard situation and I’m sure the tensions you are experiencing will sound very familiar to people working in all kinds of secular environments. The first thing I would say in light of this is to consider carefully before questioning your vocation. There seems to be something inherently painful about being ‘in the world but not of the world’ (e.g. 1Pe 4:12f) and some of the tensions you describe may be an unavoidable dimension of Christian experience.
You are wise to acknowledge the realities of what you are experiencing as you have done, for instance, by raising your concerns on this page. This is a critical first step to moving on in prayer and in enlisting the support of others. If you have a copy of the Christian Counsellor Issue 11 (Oct-Dec 01), I would suggest having a glance at the article entitled The Learning Supervisor (p13-19) for further ideas on prayer and other forms of practical support in these areas.
The heart of the matter you describe seems to be how to hold onto your own beliefs and values with integrity whilst being genuinely supportive and developmental of those who might not share the same beliefs/values base. I hope the following general pointers may be helpful.
Firstly, I believe that Christians are called, first and foremost, to demonstrate the qualities and character of Christ by the enabling power of the Holy Sprit. This principle applies especially to supervisors who are called to live as role models for those whom they supervise (see the Christian Counsellor Issue 9 (Apr-Jun 01), The Counselling Supervisor, p21-24) and your personal qualities will have an important influence on your supervisees, whether they share your own beliefs/values or not.
Secondly, there are limits to your professional responsibilities and, although these are likely to be determined as much by agency policy/guidelines as your own personal convictions (see the Christian Counsellor Issue10 (Jul-Sep 01), Supervision Dynamics, p14-18), there is often room for manoeuvre in practice.
John Heron’s book, The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook (1999) has a helpful model (see p74f) that can be adapted fairly easily and draws attention to the importance of negotiating responsibilities from an explicit, distinctive values base. In paraphrase, “In supervision, I can do (x) for you and (y) with you but you will need to do (z) for yourself”. You might consider negotiating your supervisor role with your practice manager and counsellor-supervisees according to something along these lines.
Finally, you might consider holding an open developmental seminar with your counselling team colleagues to explore (a) those professional beliefs/practices you hold in common (b) those professional beliefs/practices on which you differ and (c) how you will work together to manage positively the diversity that exists between you. An external facilitator may be useful and you could find that the benefits of sensitive awareness-raising and relationship-building will help to reaffirm your sense of personal calling.