A Texas substance abuse counselor was arrested in Texas Tuesday after being discovered by police in a car with a teen male client. Allegedly the 16 year-old boy admitted they had engaged in sex on different occasions. It's always more heightened when women are involved in sexual offending behaviors against male teens. More sensational than disgust when it is an adult female abusing a male teenager rather than a man abusing a girl. There is always that.
Of course it's illegal and it's illegal because the brain of a juvenile isn't developed enough to understand the ramifications of what the adult is doing with them. That adults have many more resources available to them (both cognitively and materially) that eliminates the possibility of anything like a fair and equal partnership. That's why it's illegal.
This gender issue of how bad it really is for a woman to engage in sex with a 16 year-old boy will be played out over the coming months. Yet, the law is blind in these matters and in the recent past most female offenders are treated no different that men who offend against female teens.
What is also disturbing is the other sad issue. The violation of the professional boundary by a licensed mental health professional. When it involves a child it is even more of a violation and so doubling the tragedy. Of parents second-guessing and filled with guilt in trusting this person.
Relationships with counselors involved in helping you deal with emotional problems, relationship and parenting issues, and crises of the most personal nature are naturally intimate. Meaning they require the client to share personal facts and lower natural defenses not seen in anything but the most trusted and personal (read intimate) relationships.
And so the professional relationship is strictly regulated, and procedures taught, and supervision given, and continuing education delivered; all in the hopes that the professional boundary is never crossed.
HOW PROFESSIONALS BECOME VULNERABLE
Not taking care of their own needs. Everyone is human and some of the best counselors are wounded healers. It's a profession with real risks. An isolating and secret profession where the most intense relationships may be at the office not in the every-day-world at home filled with demands and disappointments. The counselor is responsible to meet those needs which doesn't include the client. The smartest and best counselors are involved in their own psychotherapy, personal healing, and enrichment activities to protect themselves from these risks.
Not recognizing the intimate nature of psychotherapy. The therapist most at risk is the one who thinks to themselves, "That could never happen to me". A counselor must say to themselves, "I never want that to happen to me". Then seriously understand just how easy it is and take steps to prevent it. Smart and effective counselors have colleagues they routinely consult with and willingly submit to supervision well after the time it is required to get their license. Being held accountable for the actions they take with a client ensures that blind spots don't develop and questionable behavior is seen before it hurts the client.
Not addressing their client's needs. Clients are capable of engaging in behavior that's not in their best interest. Skilled counselors confront clients with inappropriate sexual, financial, or other offers and behaviors. Not to shame, or scold, or lecture. But to help the client understand their own behavior so that they can act in healthy and safe ways on their own behalf.
WHAT BOUNDARIES LOOK LIKE
You pay this person. the relationship becomes professional the moment the counselor gives you advice, sets an appointment with you, or takes your money. This means you no longer can be friends. You can't have lunch together, and you can't have a drink after the session. Less obvious is the counselor is no longer on equal footing with you. A counselor can only have a professional intimate relationship with you, not a personal one. Healthy counselors find other outlets to meet their own needs.
You talk about your problems they don't talk about theirs. This is what makes the relationship unequal. It also makes it worth having in the first place. With friends you have to take turns sharing and then listening to each others problems. This is great for building relationships. Lousy when you're trying to figure yourself out. Wise therapists realize some clients could of been great friends and allow themselves to recognize it, grieve it, and let it go.
Counseling is the only thing you're paying for. Your therapist may have written a few books but you aren't going to get them in the office unless they're free. Why? Because they can't be your bookstore and your counselor. Just like they can't be your life coach and counselor, the contractor for your new house and your counselor, or your vitamin sales rep and your counselor. Your counselor gets to have just one professional relationship with you. They know too much about you and it's too easy to use that information for their own best interests even if they don't realize their doing it. So, it's not allowed. Ethicial counselors work to make sure they don't give you the impression anything else is going on other that psychotherapy.
A SAD SITUATION
Like in therapy it's important to confront unpleasant situations in the hope of learning something and to begin to make better choices in the future. Talking about it as a professional and inviting others to comment is one way those in the profession deal with it.
I'm sad for what happened to that counselor. I'm sorry that it happened to that boy. I'm upset for what happened to that family, their community, and that counseling center. I'm ashamed on behalf of the mental health profession that it's happened, again.
What risks do other helping professions (like educational or medical) and personal services (like housekeeping and lawn care) have?