SG versus Therapy

I’ve said this briefly before, but I have seen this line crossed so many times now that I decided it needs an entire post. Just to forewarn you, this may turn into a bit of a rant because this is a subject near and dear to me.

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Spiritual guidance (SG) and therapy are NOT the same thing. They are also NOT interchangeable.

Speaking as a guide, I would never attempt to diagnose or treat a mental health issue. Even with my background in counseling, I am not licensed, so this is not within my scope of active practice. If I feel that therapy would benefit the client, I will readily and gladly recommend it. Having opportunities to engage in both SG and therapy can be extremely beneficial; it allows for both mental and spiritual healing with professionals working within their proper boundaries and areas of expertise.

Speaking from the experience of working as a therapist, I get alarmed when I see guides start to act more like therapists. Guides have a unique duty and focus, which is the spiritual well-being of the client. This is not the same as the mental well-being. There are many aspects of spiritual practice that, in a mental health setting, may appear to be signs of pathology. Visions could equal hallucinations. A bond with nature may be seen as delusions of grandeur. I like to use the “harm question” to distinguish the two: is this person’s beliefs or experiences causing harm (of any kind) to themselves or others? If not, SG can continue. If so, I will get other professionals involved promptly.

The other issue with blurring this line is the flip side of the coin: guides who are unable to recognize mental health issues at all. I have seen a self-proclaimed guide completely miss what to me were obvious signs of depression in a client, and instead they chastised the client almost relentlessly for being “unmotivated.” The client was called lazy, insubordinate, childish, etc. The “guide” threatened to abandon the client and stop communicating with them if they didn’t do as they were advised.

This is not good therapy or spiritual guidance. Honestly, this isn’t even respectful. This is bullying. Rather than punishing a client for not following instructions (which, by the way, you shouldn’t be spending your time as a guide doing, anyway), a guide would seek to understand the roadblocks that the client is putting up. A good therapist does this as well. There is always a reason for blockages, and they are rarely there just because the client is “lazy.” Punishing the client by fussing at them or threatening to basically abandon them is not going to get you to the reason. It only alienates the client or leads to dependency with the client constantly trying to please the guide. The client in this example should have been referred to a therapist to address the depression symptoms.

I could probably go on forever with this post, but those are some of the bigger issues I’ve seen when two different practices/approaches collide in ways that they shouldn’t.

Can you think of other ways that these lines could be blurred, and/or how to prevent this from happening?

Quick Tidbits

I’ve been having my own form of writer’s block for the past few weeks. I can’t tell you how many blog posts I have started that now sit idle in the Drafts folder. I will get to them, I promise. In the meantime, I decided to give some practical tips that I’ve learned/been reminded of by some of my new clients. We can always use tips, right?

  • For some of my older clients on the spectrum, a lot of anxiety is reduced when they are given the whole picture or situation first. We tend to assume that they will not be able to process everything at once, but giving information in little pieces (especially if they are directions) can also make them anxious because they don’t know what’s next. What I’ve learned to do is to give the overview first, and then each step afterwards as we hit it. For example: “Okay, we’re going to make lemonade today. We’ll need lemons, water, and sugar so that we can mix them together.” Boom, I just summarized the entire recipe. After I did that, the client walked me through the process, asking when he needed clarification. While he is what would be considered “higher functioning,” he still needed the anxiety reduction.
  • Many kids love the feeling of independently doing and choosing for themselves. Even if it is not a true choice (say, choosing between your two choices), the illusion of choice can be a great asset. I try to give my clients choices whenever I can. Sometimes they bounce the ball back into my court for me to decide, but I offered them the choice, and that goes a long way.
  • To my fellow workers: it is really easy to assume that a parent is just being bossy, lazy, whatever trait you believe you’re seeing that week. Try to step into that parent’s shoes. Most of us get to go home at the end of our day. For those of us without kids, we go home to stillness (most of the time). For our clients’ parents, their challenges and triumphs continue long after we’ve gone home. It’s just a few hours a week for us…it’s 24/7 for them.
  • That being said, workers, know your boundaries. You have to take care of yourselves before you can take care of anyone else. Our clients can pick up when we’re tired, hungry, or just plain pissed about something…and the result is usually a less than stellar session. Parents, we go through a different kind of burnout. We are not just worrying about the well-being and future of your child; we often have several more families we have to put equal energy and time into (or dozens more if you’re a case manager). We’re not trying to be rude or mean if we hold our ground on session times or availability. We’re trying to make sure we can continue to be the best that we can be for all of our clients, including you.
  • Workers, think outside the box. Not just with your clients, but also in regards to your job/position in an organization/your own practice. What are your strengths? How can you use them for the betterment of your organization/practice? Are you doing things that others are not? If others are doing it, do you have a unique spin or voice to bring to the table? Is there something you see in your client that others don’t?
  • This one goes to everyone: have fun. I’m serious. I work mostly with kids, and I see so many instances of family and workers alike getting so wrapped up in the goals and the data that they forget that they are dealing with a kid. I celebrate when a client has a “kid moment.” In that moment, autism wasn’t some horrific veil hanging over their heads (according to everyone around them). Autism was a way to really feel the sunshine and the wind, to appreciate every color dancing across a bubble. Autism led to a laughing fit to end all laughing fits. I’m not trying to downplay the challenges of this type of neurodiversity. It is a tough road to tread, nearly impossible at times. What I am saying is to really be in the present when it comes to those moments where the child is just being a child. I dare say that maybe, just maybe, you may want to join them there.