You may think you’re not a formal counselor, therapist, doctor, or attorney. Because you don’t hold one of these specific titles, then your job doesn’t put you in a position to offer advice or counseling to other people. So you don’t have to worry about it, right? Not necessarily.
The potential for a counseling situation to become sexualized is not just present for professionals. The danger exists anytime two people enter into even informal counseling. Informal counseling is any situation where one person goes to another for advice and help. The potent combination of partnering, compassion, and position still are in force, though in varying degrees depending upon the situation. Nonetheless, they are present and cannot be dismissed as having no effect.
If a man goes to a woman he knows for advice and counsel, it is probably for a personal problem, not a work-related one. Most men either keep their own counsel on work-related problems or ask another man. But if the problem is personal or if it involved a misunderstanding with a woman, a man may seek out a female to find help. The compassion index in a situation like this is high. Flattered that the man has come to her, the woman may do everything she can think of to help him.
The man may not feel comfortable showing his confusion or hurt to others about the situation for which he needs advice. However, if he feels comfortable enough with this particular woman to turn to her for help, he will be more inclined to show the depth of his feelings. His emotional outpouring can trigger even greater feelings of compassion on the part of his woman advisor.
If a woman goes to a man for advice, on the other hand, it need not be over something personal. It could be about work or life in general. Women are used to seeking advice from other women on a whole gamut of problems. If a woman does go to a man for advice, he likely will be someone she admires, someone she believes to have the knowledge or expertise to help her with her problem. In this situation the position index is high.
This disparity of position may cause the man to develop feelings of protection for the woman. In coming to him for advice, she may appear to be asking for protection as well as assistance. His response may be to view himself in the role of a knight in shining armor, protecting a damsel in distress. Of course, in most of the knight-dragon tales you may recall that after the knight has saved the damsel, she becomes his lover. In this situation, fact has a tendency to imitate fiction.
If the man and the woman know each other very well, raise the needle for the partnering index. Their ease with each other removes many normal inhibitions, even in a counseling situation. Because the two know each other and may be fully aware of the situation involved, they have a heightened tendency to intensify the “us versus them” mentality. We have already seen where that road can lead. If one of the two has entertained thoughts or fantasies about the other, an informal counseling situation can easily propel those thoughts into actions.
People in trouble are vulnerable. They often do not have the necessary expertise to extricate themselves from their trouble or to find a way to cope with their problem, so they turn to others for help. Be mindful of how informal counseling can lead to sexualized relationships, and you may decide to recommend they seek professional help.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.