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What Can Youth Pastors Learn from Therapeutic Boundaries?

What Can Youth Pastors Learn from Therapeutic Boundaries?

Psychology Doctoral Candidate Lauren Widman says clear boundaries and a no-shame reporting structure are essential.

In the psychology field, therapists are encouraged to recognize feelings of attraction toward their clients, and deal with them in a professional manner. Unfortunately, this same recognition is enshrouded in shame in most church settings. This leads to youth pastors feeling isolated, battling feelings they know they shouldn't have, afraid to tell anyone for fear of losing their jobs.

In this excerpt from our new resource,Draw the Line: Relational Boundaries for Safe Youth Ministry, Psychology Doctorate student Lauren Widman speaks up about what the field of mental health and therapy is doing right—and what the church could learn from a little more self-awareness.

Why do you think youth pastors and therapists both struggle with the possibility of inappropriate attraction to the students or clients they work with?

Youth pastors and therapists both tend to be in a position of power and authority over people who are coming to them for help. And often, youth pastors are younger individuals, working with students who are not that far from their own age. This can be dangerous if boundaries aren't established.

Should youth pastors be embarrassed about feelings of attraction?

In the field of training clinicians, there is a portrayal of the inevitability of possible attraction to a client. And there's a real lack of shame surrounding the possibility of having a physical attraction to a client. Because of the nature of our work, you engage with people on a very emotionally intimate level that can foster feelings of attraction to clients. The key is to educate someone on how they can be self-aware and maneuver those relationships for the protection of the client and their self-esteem.

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