Counselling clients from a conservative religious-cultural background- The nature of the challenge by Karol Misso
The Socio-Cultural Context
Therapists like ministers of religion, psychologists or teachers are representative of the clientele they serve. Yes, we have been through a process of formation and exposed to a body of knowledge that gives us a recognized standard of expertise. We trust that it will endow us with a level of professionalism that enables us to work ‘in the best interests of our clients’. The one factor we cannot change is our humanity: it has been the failure to be cognizant of the vulnerability inherent in that humanity that has contributed to the serious misdemeanours that some have been guilty of.
The tenuous link between Therapy and Religion
We may not be overtly religious but many of us are heirs to a Judeo-Christian tradition which has impacted on the mores and norms of our society. Within that context religion and sexuality have been strange bedfellows. It goes right back to the love-hate relationship with our bodies that has its genesis in Greek Philosophy. Bodies must be constrained and disciplined; the sexual appetite is dangerous and not to be given free reign. In marriage, it is limited to procreation. The 1662 Anglican Prayer Book Marriage Service states quite categorically that it is permitted in order ‘to satisfy man’s (sic) carnal lust and as a remedy against fornication’. St. Paul to whom much of the New Testament is attributed presented a false dichotomy between the body that is vulnerable to evil and, the spirit that is open to God’s grace. We are still struggling to recover a holistic view of the self.
Despite what is presented in the mass media, what the pop psychologists tell us and what is portrayed in our annual Sex Expo, sex, one of the greatest gifts to humanity is also the greatest enigma of our lives. No aspect of our humanity is vested with more anxieties, yearnings, doubts, fears and needs than our sexual nature. We do not do sex well. Deep down there is a reticence to talk about it, except as a joke. I was recently invited to write an article for a special feature ‘meet our local experts’ in the suburban newspaper. As a sex therapist, I briefly mentioned the context of my work in this area with particular reference to intimate relationships. I was astonished to receive a response from the editor requesting that I delete the section with reference to sex therapy as it may offend some of their conservative clientele! So much for promoting an enlightened twenty-first-century view of sex? I refused to make any amendments and told the editor what I thought about the retrograde policy of his publication. He recanted saying he had consulted the manager who had no reservations about what I had said.
Therapists, particularly those who choose to work with relationships should be aware that sex is relational. We may not be psychodynamic in our orientation but as women and men who have been exposed to relationships, we must be ever alert to the power of transference and countertransference issues, unavoidable when working in the realm of sex therapy.
Karol is a Fellow of QCA and a registered member of PACFA. He has presented a number of seminars and workshops in the area of couple sex therapy at international, national and regional conferences. Karol’s profile is available here.