Counselling Dilemma: A Dominant Male Partner
Marcia, 29 years of age, came to you six weeks ago with issues of poor self-esteem and lack of self worth. She has been married for 8 years to Michael, however in session she speaks little about him and when the conversation turn towards him she quickly tries to change the subject or issue. Although you have noted this shift you have not challenged her regarding this relationship as you work on different areas and issues leading up to the relationship.
At the appointed time today Marcia shows up with an unannounced Michael for her session. He said he was there because Marcia was changing and he wanted to play a role in the process, while getting a notion about what was in Marcia’s mind at the moment.
Throughout the session you watch Michael dominate and bully Marcia into answers that she, you feel, would not normally give. At one point Michael tries to stand over you when you challenge this behaviour. Throughout the session you feel uncomfortable and have feelings of melancholy for your client.
At the end of a very strained session Michael declares that he thinks it would be better if he came to all Marcia’s sessions so he can see what going on and what you’re filling her head with. After they had gone and you have reflected on the session you discover how his behaviours and her passivity have triggered feelings of unresolved helplessness in you — similar to those that you felt when your parents displayed these behaviours.
As her counsellor, how would you react to this situation?
It?s very unfortunate that Michael was given permission at that stage to enter into a counselling situation with his partner, Marcia. For this counsellor to have an understanding of the Australian Counselling Association Code of Conduct, it is stated clearly under Code of Practice 2.1 Issues of Responsibility; Client Safety Code 184.108.40.206.
?Counsellors must provide privacy for counselling sessions. The sessions should not be overheard, recorded or observed by anyone other than the counsellor without informed consent from the client. Normally any recording would be discussed as part of the contract. Care must be taken that sessions are not interrupted?.
Taking into consideration the fact that Marcia would have signed a Counselling Contract at the outset where the concepts of confidentiality and its limits would be outlined and presented in the form of a leaflet after explanation in detail.
Code 2.3.4 Exceptional Circumstances; Clause 220.127.116.11 ?Any disclosure of confidential information should be restricted to relevant information, conveyed only to appropriate people and for appropriate reasons likely to alleviate the exceptional circumstances. The ethical considerations include achieving a balance between acting in the best interests of the client and the counsellor?s responsibilities to the wider community?.
Knowing and understanding these limits would place that counsellor in a better perspective for themselves personally, however this counsellor has been triggered through issues around feelings of unresolved helplessness so as a reaction to this situation, contacting their supervisor and also the code 2.6.1 Counsellor Competence and Education; clause 18.104.22.168 ?When uncertain as to whether a particular situation or course of action may be in violation of the Code of Ethics and Practice, counsellors must consult with their counselling supervisor and/or other
Ref: Australian Counselling Association, Code of Conduct, Version 4, October 2002, Retrieved from http://www.theaca.net.au/docs/code_conduct.pdf on 8th November 2007
This is a very difficult situation but one that I would not necessarily allow to get this far. For instance, when Michael turned up at the session I would state that I usually only see individual clients and don?t do couples? therapy (only if that was truly the case though). I would either offer them an alternative counsellor for couples therapy while Marcia continued to see me or I would suggest that they book in a different time to see me as a couple, while I still focussed on Marcia?s individual sessions.
If it got to the stage where they were both attending a session with me, I would ensure a contract was signed focusing on giving individual, open answers, not trying to influence the other?s responses, no bullying, intimidation or threats and no violence. I would start off on a very neutral subject as Michael seemed very controlling.
I would share my time equally between them, using appropriate micro skills with each. If Michael attempted to bully Marcia into an answer, I would gently tell Michael that Marcia has a right to her own opinions and that he signed a contract saying that he would not try to coerce Marcia. I would explain that the counselling sessions would not be valuable if he continued and remind him that I could refuse to see him if he displayed any aggressive tendencies.
I would talk to my supervisor after meeting Michael for the first time. I would discuss the fears I had for Marcia and the unresolved feelings of helplessness that I had felt.
I am in agreement with the Kathleen (above). I would empathise with his concerns/fears for a few minutes at the door and I would not have let Michael into the counselling session. Maria needs to feel safe in therapy and to be able to trust her counsellor can “keep this place safe” and letting Michael into “her counselling space” undermines this safety.
I would explain the confidentiality my position clearly and firmly and offer one or two couples therapists names so that Michael can contact them if he is wanting couples therapy. I would not offer to see Michael (individually) or Michael and Maria as a couple given his belief that he needs to “know what is going on with Maria”. I would want to keep Maria’s sessions with me completely separate from Michael.
I would take this incident to my supervisor to explore the issue of feeling helpless and any other unresolved transference/countertransference issues that arise.
All responses are excellent, one that may work would be to welcome Michael after making him fully aware that he has to pay full price for his part in the session, two clients, two fees.
Denying him access if he indeed is a bully will only result in Maria being at risk of retalitory behavior from him AFTER the sessions. The counselling office may be there to provide a ‘safe’ place, but the place she has to go home to is where she needs to be safe as priority.
Regarding bringing up feelings of helplessness, I would remind myself that I am an adult now and can only do my best.
I agree with everyone here, but I have to say that I am in full agreement with Kris. The main reason for this, is if you don’t allow him to attend and if he is that controlling, then he would eventually bully the client into not attending the sessions at all, which would be disastrous for the client and may prevent her from having the courage in the future to see someone. Although I had that feeling of helplessness, I would remind myself how the client lives this everyday. There is obviously a reason why Micheal is as controlling as he is. I would therefore want to understand why this is, keeping aware all the time that the main objective is to protect my client and allow her to regain her self confidence.
The question was how would you handle the situation that had occurred, not whether you would let the situation occur. As a student thank you very much Kris and Georgina for your insight, I have learnt a lot on how I would approach my role as a counsellor from this exercise.
What would you do if you chose to get back with your ex but while you were separated some other woman was in?your home tnikag your place?My ex and I are getting back together. I am moving from one state to go back to the state I was at. We have been separated for 2 years so in between he met someone and she moved in the home I picked and decorated. Now since she lived there for 1 year I feel like my home and space has been invaded.Am i over reacting or would you feel uncomfortable as well? She also works at one of the job sites my ex works at- he only needs to be there once a month but they will make contact at least once a month..Should I be concerned?? We have a child together so its important I try my best to make things work. He has a child from an outside relationship and so do I these children are older than the one we share together we both had them before we even met. The ex girl does not have any children anyway I mention the kids because we are going to have alot on our plate raising these kids and I hope this ex-girl issue wont brake us up again! What do you think??