Creating A Safe Place
Practically what does creating a safe place for women with same-sex attraction look like?
Listen: Sounds simple, obvious, and easy but it will take a lot of time and patience. It may take time for a woman to “find her own language to unfold her experiences, beliefs, identities and…goals” (p. 24). For many it will be an emotional and painstaking process that will most likely take more than one meeting. However, don’t underestimate how valuable a listening ear can be. For some, simply the process of talking things out and sharing their pain and struggle with someone who they know will not be wagging fingers can be extremely healing. In our busy world time is a valuable commodity and patience is a virtue not often exercised but it can be one of the best gifts you can give to a woman who is in conflict with her SSA.
For me one of the most healing times in my life was when I was able to share my past and present struggle with a friend through e-mail and received her gracious response of understanding.
Ask Questions: Actively seek to understand her. The best way to do this is to ask questions. As I post more about some common experiences thought patterns etc. of women with SSA you will be helped in knowing what questions to ask. For now I will say that just the fact that you are taking the time to ask thoughtful genuine questions will communicate that you want to understand her thoughts, feelings, relationships, and decisions that she has made in life, regardless of how you may agree or disagree with them.
If you are unsure whether your friend or counselee would welcome your questions about this very personal issue in her life simply ask her permission to ask questions. Tell her your desire to understand her and where she is coming from and more likely than not, especially if you have been a good listener up to that point, she will welcome your questions.
Listen and Ask Questions Before Your Try Anything Else
In most circumstances what will be the most effective first step to helping a woman with SSA is to compassionately and humbly listen and ask questions before you try to help. Honestly, this is what most of us want from the people we seek help from regardless of the issue we are struggling with. It is a huge part of creating a safe place for a woman who has most likely taken great risk in making herself vulnerable to you.
The following quote sums it up nicely.
“It will probably require a tremendous amount of courage for a woman to make the initial phone call to, let alone show up in, a counselor’s office. She comes scared, tentative and unsure of her goals for therapy yet possibly is unable to continue life on her own without support and outside help. Most women with SSA enter therapy believing they are bad people—dangerous, malformed and even repulsive to God. Shame often shades every aspect of their being. It seems to me that the last thing they need is for their new therapist to focus on perhaps the most shameful issue in their life in an effort to affirm or disaffirm. I have observed that as I offer my respect by first getting to know my client and understanding all aspects of her life, bolstering her sense of dignity and value, she is then able to expose and explore these deep and perhaps shameful aspects of her life” (p. 33-34).
Hallman shares 4 things she does with each new client she counsels.
1. She communicates that her client has value.
2. She works to know her client as an individual.
3. She commits to her client “as a person, not to a particular therapeutic outcome.
4. She works to “support growth and development” in all aspects of her clients life, “promoting her overall welfare and well-being.” (p. 34)
As a biblical counselor in training I feel great tension concerning Hallman’s last two points and I am still wrestling with what, as believers who have been entrusted with the truth, our response should practically look like to counselees who choose to embrace their same-sex attractions. I realize that we must take into consideration biblical passages that speak of church discipline and the difference between those who claim Christ but without a care embrace sinful lifestyles and those who are unsaved and are simply living as unsaved people live. These are questions I will consider attempting to address in future posts but for now my hope is that this post will help you understand the value that the relationship itself can have in someone’s life and how creating a safe place for a woman with SSA is the first step towards creating an opportunity to speak truth into her life. Truth certainly needs to be shared, for our love would be incomplete without the sharing of truth, but let us first work to love and understand so that the truth we hope to share can be shared skillfully and without the atmosphere of coercion or threat of rejection as a person.
(All of the page references are from Hallman, 2008)
Hallman, Janelle. (2008). The heart of female same-sex attraction: A comprehensive counseling resource. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.