Haug, I. E. (1999). Boundaries and the use and misuse of power and authority:
ethical complexities for clergy psychotherapists. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77, 411-417.

Although this article deals with “clergy-persons” who add “counseling” to their job descriptions, it would apply to any professional person who supervises others and may have occasion informally to “counsel” them. I see applications especially to those who are teachers.
An Abstract of "Boundaries and the Use and Misuse of Power and Authority:
Ethical Complexities for Clergy Psychotherapists"

Dr. Ingeborg E. Haug in an article in Journal of Counseling & Development seeks to establish clearer boundaries for clergy professionals who add in-depth counseling to their pastoral role. She seeks to prevent abuse of clients by pastoral-counselors who have little training in professional counseling and awareness of its inherent, potential risks (1999, p. 411). Haug points out that clergy already “enjoy a particular trust and high regard” in the minds of the public (p. 411). Persons in need of help with personal and confidential problems naturally turn to their trusted clergy-person with whom they already have a cordial relationship. However, problems occur in the counselor-counselee relationship when the clergy-counselor is not professionally trained in counseling. The two roles—pastor and counselor—have a different set of non-verbal boundaries for the protection of parishioners. Hence, the combining of the two roles in one person adds special “boundary dilemmas” (p. 411).

Haug defines “professional boundaries” as a “frame which, like a picture frame, demarcates what is included in or excluded from the...relationship” (p. 412). The pastoral role is often is one of a “special” friendship with parishioners. It is not perceived as a “professional” role since pastors often attempt “minimize both their own influence over [parishioners] and their ethical responsibility for the relationship” (p. 412). This is essential for the “feel” of the relationship. It must feel like a genuine friendship, and not have the feel of a “clinical relationship,” in order to be a successful pastor-parishioner friendship. Often pastors make home visits (p. 412), make hospital visits, eat lunch in private with parishioners, and offer comfort in the form of hugs (p. 413), all of which in a counseling situation would be unethical as a crossing of an unspoken, but clearly understood, professional boundary (p. 412).

Therefore, the pastoral role with its particular “special” set of boundaries could be harmful in a counseling situation. The counselor’s role is one of trust, confidentiality, and power. Clients share extremely personal matters with counselors and have the right to expect the counselor to be trustworthy (p. 412). This makes the power in the relationship the counselee uneven. Counselees are vulnerable in a counseling situation in ways that they are not when they are “mere” parishioners. Haug points to this as the reason why clergy-counselors must “proactively” establish clear boundaries for their roles in counselor-counselee relationships and not revert to “pastor-friend” role in the counseling relationship. It is the pastoral-counselor’s responsibility to guarantee that the role boundaries are never encroached upon from either side since the counselor is the custodian of power in the relationship (p. 412).

Haug contrasts the different roles, training, and expectations for pastors and counselors. Realizing the special differences would be a significant “first step” toward establishing proper role boundaries for both (p. 413-414).

  • Clergy-persons who do the work of therapists must be trained in the field, especially in the ethics of psychotherapy. Their training as clergy-persons predisposes them to establish informal relationships that have few boundaries. The pastor-counselor role demands stricter boundaries (p. 413).
  • She also highlights the danger to females in either position of a counseling relationship in regard to male hierarchical privileges. The female might be placed in a vulnerable position since many religious groups do not have safeguards built into counseling situations for females, either as counselor or counselee (p. 413).
  • Haug points out the danger to clergy who are idealized and exalted due to their position in a religious vocation. They are not treated as humans having both strengths and weaknesses. If clergy-persons have little or no formal training in counseling, they may be unable to recognize “transference of feelings” to themselves by counselees. If pastoral-counselors have unmet emotional needs, this might place them in a vulnerable position (p. 413).
  • Socialization as a clergy-person and little training as a counselor often compromises confidentiality of the counselee. Pastors often speak with third party parishioners about struggles of other parishioners. This would be a breach of confidence by a counselor (p. 413).
  • Haug lists a series of “practice structures” as a final problem area for pastor-counselors. Pastors often have a sketchy, or no, job description. They often “become workaholics” who do not take care of their own needs. This leaves them vulnerable when they counsel people who are themselves in an emotionally vulnerable state (p. 413).
  • Furthermore, clergy often work alone most of them time and have little supervision. Counselors need to work in teams and be accountable to one another for maintaining professional ethics and behavior (pp. 413-413).

Haug’s definition of “boundary violations” as “a process” gives a general concept of the special dilemmas pastoral-counselors face. Several small “boundary crossings” usually precede the serious and objectionable one. The danger comes when counselors “slip back” into their pastoral role to comfort a counselee, perhaps with an “innocent hug.” She urges pastoral-counselors to see small infractions as “warning signs” of other major ones to follow. The clearly established, proactive boundaries are a “safety net” for the counseling relationship, establishing “dependability, trust, and security” in the counselor-counselee relationship on both sides (p. 414).
Haug points out five special boundary dilemmas pastoral-counselors face in their practice.

  • Pastoral-counselors should beware of establishing “multiple relationships” with counselees. Role boundaries should include the following negatives: pastoral-counselors (a) should not become intimate friends with counselees, (b) should not go into business with them, nor (c) should they visit in their homes (p. 414). Clergy-counselors must ensure that the counseling relationship is entirely for the benefit of the counselee (p. 413).
  • There is the potential that a pastoral-counseling relationship might “slide into” a sexual one. The innocent “hug” could become a more sensual “embrace” or even lead to “a kiss.” A counselor with unsatisfied sexual needs is especially at risk if the role boundaries of the relationship have been relaxed to that of a pastor-parishioner one (p. 415).
  • A clergy-counselor must resist the temptation to discuss confidential information about a counselee with another parishioner (p. 415-416).
  • Clergy-counselors must not infringe upon counselees’ autonomy by forcing upon them any of the clergy-persons’ personal, religious views. Counselees must be free to decide on matters related to their own treatment (p. 416).
  • There is the dilemma of how much of a clergy-person’s time and energy ought to be given to a counselee. Pastors tend to be “on-call” at all times. Counselors have schedules and their time is allotted to counselees sparingly. Parishioners might expect a clergy-counselor to “treat” them at a social event in an informal discussion. This would be crossing the role boundaries of a counselor-counselee relationship and reverting to that of a pastor-friend role with its conflicting set of boundaries (p. 416).

Haug concludes with several recommendations of setting proper boundaries so the counselor-counselee relationship will not result in abuse of either party.

  • Clergy-counselors must be trained in counseling and especially in the area of ethics.
  • The counselor training ought to include all areas related to sexuality, so that boundaries can be initiated proactively.
  • Clergy-counselors ought to receive help in the administrative aspects of counseling. Guidelines for expectations of counselees, contracts stating goals of the therapy, and the scheduling of sessions need to be clearly handled to maintain the counselor-counselee relationship (p. 416).
  • A proper support system for the pastoral-counselor and supervisory relationships ought to be put into place and maintained to eliminate succumbing to “blind-spots” (pp. 416-417).
  • Clergy-counselors ought to be accountable for taking care of their own personal needs, so the temptation to satisfy them in the counseling setting might be avoided (p. 417).
  • Clergy-counselors must engage in therapy with a therapist if there is a personal need. It is not proper to draw a counselee into a counselor’s personal life and problems (417).

The boundaries pertaining to the role of clergy-counselor are clearly delineated by Haug. She is an advocate of proper educational credentials and training for this task. Even though she has clergy-counselors in mind, the principles apply to any professional person who counsels others informally in the course of their work. Proper boundaries ensure safety for all involved and are not restrictive of compassion and care, but proactively protective of all parties involved.