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‘Being With’ a Client Vs. ‘Doing to’: What’s The Difference and Why Is It Important for Christian Counsellors and Chaplains?

‘Being With’ a Client Vs. ‘Doing to’: What’s The Difference and Why Is It Important for Christian Counsellors and Chaplains?
Thursday 11th June 2020

There are lots of different facets to counselling and chaplaincy. The approaches to interacting with clients are as varied and as unique as the clients themselves. This year, the Counselling, Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care Faculty had the privilege to host Dr Stephen Robinson and Hugh Crago as they shared their experiences in the chaplaincy and counselling worlds. 


Both speakers emphasised that being present is an important part of caring for others. In fact, Crago, H and Gardner, P (2019), suggest that there’s a difference between the idea of ‘being with’ a client as opposed to ‘doing to’ a client. So what does this mean and why is it crucial to understand the difference? 

What is ‘doing to’? 

The ‘doing to’ approach may describe what many people may think about counselling before experiencing it themselves. It may involve offering up advice to someone, directing where the client should go during a session, setting the agenda or even setting up a sense of power difference in the therapeutic relationship. 

In a variety of chaplaincy contexts, carers who wittingly or unwittingly operate under the influence of an agenda, be it the pressure to visit large numbers of people or the internal pressure to evangelise will find that they are not connecting effectively with the person they are caring for. 

On the surface, this may not seem too strange — after all, many people believe that counsellors are there to give advice and direct them in their life and that chaplains are there to visit lots of people and witness to everyone. 

At Morling, we always encourage you to dig a little deeper.

If you were the client of a counsellor who took a ‘doing to’ approach, how would you feel? How would you respond to this kind of counselling experience? If you were a patient on the receiving end of a time-pressured visit from a chaplain who thought they should read the Bible with everyone they visit, how would you feel, and how would you respond to that kind of care? 

What is ‘being with’? 

‘Being with’ a client in a counselling or chaplaincy context could include developing a relationship with the client over time, being present and attuned to the client’s needs and agenda, tracking where the client wants the counselling session to go and working together around the client’s needs and goals. 

Imagine how you would respond, if you were receiving this kind of care.

The aim is always to make the client feel safe and valued and to give them the chance to speak and address issues when they’re ready, not coax them along a designed path. Not every time you connect will hold a big breakthrough but every week should make the client feel comfortable to share if they’re ready to do so. 

‘Being with’ means investing in and building a safe and secure attachment. 

‘Being with’ a client is providing a space where they can be themselves and bring what they want to bring. 

‘Being with’ allows a client to feel heard and valued. 

This is where safety and change are born. 

The balance is difficult to find. In this fast-paced world, we want answers now. Many people expect to receive advice, guidance and reassurance, even if in practice it doesn’t fulfil or comfort them. Taking a ‘being with’ approach slows things down, creates a safe space and acts in contrast to the rest of our busy world.

If you’re training as a Christian counsellor or chaplain or considering training, ask yourself: What kind of counsellor, what kind of chaplain do I want to be? What kind of experience do I want for the people I care for? 

Morling College values the ‘being with’ approach and offers you opportunities for face-to-face interactions throughout your study. With Morling’s intensives program, you get the best of both worlds with convenient, flexible online study blended with time on campus, with hands-on experience. 

Want to know more? Don’t hesitate to get in touch on +61 2 9878 0201 or counselling@morling.edu.au, and check out Morling’s counselling and chaplaincy courses.

Kath Gambell

Written by Kath Gambell

Kath is an Individual and Relationship Counsellor at the Ezra Clinic, Macquarie Park, as well as an Adjunct Tutor at Morling College. Follow online @lightrisingcounselling on Facebook and Instagram.

Kath Gambell's Blog

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