Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vicarious Thrills

It wasn’t too long ago that I read from a textbook that ministers and counselors can be tempted to get their vicarious thrills through the personal accounts of people who come to them for help.  For instance, while the clergyperson may not have engaged in many sexual adventures, he could enjoy hearing about what other people have done when they confess in the counseling room.

As soon as I read it, I realized that I used to do that.  However, I grew out of it before I read that it was a problem.  I couldn’t really draw a clear boundary back then, but I gradually realized I was on the wrong side of the line. I was using someone else’s misery to fill an emptiness in my own life.

When people come to me they’re often terribly conflicted about their pasts and they’re looking for resolution and perhaps absolution. They don’t intend to be a source of entertainment. 

Well, okay some of them do, but I’ll write about that another time.

I wish I had had better training in my younger days. However, we focused primarily on the study of scriptural texts and articulating doctrine. Nobody warned us of the temptations that few people other than ministers and counselors face. 

As I matured, I sharpened my focus on the concept that I’m supposed to help people, not use them. Plus--and this is a big thing--over the years, the sadness, cruelty, and pain of people’s lives have had a cumulative effect on me.  I’m still interested in being of help--sometimes even passionate, They honor me with their trust.  and I find satisfaction in helping. But I'm no longer excited by someone else's misadventures. I’m usually relieved to find refuge at home at the end of the day.    


  1. I can relate to what you are saying. In my few years of pastoral ministry I was often shocked by what I heard. A pastor friend once described it as drinking water from a cesspool. Hard to be unaffected by the carnage of other people's lives.

  2. Bob, I agree, but I also think it's the biggest honor bestowed on us. Thanks for the comment.