“The moment the words left my mouth, I was sorry I said anything at all,” Larry* said.

Rita, a long time attender of Larry’s church, had requested counseling from him to address her sexual abuse at the hands of her maternal grandfather. She had been to counseling with him once a week at his office for about a month when he ran into Rita’s sister at the local coffee shop.

As he was entering and her sister Stacy was exiting, she stopped him to thank him for meeting with Rita. She told him Rita seemed much happier.

“I’m so glad! Talking to her has actually helped me too,” Larry responded.

“What do you mean?” Stacy asked.

“My family has a history of abuse too. Hearing her talk about your family’s story has really helped me process my own issues,” Larry said. He could tell from Stacy’s horrified expression that he’d said too much. What he thought was just a bit of personal self-disclosure turned out to have been an inexcusable case of oversharing and a breach of confidentiality.

When Rita found out what he’d said, she was livid. And her family was enraged that Rita had told anyone their family's secret. Larry’s belated apologies did no good. Rita not only stopped counseling with Larry, she also stopped attending his or any Christian church.

The path of discernment

I have been doing counseling, training, speaking, writing, and consulting now for more than 20 years. A large portion of my consulting is with individual pastors and entire pastoral staffs related to this issue of setting, maintaining, and communicating appropriate professional boundaries when sharing personal information. As Larry’s experience shows, items of a sensitive ...