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Walking the Tightrope Between the Sacred and the Profane (by Andrew Stupple)

 A counsellor’s first order of business when beginning a consultation with a new client, is to listen and seek to understand the underlying challenges, being faced by the person in front of them. Getting to the root of the problem is one of the most difficult things to achieve, cutting through all the noise, the red herrings that get thrown up, plus the obvious issues that might merely mask the real ones.

To help a person to understand why they think and do the things they do, so that they can formulate a plan of action to change their mindset, a counsellor needs to know where they are coming from. This could mean knowing where your client’s perception of the sacred ends and where the profane begins.

It would be a mistake to believe that the sacred and profane is only applicable to religious people though.

For non-religious people, there may be “red lines” they subconsciously or consciously apply to their lives and the lives of those they know, between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, based on emotions such as shame, past behaviour and experiences.

For religious people, the difference between what is sacred and profane will probably be based on their interpretation of a religious text such as the Bible or the Qur’an. It could also be adopted from a book or sermon they have read or heard by someone, they deem as having a closer connection to a supreme being than they have. They feel that they can align their behaviour in the same way, to achieve the oneness with deity they need.

So how can we define and differentiate the boundaries between a client’s perception of sacred and profane? Their way of deciding right from wrong? Good from evil? Correct thought and action from incorrect thought and action?

Mircea Eliade helps to do this in his book: The Sacred and the Profane, first published in 1957. He says that a person “living in the sacred” can establish a fixed point in their life from which everything else flows. It enables them to establish the world as they want it to be.

The profane on the other hand has no such orientation. It is chaotic, and the person’s experience of life moves and changes in accordance with short-term needs; it allows for more adaptability.

The essence of this is of course control. A person applying and living to a set of self-imposed rules and having pre-set taboos, feels they are in control of their lives. When the profane encroaches on this because of an individual’s failure to be able to keep to the high standards he or she has set, for example by having to exist in an industrialised society, which governs and drives how we live (I call it the 'conveyor-belt society'), then the control a person thought they had has gone.

In view of this, one can easily see how understanding your clients perception of walking the tightrope between the sacred and the profane, is very relevant to counselling. (Andrew Stupple)

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Brenden Tempest-Mogg