Counselor at a Christian Shelter

In this interview, a Christian counselor shares how she has combined her faith with a passion for helping others in a rewarding career at a women’s shelter. While the salary is low, she makes ends meet by living modestly while staying in employer-owned housing.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I am a Biblical Counselor at a Rescue Mission. I had no experience before being hired. Three adjectives that describe me are passionate, serious, and musical.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am a Caucasian female. I could not perform this job in a woman’s shelter if I were a man. I do think my insecurities and thin skin create challenges in this line of work. I do remember one incident of discrimination where an ex-boyfriend told my boss I broke a company policy. My boss believed him and nearly fired me until a co-worker defended me. I do not think this situation would have happened had I been a man.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: As a biblical counselor, I take responsibility for several program clients – women who enter the shelter and wish to receive life skills and job training. We complete Bible studies together and prepare for life after homelessness. I also work in the emergency shelter with short term clients. We perform intakes, check the clients into the shelter every night, lead devotions, and handle relations between clients.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: About a 7. I would prefer working alone in a quiet cubicle for 8 hours where I could concentrate.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I want to help women find a better life. Substances, men, and babies do not meet their deepest needs. As I try to lead them to wholeness, some women open up with their life story or seem to genuinely desire to change which really thrills me. I wish I could make more women want to embrace change. Since I am task oriented, I find their lack of interest and even hostility to be discouraging.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: While I do not come from a background of drugs and alcohol, I do have a history of dating shady men. I needed their affirmation rather than knowing the strength I possess as a woman. This characteristic, commonly found in women, motivated me to sacrifice financially in order to help women create a better life for themselves and their children.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: My college offered federal financial aid for students to work in the community, and the Rescue Mission hired me to work in their community outreach center. After a few years, I transferred to the women’s shelter to work exclusively with women. I would not change anything about my experience.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I cannot live according to someone’s opinion of me. Do the best I can, remain true to my beliefs, and let others think what they will. Clients frequently criticize my actions, and I cannot allow their opinions to discourage or taint my view of every resident.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: What you read on paper does not work in real life. Theory means little when faced with real life situations.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: A client in our long-term program worked third shift and served as the shelter after-hours attendant. She told us that one of her daughters had died, and we discussed her pain and emotions at length. One night, she told us that the front desk man was sleeping and would not wake up to let her into the building. After she told several similar stories, we discovered she had been fired from her job and went out drinking every night. Her parents called and told us that her daughters were indeed both alive. That client had convinced the entire staff of the validity of her story, and I still feel betrayed and sorry for her to this day. I pray she has finally become honest with herself and others in order to receive help.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: Internally, I have a strong work ethic and responsibility to keep my word. I am unable to blow off work. As far as work rewards, seeing a client make a wise choice really makes my day worthwhile.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: Clients sometimes need emergency assistance and enter my office stressed and impatient. I struggle with women who lie about drug use, or keep making the same mistakes. I want to quit when I feel like I am not making a difference or when a client angrily challenges me verbally.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: My job is stressful. I manage to create work-life balance by not thinking about work when I am home. I try to trust in my clients to make wise and healthy choices when I am away from work, and I pursue music and friends.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: I make $21,000 per year. I do not think my salary falls in a competitive range for the services I offer, but I understood the salary limits of taking a non-profit job before I accepted the position. To make ends meet, I live in the inner city. My employer owns the house and rents it to me very inexpensively. I drive a paid-off car and eat at my job’s cafeteria as often as possible. I would like more money but am not ready to move to secular employment.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I receive one week of vacation each year and one comp day after working one weekend every month. I love the comp days because they are like mini vacations.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: I earned the required Bachelor of Science degree. Because this non-profit Rescue Mission operates under the Christian faith, I must profess Christianity and attend church regularly as well as live according to biblical principles. To succeed in this field, one needs thick skin. Clients continuously fight the shelter rules and yell at staff. Additionally, you have to be able to manage stress. With nearly 100 women and children living together, tempers, misunderstandings, and disagreements flare frequently. Counselors must be skilled in crisis management, kindness, and tough love. Positive breath or urine tests require us to ask the client to leave the shelter. Especially if the woman has kids with her, this consequence can be rough for the clients and staff.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: If you believe you can make a difference, possess a teacher’s heart, and love people, then go for it. If you need a high paying, low stress, rewarding job, look elsewhere. Burnout happens frequently. You must develop tough skin and really love people for success.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I would be a homemaker, married with children. I want to make my own schedule and care for my family. While I appreciate this job and my co-workers especially, I prefer a quiet, peaceful, calm environment. Working weekends and nights with hostile clients mentally drains me.


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