When Help Becomes Assault

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship." (Louisa May Alcott)


Sometimes, you may feel like the easiest solution to help someone, whether it be escaping a cult, recovering from drug addiction, or healing from trauma, would be to remove them from their circumstances, against their will since their minds have been plagued by whatever stronghold has them bound and seemingly gone. When we ourselves, who were also once broken, have gone through the process of complete healing and deliverance, it may be our desire to make someone else's road to healing easier than our own. In doing so, we hinder the healing process by not realizing that our struggles through the hard times are actually where we found complete deliverance. Although the person in need of healing may not be themselves, if they are able to answer questions appropriately, proving that they are completely aware of what is going on, then they are considered to be legally able to make their own decisions, thus we cannot make decisions for them. At one point, people did try deprogramming tactics to remove someone from their situation or force an addict to detox against their will, but these strategies crossed ethical barriers and ended poorly due to the violation of people's rights.


Deprogramming refers to measures that claim to assist a person, who holds a controversial belief system or destructive patterns of behavior, into changing those beliefs and abandoning allegiance to those strongholds of addiction, bitterness, or the bondage of fear in an abusive cult. The dictionary definition of deprogramming is "to free" or "to retrain" someone from specific beliefs. Some controversial methods and practices of self-identified "deprogrammers" have involved kidnapping, false imprisonment, and coercion, which have sometimes resulted in criminal convictions of the deprogrammers. Some deprogramming regimens are designed for individuals taken against their will, which has led to controversies over freedom of religion, kidnapping, and civil rights, as well as the violence which is sometimes involved (Source: Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deprogramming).


As a nurse, our ability to provide life-saving medical assistance and our desire to help people can present a conflict when we come across people who may have life-threatening injuries or diseases, but do not want help. We have been trained to always be ready to help when needed but to also assure that the person in need actually wants our help. If you have been in a medical emergency, you may have thought it was strange that a medical professional asked for your permission to assist you, but it is important that the person in need accepts and acknowledge that they need help.


There are a few exceptions to this....for example, if a person is unconscious and unable to give consent, then we can assume responsibility/consent and do what is necessary to save a life. Also, if a person is unable to make sound decisions and answer questions appropriately, then we do what is medically necessary to help. In the event that someone has an unsound mind and refuses help, legal intervention is required to override their demands. Similar to the questionable ethics of deprogramming, if a person is conscious and able to answer questions appropriately pertaining to person, place, time, and events, then we have to honor their decision to refuse help. It is painful to walk away, but if we violate their choice to refuse help, then we will find ourselves facing assault and battery charges.


More importantly, outside of life-threatening emergencies, when offering our help to someone who needs long-term measures for spiritual healing, the admission of a problem and the decision to get help is a critical part of the process that we fail to recognize when we force someone to do something that they truly have no desire to do. There is an old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it." There has to be a thirst for change within. When we realize that our own deliverance wasn't forced, we realize the importance of the decision that has to be made. It is hard to watch people hit rock bottom, and we do our best to stop people from getting there, but we have to pray, give it to the Lord, and when they decide, help is here. They will drink from the well of Living Water, in Jesus' name. Lord, let it be so.


(Photo credit: www.northwestminnesotaartcouncil.org)

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