Dialogue with an Adventist sex counselor in Sweden
Ingrid Klämberg is director of the Youth Counseling Center in the city of Boras, Sweden. She supervises a team of seven professionals who assist young men and women who come seeking help in matters of family relationships and sexuality. She also teaches sex education courses in the local high school and maintains a private practice in counseling for young adults. The Boras Youth Center is one of 150 counseling centers that the Swedish government operates in various parts of the country for young men and women 13-25 years of age.
Mrs. Klämberg completed her nurse's training in 1976, received her midwife certificate in 1980, and in 1993 was awarded a graduate degree in sexology at Gothenburg University.
She and her husband are actively involved in the life of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For many years she has been the treasurer of her church in Boras, where she also gives Bible studies to young people. Her husband, Johnny, is one of the church elders. Mrs. Klämberg has served as a member of the Swedish Union Committee, and of the Trans-European Division Committee, with headquarters in St. Albans, England.
As a counselor and family-life specialist, Mrs. Klämberg frequently lectures in schools, conferences, and seminars.
How did you become a Seventh-day Adventist?
My mother was an Adventist, and her words and example encouraged me to surrender my life to Christ and join the church. I made my decision when I was 18. Johnny, whom I met when I was 17 and who later became my husband, was also a positive factor in my personal decision. Although we had never heard about Seventh-day Adventists before we met, we studied and decided together to become members of the church.
Would you describe a typical week in your professional life?
Every week I work 30 hours counseling at the Youth Center and 6 hours teaching sex education in the local high school. Last year more than 5,000 young people visited our center. I personally meet about 15-20 young people every day. These youth seek my counsel and the advice of my colleagues on issues such as the use of contraceptives, and tests or treatments for sexually transmitted diseases. Young couples want to talk about their relationship and a possible pregnancy. Some hesitate between seeking an abortion or keeping the baby. Once a week I also have a private practice for young adults who are older than 25.
What challenges do you face in your work?
Many of the young people who come to the center belong to broken homes and one-parent families. They struggle with their own identity while experimenting with sex. They experience rejection, anger, emotional pain, and loneliness. They ask all kinds of questions: "Am I normal?" "My parents are getting divorced, why? What can I do with my life?" The most difficult cases are raped girls and victims of incest. It is hard to be young today!
Some days I get very upset and sad because young people do not take care of themselves and get into trouble. They lack firm principles. Some seem to think, "It's never going to happen to me!" or "I will never catch a disease or get an unwanted pregnancy." I'm also frightened by the number of younger adolescents who are suffering from sexually transmitted diseases.
How do you relate personally to these painful cases?
When I shut the door of the center in the evening I can't leave the pain and the problems there. They keep on turning in my mind. Sometimes I even dream about some young people, whom I care a lot about. Fortunately, I have a wonderful, understanding family that gives me warmth and support. I also seek to live close to God and talk to Him in prayer. We all need someone who is willing to listen to us when we are sorry, angry, or confused. Once a month I meet with a psychologist to talk about some of the difficult cases I meet at the center.
What gives you satisfaction in your work?
To be able to help a young person take charge of his or her life and rebuild it on a solid moral foundation, in spite of disappointments and mistakes. It is so encouraging to see healing and a change for the better!
Do your Christian convictions play a role in your professional life?
Everyone in the area knows that I am a Seventh-day Adventist. In fact, frequently girls who come to the center ask to speak with "the Christian midwife." As a result of my work as a counselor on sexuality at the center I have sensed a deeper need for God's guidance and wisdom in my life. Every day He helps me to guide and encourage the young people who come to me with their questions and problems.
As a Christian, how do you see the sexual dimension of our lives?
Sex is a gift of God and we must take very good care of it. Within a loving relationship, it is a source of joy that fosters deep spiritual unity between husband and wife.
What questions are you usually asked as you meet with Christian young people?
Why do Christians connect sex with sin? Why is it wrong to have sexual relations before marriage? If two young people really love each other and are going to get married, why should they refrain from sexual intercourse? Even if promiscuity is condemned in the Bible, why do Christians see it as one of the most serious sins?
What advice would you give our readers, many of whom are still single men and women, in their mutual relationships?
Develop your own convictions based on the Bible and stand by your principles. Don't let yourself be pressured by others. In your mutual relationships, treat each other with respect, as God's creatures. Don't enter into an intimate relationship that you will regret later. Remember that every action in the area of sexuality will affect the rest of your life. If you make a mistake, ask God for forgiveness and strength to change your behavior.
Having sex is like giving a piece of yourself to someone. Be extremely careful with that gift, because you can never get it back. In the waiting room of our youth center there is pen and paper for those who wish to write something in preparation for their visit. A young woman recently wrote: "Life is empty without you. I feel that a piece of me is still with you. Please, help me to get back that piece of me so I can be wholesome again!"
Do young men and women relate to sex differently?
I have rarely met a young man who was single and who regretted his first sexual intercourse, but most single women do. I remember a young Christian woman who was deeply in love and thought their love would last a lifetime. She trusted her boyfriend so much that they became sexually intimate. Then, suddenly, the relationship broke up. She was devastated. Now, instead of looking back to a deepening love experience, she could see only rejection and pain.
Please tell us about your family.
My husband is a businessman, and we have two children in their twenties. Patrik, our son, is married. He and his wife have recently given us our first granddaughter. What a joy! Our daughter Cecilia is a nurse and a world traveler, gifted in languages. God has blessed me with a wonderful family.
How do you combine your professional work with the rest of your responsibilities?
I have discovered that when you give God the best of your time--in study, prayer, and service--He grants you enough time and energy to accomplish the rest of your goals in life.
What is the status of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sweden?
We are 3,300 Adventists in a country of approximately eight million. We operate two health centers and a secondary boarding school, Ekebyholmsskolan, where I regularly lecture. At present our membership is not growing in Sweden as we would like it to.
Our own church in Boras is quite dynamic, with many young people and young families. We pay special attention to youth activities. There are also some students who attend Gothenburg University. We know by experience that if we devote time to our children and youth, involving them in the life of the church, most of them will embrace our faith and remain themselves committed to the message and mission we love so much.
Interview by Ronald Strasdowsky. Ronald Strasdowsky (Dr. Phil., University of Freiburg) is education director and Dialogue representative for the Euro-Africa Division in Bern, Switzerland.
Mrs. Ingrid Klämberg's address is: Kvarnberga Pl 5508; 505 94 Boras; Sweden.