We’re in the middle of another weekend of advocacy training right now (the final training!), and tonight’s sessions touched on a lot of the same stuff we’ve been touching on in my for-credit classes this semester. One theme that’s been really emerging for me lately is diversity in terms of the strengths and the weaknesses that a cohort of counselors brings to the table, and in turn, then, what I bring, as a part of that cohort.
I talked a bit in my last post about some of the weaknesses that I bring – and probably will continue to discuss that, for whatever the duration of this blog is – and so tonight I think I’m going to spend a little bit of time writing about what I think is probably my biggest asset when approaching both clinical work and advocacy work, which is: in most aspects of my life, and especially, so far, in my professional life, I don’t really have an ego. Or anyway, as someone who did recently manage to pass an exam covering Freud, I have a very relatively small ego, and I don’t tend to let it get in the way very often.
We did a small ice-breaker in my development class yesterday wherein she created a maze taking up the room with a bunch of obstacles throughout. She divided half the class into “counselors”, who were not blindfolded, and half into “clients”, who were blindfolded. (The metaphors, they abound.) When she called “start”, we all, simultaneously, had to either guide our clients, or be guided by our counselors, through the maze.
During the debrief, many students mentioned that they were much more stressed out as the blindfolded client than as the counselor, because they “didn’t have control of the situation” as the client, but as the counselor, they could see the obstacles and felt confident guiding their clients through a (relatively simple) maze. This theme came up very frequently, and almost everyone in the class mentioned some derivative. I, however, had exactly the opposite experience. Having control over a situation, I’ve realized, doesn’t calm me. I don’t crave control. I have never been a person that needs to be specifically and pointedly in control of a situation. All I want is to help, whether I’m seen or not, and then slink back out of a situation.
The other thing that struck me is how often people tended to comment on having trouble with getting their clients to do what they told them to do, which is just… mind-boggling to me. “I instructed my client to step over a book,” one girl said, “and we had trouble because she didn’t know how high she needed to step.” We had that trouble too, but the second my client said he was uncomfortable attempting to step over an obstacle he couldn’t see, I made a mental note. No more “over”; looks like we’re going around things from now on. And we did, and we finished the maze without ever hitting anything. I’m not afraid to be wrong. This has always been true. I’m very quick to go out on a limb, see that I was wrong, talk about my error with my peers/supervisors, and immediately refine my approach. This has always served me well in academia, and I think it’ll serve me even better in counseling.
Tonight, in class, we talked about the fact that usually, being a crisis intervention advocate means that you’re dealing with people at their worst: you’re dealing with people who are drained, whose emotions are frayed. We talked about the fact that often, you’ll get yelled at, or snapped at, or have a door slammed in your face. This seemed to make a lot of the class really uncomfortable, but before the instructor even mentioned reasoning, I knew where she was going: sometimes, you’re going to get yelled at because you’re the only person in her life that she feels safe yelling at. Being someone who shoulders pain is important to me, but, if your advocacy is going to be a long-term part of you, so is understanding what that means: sometimes, shouldering pain is a matter of allowing another person to release something, directed at you, without letting it hurt you.
Without going into too much personal detail, there are definitely a lot of relationships in my life that survive because of how willing I am to be this person. It takes strength and skill to do it right. I suppose the most concise way to say what I do well is: I don’t take things personally. I’m very good at listening to very sad, angry, disappointed people rail through an entire spectrum of emotion, and knowing that everything they’re throwing at me isn’t directed at me. It’s flying in my direction, but that’s because I’ve chosen to stand there and listen, not because I’ve caused it. A lot of people have a far harder time than I do making that distinction, and I am grateful for this trait literally, now, every day.
What I need to get better at is remembering this on the days that things don’t go well. We open each and every session in my skill-based class with an informed consent policy & multicultural statement, even though you probably wouldn’t go through it more than once or twice with a real client. It’s so that you can get practice: not only is the content itself incredibly important, but it sets the tone for the rest of your session. On Wednesday, I bungled mine. Hard. So far, it’s the worst I’ve felt about anything I’ve done as a counseling student. It’s so easy, during these moments, for me to think, “OBVIOUSLY NOT A GOOD COUNSELOR!!!!1!” What I need to do is think, good counselor, bad moment. I’ve learned to play a lot of instruments in my day, and the best thing about that is that it taught me how to practice. Fall. Get up. Fall again. Get up again. Rise. Sometimes things are hard. Sometimes things fall into place, though, and I need to remember the things about myself, many of which have been true all along, that are going to keep me being good at this.