I had a really good experience in my basic skills class last week. Everything seems like an allegory this semester (maybe that’s what it’s like when you finally feel at home with your choices), and this week was no different.
For the last ten weeks (!!) I’ve been recording sessions that I go to evaluate and think, I need to talk more. My professor listens to my recordings and goes, “I can hear you thinking.” I am frankly really surprised by the type of counseling student I am turning out to be. I have a lot of fear: I don’t do well by just jumping in. I set four or five goals for myself every week (“use three examples of XYZ new skill”, etc.), and although I usually meet them, I never really seem to get into the session. On a typescript, I’m technically correct, but upon listening to a recording I sound so unsure and hesitant that it’s hard to visualize myself ever being effective. I take so long to form a statement sometimes that by the time I’ve got it perfectly worded, it’s not even relevant anymore.
So last week I completely threw specific, skill-based goals out the window and set one very general goal for myself: talk more. Interrupt clients if that’s what it takes, but just talk more. My professor made the point that the more things a counselor says in a session — we call them “leads” — the more you have to correct. (Actually, more accurately, she says “more gristle for the mill”, which is AWESOME.) In essence: it’s better to have fifteen totally wrong leads than to have three perfect leads in a 30 minute session, because you learn more by reflecting on fifteen less-than-perfect leads.
So I went in, and I’m happy to say: I committed. One thing that trips me up a lot is that we’re supposed to be getting rid of asking questions, and so I spend so much time in sessions trying to figure out how to word what I want to ask as a statement, not a question. So this week: screw it, I’m just going to ask the questions, and when I get home and do my review analysis, I’ll figure out how I could have done it better. Another thing that trips me up is word choice — we talk a lot about judgmental vs. observational language in sessions. We strive for the latter for a lot of the same reasons scientists do. Keep your observations separate from your interpretation because it’s the only way to keep your contribution to the sessions completely client-focused, even though it comes from you. Anyway, I struggle with this a lot, and this week I just decided to say what comes into my head after five seconds of doing my best to frame it observationally. Basically: JUST DO IT. Get out there and say what you want to say and fix it later.
I just did my review analysis of the session expecting to have just that: fifteen totally wrong leads. BUT, to my great surprise (and pleasure) that’s not really what happened. It was so nice to review a session not spending the whole time going, “God, I wish I had said XYZ.” It turns out it really is a lot better to spend your review going “I could have said this a little differently, and here’s how I’ll say it next time.” I learned a lot more from reviewing this session than I have from any other — it’s all gristle for the mill, as Dr. C. would say.
I mentioned up top that I think this experience is allegorical. I have a hesitation problem in my everyday life, I think. I let a lot of opportunities pass me by. I made a conscious decision when I started this degree program not to be this way. A year ago, if I had gotten an email from a volunteer listserv asking for volunteers to help survivors of domestic violence I would have read it, thought, “wow, I wish I was qualified for that,” and deleted it. This year, I thought, “you know, let’s let them be the judge of that.” So I interviewed, and they took me. And I am learning so much with every shift. I’m getting so much incredibly valuable education (for free!) that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t done something that made me (frankly) really unsure and even uncomfortable. I am stretching who I am and the more I stretch the better I get. I can feel myself becoming different. It is a pretty incredible feeling — I think I had confused “learning” for “personal growth” during my undergrad. (This concept is an entirely new post, believe me.) For now I’ll just say I’m happy with a lot of the things I’m doing right now, including going to bed exhausted just about every night, and sometimes winding up with egg on my face. It’s all for the good.