This is my first time writing where I won’t earn a grade, meet a reporting mandate or hide my writing from the prying eyes of one of my siblings. Of course, I admit to the usual trepidation and concern when trying something new, and if I try just a little bit I can take myself to the place where worries and fears grow out of proportion. But that’s not where I am going to go today. As I was thinking about writing this, I thought about the clients I work with and how they too, are trying something new. It takes a great deal of courage for someone to acknowledge that things are not going too well for them. At this point they may have been living with their symptoms or problems for a long time. It takes courage for them to even think about asking someone for help. It takes courage to make that first phone call and divulge their name and number. It takes courage to share what they think might be the problem. It takes courage to wait a week or so for the first appointment. It takes courage to show up for the appointment, sit in the waiting room, fill out the forms and trust some of their most personal information to a stranger they just met. It takes courage to say out loud what is going on - because that makes it real.
They may describe symptoms of depression, or anxiety. They may have recently lost a loved one, or may be struggling with a relationship. They may have found out they have a chronic or life threatening illness, or they may report feeling “out of sync” with others around them. They most likely are hurting inside, their emotional pain chipping a part of them away every day. Sometimes they worry their actions have hurt others, and they realize that there is so much pain all around. They seek relief, a way to get rid of the pain, to make changes so that life gets better. Or make changes so that life doesn’t to hurt so much.
At their first session when I introduce myself to the client and shake their hand; that begins another new thing for them. Once we sit down, I ask them how was it that they found the courage inside themselves to make this appointment. Sometimes the expression on their face is one of pure disbelief. They’ll say it was no big deal, or yes, it was really hard. I find that the clients who say it was no big deal will later reveal that it may have been the first time in their life that they did something for themselves. The clients that say it was really hard realize that they have more courage than they ever thought. It is with this observation, on my part and theirs, that we both begin something new. Each time we meet they courageously share their thoughts, courageously try new coping techniques; new ways of thinking, and new ways of behaving. They may muster up the courage to meet with a psychiatrist and take a medication. They may admit they want to die and courageously place their trust in me to keep them safe. And then, they may begin again.
So, when I think about the clients I work with, and their courage in trying something new, I think I am lucky to have them for an example, an example that led me to try something new. I am wondering if other counselors have had a similar experience?
Kathy Renfree is a counselor in a community mental health setting, teaches in a graduate counseling program as needed, and is looking forward to building a private practice.