I used to be my worst enemy; a sleepless critic that would watch my every move and ruthlessly beat me down into my own submission. I can’t imagine what my critic would have done during this past week. We got news from my husband’s family that his father is having severe complications following an open heart surgery. We packed in no time and flew back to California to help. I knew my role: I was there to support my husband emotionally and help him cope with whatever was about to happen. I also knew that this trip will not only bring worries about my husband and his father, but a whole lot of other issues associated with his family (his mother in particular). I expected certain issues to re-emerge and I had no plans to address them.
As soon as we arrived, we rented a car and drove to the hospital. His father had the surgery the day before we arrived, was in critical condition, and was alone. His wife didn’t come to the hospital to be by his side because she was too worried about caring for her 5 dogs. My mother in law is a hoarder, in fact she is a good representation of what the term hoarder stands for. Although I knew about this problem for a while, I never attempted to “fix” it. This time it was different: all I could see was a helpless man, bleeding profusely, laying almost unconsciously on a hospital bed with nobody to care for him…so I reacted. I started judging my mother in law for the choices she is making, for not caring, for being just an awful, terrible person. I soon realized that it has been a long, long time since I last had such strong, negative feelings towards another human being. Upon pinpointing my feelings, I came to the realization that I will make an awful counselor. How can a counselor lack any shred of positive regard towards another human being? How can someone be a counselor if their mind is clouded by judgments? Am I that awful? Does thinking and feeling this way towards my mother in law make me a bad counselor?
I was lucky enough to have someone (outside my husband whom I didn’t want to burden) to vent to, to talk to, and to help me find reason. I didn’t need someone that will simply agree with me and make me feel better regardless of how they felt, but someone who will be genuine, supportive, yet directive and honest. My counseling soul-mate was there for me all along and helped me see that counselors are not machines. In fact, counselors are human and capable of feeling both negative and positive emotions; counselors have families and friends and for/with them, they are not counselors. The ACA Code of Ethics got it right: avoiding counseling relationships with family and friends will not only ensure ethical practice, but also help the ones involved stay away from a whole array of problems.
So, do I still think I will make a bad counselor because of how I felt about my mother in law? No, I learned firsthand that it is not my problem to fix family and friends. I also learned that with my clients, I am not personally involved and can keep an open and objective eye…after all, it’s not about me and my feelings, I am there only for them.
Diana C. Pitaru is a counselor-in-training, and a student at Walden University. Her theoretical interests are in Gestalt, Art, and Narrative therapy while focusing on multicultural issues and eating disorders.