That first session...remember that? I was recently thinking back to the first client I saw as a professional, and how anxious yet excited I was. I remember getting little sleep the night before, skimming through my “old” grad school textbooks…. and by “old” I mean two months since taking the final. I also found myself browsing my practicum and internship notes attempting to gain some last minute insight or maybe even summon the ghosts of supervisors past to ease some jitters. What will I say to this client tomorrow? How will I respond? I was in my head, psyching myself out. I felt like I was cramming - but cramming for what I wondered? Tomorrow wasn’t an exam; it was a real client seeking guidance from a real counselor, me.
The next day I arrived at the office 2% excited and 98% nervous. I walked into the room, took a deep breath and said to myself, “This is where it starts for me.” I moved the chairs a little, adjusted the blinds, and moved that weird plant to the other side of the room. With about a minute or so before show time I closed my eyes for a moment and remembered a simple drawing a professor of mine drew on the board one day. We had asked him what to do when we got in our heads during a session. What to do hen we found ourselves thinking about what we were going to say next to the client even before they had finished their sentence. He went to the board and drew a picture of two stick figures. In this pair, both were standing side by side, and an arrow coming from eye level and pointed directly across to the other stick figures eyes. Under this drawing he wrote, “Do this.” Then he proceed to draw the same pair of stick figures, only this time rather than the arrow pointing directly across, it pointed above the head of the other figure and to a thought bubble. He labeled this, “NOT THIS.”
The drawing was to show us that we need to stay with our client (arrow head to head), not worry about what we are going to say next(arrow to thought bubble). When we focus on our words, trying to fit together a response before our client is finished, we have a great chance of not only missing the small details, but also our opportunities to connect.
With that in mind, I felt reassured, and for the first time in the last 24 hours I felt confident in my skills and abilities as a counselor. Before I knew it my first session was over. I will keep this simple drawing for many years when I find myself drifting into a “thought bubble” rather than staying in the moment.
What does this drawing mean to you? Do you have a piece of advice from a mentor or colleague that you have kept with you throughout the years? What would be your advice to counselors entering their first very first professional sessions?
Jaime Castillo is a counselor who works for a non-profit agency in New York City.