I just saw a commercial about a little girl who sheds her skin daily and it reminded me of a client I used to have when I worked at partial hospitalization for a child/adolescent psychiatric unit. The little girl had her skin EVERYWHERE, on the chairs, on the fooseball table, in the kitchen, someone would just say "gross" and shun her. This was her issue in school, she was 8 years old and got teased and shunned from classmates. She had to put oily cream all over her every half hour, and yes I can even say it was gross and noone wanted to be around her or sit in a chair she sat in. But this little girl was so sweet and so tormented by her issues. We as counselors had to really check our feelings constantly.
She deserved respect and caring and compassionate treatment. We talked among ourselves of how to do that when we were all feeling the same thing, she didn't have any diseases so that made it all the more easier to get to know this little girl and help her deal with her issues. We understood her issues because we felt the way the school kids felts HOWEVER the other kids in the partial hospitalization weren't like us, they accept her immediately and did not seem to have any issues with her skin falling off everywhere. This is where I can say we truly can learn from our clients. Their compassion towards her was remarkable and they even helped her out making her sandwiches at lunch so she didn't have to touch the meat and bread. They played fooseball with her and befriended her. It made me feel ashamed of my own feelings, however I was lucky I had them to keep my own feelings in check.
I got to know the little girl by talking to her and her talking in therapeutic group and learned how hard this has been on her and I truly understood what she meant when she said the other kids tease her and how self-conscious she is about her skin but more than anything she hates putting the cream on all the time. I think I wanted to share this so that we as counselors can keep our feelings in check and sometimes our feelings need validated by our colleagues, we all felt uncomfortable with this, but we helped each other work through it and focusing on the child and not her disease really put things in perspective. Although after she left we did have all chairs and floors washed down for sanitary reasons, I left knowing that I can feel uncomfortable about a client yet treat them without reservation if I keep my feelings in check.
Kimberly Beck is a counselor and a doctoral candidate with a special interest in Self-injury. Other interests are PTSD, trauma, and Borderline personality disorder