When we are talking to our friends and they become miffed, we may casually change the subject. We don’t want to make our friends upset when we are together and having a good time. Counseling challenges that gut instinct to smooth over a rocky situation. With our clients, the situation may call for us to go deeper and risk hurting their feelings or bringing them to an emotionally vulnerable place. We have to remind ourselves that our clients are there to be helped — they do not need another friend, but a person who can help them navigate the emotional terrain of life. A friend may not risk hurting the client’s feelings, or may think that endorsing poor decisions or behavior is proving what a good friend they really are. A counselor being afraid to hurt a client’s feelings and tiptoeing around important subjects is not going to help the client. If the client was looking for someone to agree with them on everything and not challenge them, they would look no farther than their friends for help and would not need our guidance.
This is all logical, but in the heat of the session it can be easily forgotten. No one seeks to make people upset, and it can be hard to tell the truth to a client and see them go from contented to crestfallen. I almost want to avoid these conversations altogether and just talk about sports or movies. Other times I feel the urge to rescue emotional clients and want to bring them to a more neutral place. I am learning to resist this urge. It is a small act of tough love to not put a band-aid on the issue and to let clients down in the short-term so that they may benefit in the long-term. As I continue in my practicum this semester, I try to bear this in mind. It is not always easy, but I know in the end it will be best for my clients.
Tara Overzat is a counselor-in-training at Mercer University in Atlanta. Her interests include multicultural issues and acculturation amongst college students.