ACA Blog

Ryan Thomas Neace
Mar 31, 2011

The Sensitive Jerk: My Journey from Counselor to Counselor-Administrator

It isn’t hard to see how I ended up picking the counseling path. I lived among a bunch of analytical types. My father is a technical project manager, my eldest brother an electrical engineer, and my middle brother a senior computer analyst. My mother works in banking. Granted, the focus of their analyses was more technical or financial than psychological, but the basic tendencies are there. Once I discovered an innate tendency toward introspection, and one that was quite a bit more intense than those around me, a career in “people” seemed to just make sense. By way of formal education, actual therapy for myself, and field experience, I’ve developed (and am still developing) the 2 essential counselor skills – analysis and empathy. All the law and prophets of counseling are engulfed in these two. But, as you may be aware, there’s a lot more to being a counselor than…well, counseling. Since my partner and I began talking about starting a private practice as an outgrowth of our existing work a few years ago, I’ve applied almost every other skillset I have too. Copyrighting, marketing, web design, and of course, the less glamorous tasks – paying bills, running credit cards, payroll, etc. All those checkbook lessons my mom gave me are finally paying off. Putting furniture together, changing the restroom toilet paper, dusting. And the beat goes on. But, there is one skillset in which I find myself struggling– managing people. I would love to wax eloquent here about exactly what the requirements of a successful manager of people are, but, honestly…I don’t know! What I do know is that I frequently scratch my head at my seeming ability to know and understand my clients, and to convey genuine warmth and caring, and my seeming ability to do the same with my employees. Between appraisals of worth (and resultant pay), scheduling conflicts, submission of notes, timeliness, and general dragging of heels, I just feel lost. When I sense resistance in my clients, I don’t lock arms with them WWF-style to see which one of us will buckle first. I go with their resistance, and use it to our mutual advantage in therapy, perhaps highlighting a discrepancy between what my client says he/she wants, and what he/she is actually willing to do. This is a classic application of motivational enrichment. But, I struggle to apply this logic to my employees, and to some degree, I’m not even sure I should. I don’t want to “therapize” them (at least to the extent that I can manage given who I am), but I don’t want to be a jerk either. As the more administratively minded partner of our practice, I do find myself frequently thinking, “Okay – I don’t have time to do therapy with you – just do it!” Yet, I don’t want to become the kind of boss I wouldn’t work for. I have no exciting conclusions or advice to offer, but here’s what I’ve learned so far about me. Slowing down helps. I am trying to learn to be slow to speak. Probably not the strong point of a counselor/teacher. In spite of my rationalization that everything deserves a prompt response, I have determined that if I wait 24 hours to respond to difficult situations or people, I stand a better chance of finding a win-win. Of course, the time frame isn’t always realistic, and so sometimes all I can give myself is an hour or two, or maybe even 30 minutes. But again, the longer I take, the less plausible it becomes that the mild mannered Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde. Something about waiting a bit to respond when tense. And as I review this I think, “Really???? Am I here? Am I having to tell myself this kind of stuff? I am a ‘people’ person. Aren’t I?” But alas, I am here. Maybe you can relate?
Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and managing director of The Change Group. More at http://changegroupcounseling.com

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