As the anniversary of 9/11 comes and goes, I know that many emotions and thoughts swirl around America. I am reminded of the pain, suffering, anger and fear that I and other Americans experienced at that time.
As a clinician, a primary challenge is to not let hurt and other strong emotions that we may feel interfere with the therapeutic relationship. Not long after 9/11, I was sitting among my classmates in a group supervision meeting. Our supervisor challenged us to discuss the topic of death and its impact on us. The following statement stuck with me from that meeting: “Make sure your loss does not become your client’s loss and vice versa.” It serves as a reminder that we must meet the client where he or she IS rather than where we think he or she should be. Just because I may be affected profoundly by something, I must not presume that the client will share that feeling to the same degree or process it in the same way.
When we have discussions with a client about subjects that may be particularly sensitive to us on a personal level we must remember that, as counselors, it is not about us, it is about the client.
The impact of 9/11 reminds me of how important it is to have awareness of exactly HOW and WHY life-changing situations affect us. We all have issues and experiences that affect us deeply and may creep into our interactions with our clients. However, as clinicians, we must try to maintain a sense of objectivity in the counseling relationship. We must distinguish our “stuff” from that of our clients.
Individual or group supervision can provide an opportunity to engage in the necessary practice of learning to recognize how our own feelings, reactions and thoughts may affect our behavior toward clients. Supervision can offer a forum in which to strategize how we minimize such counter-transference. Through supervision, we can examine what could be causing us to be ineffective or non-objective with clients in these situations.
Grace Hipona is a counselor in the state of Virginia. She currently serves as a Mental Health Therapist for a clinic, a counselor for a private practice and is a doctoral candidate. She operates from a strength-based perspective.