I was clearly uncomfortable and clearly trying to hide it. As a newly certified life coach working with a married couple in crisis I sat with them in my office resisting the urge to wring my hands. I periodically nodded with empathy, peppering my interaction with encouragers. Was the temperature in the room rising? Or was it just me?
A clear-cut conflict regarding the organization of their household brought these clients to coaching. Yet, in this, the first session, already issues of depression, low-self esteem, sublimation, intimacy challenges – a virtual baker’s dozen of serious issues – reared their heads. And speaking of heads, I was in over mine. My coaching training didn’t prepare me to ethically address mental health issues. I decided not to continue, choosing to refer my clients to an associate of mine, a licensed mental health counselor who works extensively with couples.
I’ve told this story many times and it is not to demean the coaching profession. I gained so much from my coaching training, but in the end coaching served as a catalyst to my pursuit of a Masters degree in counseling and the ultimate goal of becoming a licensed mental health counselor. I consider that day as the first step on my journey down this road – that moment of yearning to function ethically served as a “spark,” of sorts. At that point I was excited. At that point I saw clearly the future ahead of me. At this point I get chills thinking about it.
What first sparked your interest in counseling? Was it a realization, a conversation, a feeling, dare I say – a thought? Perhaps somebody criticized you at a family gathering or cut you off in traffic. Hey, inspiration doesn’t always arrive as a present wrapped with a bow. It’s more often a complete surprise. Look at me - I was ready to jump out of my skin when my spark was ignited! Whatever it may have been for you I suspect the experience was powerful and life changing.
I have an invitation for you. When you are overwhelmed with graduate school work or burned-out from dealing with clients take a moment to re-imagine that spark. Don’t just visit it – make it real for you in the present. Much in the way couples reignite the spark in their marriage or a mother recalls the first loving feelings of parenthood as her teen glares at her across the dinner table, feel the excitement. Let is fuel you. Take some deep breaths and acknowledge that you chose this challenging path for a reason. The reason is different for everyone with one similarity -be it blinding or subdued- it began with a spark.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training at Western Connecticut State University and a freelance writer.