[caption id="attachment_4859" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Jennifer Bingaman"]
When I was in my Practicum, I was one of the fortunate students. My clients came every week. I carried most of my clients over from the first semester to the second. I ended up terminating with only four clients over the course of two semesters. It was lucky to have those relationships continue as long as they did because I gained a rich experience, but I didn’t get a whole lot of experience terminating the counseling relationship.
Since working in addictions, I’ve terminated with almost twice as many clients in about half the time. It’s the nature of most addictions treatment. Thirty, sixty, maybe even ninety days I’ll get with my clients and then they’re gone. They are off into the wilderness of life and I hope to be a distant and helpful memory.
I’m struggling with the whole termination thing. I’m developing relationships with these clients and working on some pretty deep issues. I see my clients more often than I did when I was a Practicum student. Even when we’re not in session, we’re in groups and I see them on the property five days a week. There’s a familiarity I didn’t have before with my clients. I have to be vigilant about my friendliness and my candor around these clients. Rather than just keeping myself in check one to two hours a week, I’m constantly assessing my role as a counselor and how it works into the treatment paradigm of addiction.
So now they are leaving treatment. One at a time, they pack their bags and they go back to their homes or off to new opportunities. I feel a sense of connectedness to their narratives, a role of integration. It’s impossible not to feel that way. Even with clients who I do not personally see in session, I have a sense of who they are and what their core issues are as they leave treatment. It’s like any job you have where you see the same people day in and day out. You eventually develop a relationship with the person who shares the cubicle next to yours or the woman who sends the weekly newsletter. How could you not? It’s human nature, especially counselor nature, to connect with others.
I sit here typing this wondering about my clients and the adventures and struggles they are off to face. I want the best for them. It’s difficult to listen to someone tell you their deepest feelings and experiences and not connect with them in some way and invest in their narrative. I’ve struggled with how to handle this and where to draw the line. How much emotion should I give to this predicament? How must I conceptualize this to understand my role as a counselor?
I’ve begun to think of myself as a character in any narrative. I am not the protagonist. I am simply a supporting role. Like any supporting character, my presence in the plot must end with the chapter on treatment. However, it doesn’t mean that I was not integral to the outcome of the story. Like any supporting role, I’ve served my part and it’s time for the story to carry on without me, following the life of the protagonist – my client. I think of any book I’ve ever read, where I follow the protagonist, I hope for the best, but I recognize that at the end of the day the author has already written what is printed in my hand. I will read until the last page turns and the book is closed. I can only speculate about the lead character, but ultimately his path is not my path and I must trust my influence as his counselor will ripple throughout his story. I must trust the process.
Jennifer Bingaman is a counselor-in-training and freelance writer. She blogs about her experiences as a client and a counselor with a few life musings thrown into the mix at The Pursuit of Sassiness