“I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” – Alice in Wonderland. As a counselor-in-training I often find myself applying the lessons learned in my most recent class to my life. I will sit and listen to my friends bemoan their troubles for hours and when all has been said my initial response is usually, “Well, did you talk to him/her about it?” More often than not the answer is a flat, “No.” The excuses for why we can never approach one another and simply communicate our issues are endless but the end result is always the same. Nothing is said, nothing is done, and nothing changes.
A recent class discussion focused on triangulation. I was surprised I didn’t recognize the term immediately, as it quickly became clear that this is something in which I regularly participate. Just a few weeks ago I engaged in a petty argument with my mother that hadn’t ended well. When she called to invite me to dinner a few days after later, it wasn’t her voice I heard on the other end of the phone, it was my brother’s. Our conversation went along these lines.
“Mom would like to know if you want to come to dinner on Sunday.”
“Tell mom I’ll be there.”
“Okay. She says be here at 6 o’clock.”
“Okay. Ask mom if there’s anything I need to bring.”
“Okay. Mom says she has everything, but she wants to know if you’ll eat roast beef.”
Our conversation must have continued in this fashion for almost fifteen minutes before I realized it would have been simpler to ask my brother to hand the phone to my mother. Before I could remedy my mistake, we had hung up, and our conversation had passed through my brother like an adult game of telephone. After all the times I had said to my friends, “Just go talk to them”, here I was unable to follow my own advice that I so freely, and sometimes unwarrantedly, gave away.
It’s easy for me to say that my argument with my mother was unique, lest I be caught not practicing what I was preaching. It’s easy for me to say that next time a similar situation occurs I will know what to do and avoid triangulating. And it’s easy for me to say that both of those statements are lies.
One of my first classes in counseling was “Legal, Ethical, and Professional Issues in Counseling”. Sometimes thought to be a rather dry class, Legal and & Ethical Issues was perhaps the best class I could have taken my first semester in the counseling program. Our professor focused not only on the ACA’s Code of Ethics, but our own personal ethics as well. Her overall message in the class was “If you are not willing to do what you are asking your client to do, then why are you asking them to do it?” This thought process has stuck with me since that first semester and often floats back into my mind when faced with a personal ethical decision. I find myself asking not only whether my decision is ethical or not, but also how I would feel if I were to tell my client about my decision.
That isn’t to say that I don’t make mistakes or that I need constant client approval, although both sound appealing. I do try to follow the advice of my professors, my colleagues, and occasionally my own, when deciding what type of counselor I’d like to become.
While I may not always follow my own advice, or even the very good advice others have given to me, I’d like to think half the battle is noticing those moments when I should have done something differently. Hopefully, by taking note of those moments, I can avoid repeating those mistakes in the future. Perhaps then,
Hayley Wilson is a counselor-in-training at Florida Atlantic University. Her areas of interest include military service members and PTSD, substance abuse, and coffee.