An interesting email came from Kenya last week--a request to teach a short course on palliative counseling. The topic is interesting to me, I have some experience in that area, and I was pleased to think about a course which would have personal meaning for me as well as have critical importance for future (or current) practitioners. The only hitch--the five-day short course would begin just two days (or less) after stepping off the plane! I said, "Yes."
Joan and I had timed our arrival in Kenya to give me a week or more to get acclimated, to get past some of the jet lag, and to find our way around. Our careful scheduling went out the window with the short course request. I told Joan, "I'll have to ask a couple of students to stand next to me and poke me if I fall asleep or start mumbling incomprehensibly." I thought about an experience several years ago when I traveled with a university group to Indonesia and had to excuse myself from a meal shortly after we arrived because I realized I was about to fall asleep at the table and thought it wouldn't be good for me to be snoring loudly with my face in a plate of food.
Palliative counseling made me come back to the decision to agree to teach the course. I later was pleased to learn it will be for five students in the M.A. counseling program who are in the field. And, even though it's five days (August 27-31), it will involve just three-hours a day of meeting time. I made a dash to the library to grab books by Kubler-Ross and an interesting volume on multi-cultural views of grief and death.
My thinking switched again to a set of questions about the students--I wonder what their experiences have been with trauma, critical illness, death, catastrophe, and violence. My clergy friends who work in a mission project located about an hour and a half from where we will be sent me emails describing experiences with AIDS families; infant deaths from malnutrition, rickets, and accidents; and refugees who have crossed the border into Kenya escaping war and mass violence. I'm guessing that the students may come to class with knowledge and experience difficult to describe.
I started thinking about the philosophy and practice common to approaches with persons who have direct and indirect experience with personal and group situations calling for palliative counseling techniques. I thought about care for the caregiver. And the list went on. The five-day start began to turn in to an introductory outline for something much bigger. I would like to be able to call on my friend Howard Smith, who has been so closely involved in ACA's disaster counseling programs. I wished for some discussion time with Fred Bemak and Rita to talk about their experiences with persons and programs in Myanmar and other countries.
I've gone back to my own experiences--being a responder when an airplane full of Wichita State University football players crashed in the Colorado mountains; working with the counselors and others in a school after a bullied student brought revenge with a rifle; being the person assigned to tell a student that a parent had died; talking with students ready to work in a hospice setting; and thinking of the times I've spent with family or friends in surgical waiting rooms or all those other places where critical situation and personal need meets willingness to respond.
I can only hope that my probable jet lag doesn't overtake the opportunity to engage five students around some of the most significant encounters they will ever have as counselors or as friends.
Brooke Collison is professor emeritus of counselor education and a former president of the American Counseling Association. He will be a visiting professor at Kenya Methodist University in Meru, Kenya during the September trimester. Joan Collison will be a volunteer with children in a social service agency during their four-month stay in Kenya.