I can remember the very day I began drinking coffee. It was the second day of my freshmen orientation for college and the campus bookstore had a Starbucks kiosk next to the cash registers. After perusing overpriced collegiate paraphernalia, which I would later buy in bulk, I wandered over to the kiosk and decided that what I needed most at that moment was a nice, hot, big, or “Grande” in barista, cup of coffee. My father, a lifelong coffee drinker, exclaimed upon entering the bookstore, “Since when do you drink coffee?” Little did we both know that we were witness to one of my greatest love affairs.
My penchant for drinking coffee daily has led me to begin a coffee cup collection. After all, with all the coffee I drink throughout the day, I sometimes need multiple mugs. I have mugs from almost every city, state, or country I’ve visited and even a few from local restaurants. My collection extends beyond my formal mugs to travel tumblers, of which my most prized is a hot pink plastic tumbler that sings to me. It’s true. Another favorite was purchased at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, boldly proclaiming, “Failure Is Not An Option” from the side. Indeed, days when I have my coffee I feel like this statement applies to me.
This past summer I took an Educational Statistics class where I worked as part of group on all assignments. Statistics or any math in general, is not an area where I am my most confident and I was glad to work in a group. The day of our midterm is now burned into my mind as perhaps one of my biggest failures in recent memory. After debating over how to answer a certain question, I suggested a change in the wording that ultimately caused us to fail the midterm. The day our exam was returned, I felt like I had single handedly ruined four other students grades, not to mention my own. I felt like a complete failure.
As I prepare to enter my internship in the coming year, I find myself increasingly concerned with failing my clients. Each mock counseling session I participate in is stressful and nerve wracking, while I try to focus on my “client” and incorporate the lessons and techniques I’ve been taught. My thoughts are plagued by constant “What ifs?” What if I say the wrong thing? What if I can’t sympathize or empathize with my client? What if I don’t help my client? What if I can’t help my client? A close friend once mentioned that after she had seen what she considered to be an ineffective counselor she decided there was nothing more harmful to a person than a poor counselor. I agree with her but I also think counselors are people too and we are destined to make mistakes, like everyone.
With that thought in mind, I wonder several things. When you are with a client, is there ever a moment where you suddenly think, “I am not helping this client and I don’t think I can help this client, I should refer him/her to another counselor.” And if that moment does occur, what is the next step. What does it mean when you know you have truly failed a client, how does that feeling effect the counselor?
While at the ACA Conference in San Francisco this March I participated in a session where the speakers shared personal experiences from graduate school and counseling internships. It was comforting to learn that my fears where shared by most other students. One statement that I still remember was what one presenter said about her own fears of “messing up” her clients and her mentor’s response, which was, “You can’t do more damage than is already there.” Could this be true?
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.