Ever wonder what the profile of the person ‘least likely’ to seek out counseling is? Look at your client list. You will find that it is noticeably lacking in this population: the older, white male. Now get this: 73% of suicides are committed by, yeah, “older, white males.” Do they need us? You bet. Will they come to us? Probably not, even though their suicide rate is higher than older, black males and women put together.
Why? Aren’t they the ones who sent rockets to the moon, and win the Nobel Peace prizes? You bet. Aren’t they the ones in charge of those Fortune 500 companies? Oh yeah. So what gives? What can we do? Appeal to their intellect? Nope. Their vanity? Hardly. Offer them a chance to increase their market portion? Probably not. They have people they can hire for anything, except what’s really wrong: People obey them but they don’t really listen to them.
If you’ve ever wondered about the truth of, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” ask your local bartender. He’ll likely confirm Thoreau’s take on things. I have found over the years that liquor encourages a certain kind of tongue-loosening vulnerability that only really, good counselors can unleash without spirits.
Why? Deep down, people really want to share themselves; their whole selves. Problem is, few really listen to them in a way that makes them feel heard. It is the kind of listening that must be open-ended, yet provoking and accepting of whatever might be shared. Above all, it is the kind of listening that must be patient, take no action and have no agenda.
Tonight I zipped in to Starbucks for a latte to keep me company as I wrote this. I ran into an ‘older, white male,’ whose path has crossed mine often in this small town. He was impeccably dressed, as usual, and on his computer, also as usual. I had nowhere to be, so stopped to chat. Here is what I learned in less than 10 minutes: He is divorced, going bankrupt, tried one business idea which went belly up and now has one which sounds shaky. He has lost connection with his own kids and is worried about his future. Did I help? Who knows. I just listened.
Helen Hudson is a counselor and 20 year member of the ACA. She is also the author of "Kissing Tomatoes," and speaks around the country on the importance of caring for the elderly, particularly those with Alzheimer's, with compassion.