I was in eighth grade when I decided to pursue a career in the counseling field. Fifteen years later, I look back at the enriching journey and I feel grateful for all the gifts of wisdom I have received along the way. As a future educator I feel obligated to share some of these valuable lessons.
1. Do not assume that what you see is what you think you see. At one of my field experience placements I met a woman with several layers of complex pathology. She engaged in severe self-harm in a manipulative way. I noticed a significant change in her attitude between our first and second sessions. Her mood seemed better; she was warm and cooperative. I attributed the observed progress to my counseling skills and felt elated with my obvious success.
Little did I know that the night before she had cut herself so deep that she had to be taken to the emergency room. In her own way she had demanded and received the validation and attention she needed in order to function. She was in a better place now and I had nothing to do with it.
2. Your clients may do well with other counselors, too. In counseling you form a unique relationship with another human being. You watch them grow and face challenges. When it is time to let them go you may experience a sense of loss. You may even be concerned about their well-being when they are out in the world without your care. Just like the parent who has bittersweet feelings watching their child walk down the aisle.
“Your clients may do well with other counselors, too”. This was one of the most humbling lessons in my internship seminar. It is so tempting to become possessive of your clients’ successes and to believe that your contribution to their healing is much bigger than their own.
3. How would you feel if you were the client? As a counselor-in-training I met a man who had experienced trauma. During our first session he disclosed details of the frightening experience and dissociated.
I was not sure how to respond to the intense content. Driven by my anxiety to do the right thing, I was preoccupied with the question: ‘What would an expert counselor do?’. I requested help from my supervisor with preparing for our next session. Who would have thought it was so simple? I had asked the wrong question. Instead of focusing on myself, I should have wondered: ‘How does my client feel?’ and ‘What is it like to be him right now?’.
Equipped with the answers to these questions, I opened our next session with the following: ‘Last time you shared some painful things with me. I wanted to tell you that I appreciate your courage. Feel free to tell me more any time you need to talk.” He did not tell me more about the trauma and that was OK. We had established rapport and did some enlightening work together.
What is the most valuable gift of wisdom you have received in your counseling training?
Maya Georgieva is a counselor with a keen interest in child maltreatment prevention. She is a doctoral student in Counselor Education and Supervision at Marymount University and a volunteer crisis worker."