Trains. Planes. Buses. During my holiday travels I have a lot of time for self-reflection.
I thought about how I have evolved as a counselor during the course of my training.
At the beginning I was insecure, and anxious. In my decisions I was led by the textbook ‘shoulds’.
I did not trust myself.
The twelve months of field experiences have changed me.
I look back now and I see that the scary situations that I was not prepared for, have taught me the most valuable lessons. When I was left without the ‘shoulds’, I had to rely on my own creativity and inner wisdom.
This fifteen-year-old bully seemed loud and conceited. While waiting to be called for the next group session, he enjoyed the attention of his peers. In order to break through his avoidance during group sessions, the treatment team had recommended an individual session. I introduced myself and took him to one of the smaller offices. He sat close to the door. His expression conveyed confusion, curiosity, and anger at the same time. His smile and self-confidence gradually left the room. Through my countertransference I felt his fear – he was a trapped animal. My first few attempts for a conversation led to one-word answers. Then – complete silence.
“You do not feel comfortable sharing with me”, I said. “It could feel awkward to talk about personal stuff with someone you just met.”
He did not blink.
I felt annoyed and helpless. What SHOULD I do?
I wanted him to trust me. In my desperation I found the answer.
“You do not want to talk today. It is ok. Let’s just sit here for five minutes. You are welcome to ask me a question or share something… but you do not have to…. Then you can leave.“
He now looked at me with complete disbelief. I feared the worst. Was he going to escape? Lash out? Break down?
I was dying to know what he was thinking. His body language was eloquent enough. His shoulders relaxed. His anger washed away. We sat in silence for five minutes. I checked with him. Still, he had nothing to say. I let him go.
I was passing through the waiting area and overheard him lively telling his peers about our individual session. His self-confidence was back. Or was it a mask?
He continued to attend the program and made a breakthrough the following week. He opened up to his clinical coordinator. I was glad. In fact, I take partial credit for it. I think he felt more comfortable; more trusting; and less threatened. He revealed a painful story and made the first step toward acceptance and forgiveness.
Perhaps this was just an example of good team work – every little piece mattered.
________________________________________________________________________ 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.