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Apr 07, 2014

When the Helpee helps the Helper

I want to share my experience I encountered a few weeks ago when I visited a client’s home.  I was in the process of finding a parking space near my client’s home. Due to the recent snow storm that dumped over a foot of snow in the New England area, finding a parking space was not an easy task to do. I drove past my client’s home as I saw two metal chairs spaced six inches apart in a cleared out parking spot in front of her house.  My gut instinct told me to not even try to park in this space for fear of somebody coming out with a baseball to smash my car windows. I know this may sound a little bit off the cuff and ridiculous but in reality, some people will damage your car if you take their parking spot.

When I drove around the second time, I found what I thought was a great space to park my car. I did not see any chairs in this spot and I drove right into this space. Suddenly, my two front tires were stuck in the ice as I tried to back up to park closer to the curb. My tires could not move. Oh! Oh!  What do I do know? My heart was beating fast as I started to panic. I took a few deep breaths to get grounded and refocused again.   I called my client to ask if she knew someone in her building to help me dig my car out. She said her neighbors were out for the day. I told her that I would be a little late as I had to dig my car out with my shovel.

When I got out of my car with my shovel, I asked two strangers-men- in the neighborhood to help me. Relying on faith that they would be nice guys to help me, my gut instinct was right. Both men tried to dig the snow out from under my tires. My client then came out to see if she could help as she bundled herself up from the snow that started to fall upon us. She just had surgery where she needed to be careful in not exerting herself for a few weeks. I requested that she did not need to help me due to her recent surgery. She said she wanted to get out of her house to make sure no one bothered me in her neighborhood and to help push my car out.

Well, for a half hour, the client, myself, and the two men worked together digging more snow out from under my tires and helping to push my car out when I was in the driver’s seat.  To no avail, we could not get my car out.  I walked back to my client’s home where I called Triple AAA for assistance. Afterwards, I completed a one hour counseling session with my client. Since I had to wait for help, my client did not mine if I counseled her during that time. I thanked my client for helping me again.  She said she felt motivated to come out as she normally does not go out when it is snow and cold. My client then said that getting out made her feel less sad and anxious for wanting to help me. 

Two weeks later, I met with my client after the snow incident. She said she felt motivated again to want to go out more and possibly volunteer in the community. She further said that helping people at the local community center would make her good about herself. A month later, my client said she is now going for walks in the cold as the fresh air makes her feel good. She is still exploring volunteer opportunities in her community.

What can counselors and clients learn from this story? For my client, she learned that she is stronger in her spirit and in her mind than she originally thought she was during the time she helped me with my car problem. The client experienced a quantum moment of positive change occurring unexpectedly for her. She experienced a paradigm shift from feeling sorry for herself to a feeling of being able to help others despite her current medical conditions.  I hope she continues on this path on her journey for healing and wellness. For me, I learned to allow and to accept my feelings of panic and anxiety to settle in the present moment as I took deep breaths to get grounded again during this difficult situation. I was able to refocus myself when my client came out to help me and to be able to counsel her in her home while I waited for help to arrive.  We are role-models for our clients in being mindful of our actions and ability to be calm in difficult situations.
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts.

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