Have you ever been in a situation where you feel like you have so much to say that it limits you from saying anything at all? Yes, me too! This is one of those situations as a matter of fact. I have blogged several times before, both for classes that blogging was integrated into and at times to offer words of encouragement to the classes in which I was a part of the teaching team. This is the first time however that I will be blogging for a larger audience and it is intimidating. I am assuming here that individuals reading this blog are mostly counselors or therapists in various related fields, educators or researchers with counseling related backgrounds. So, in any situation that is intimidating what do we do as counselors or therapists? We start with establishing rapport and building trust. That means you get to know a little about me and I get to know a little about you from the comments you will post below.
The answer to who I am and where I come from has evolved for me over the years. The most current answer is “I belong to a warrior tribe”. Now what may be some assumptions that one might make? More questions instead of answers, right? Maybe some assumptions due to the language I use. Now I could give you details about my origins or we can just take my answer at face value and move on to other things. My hope is that you will find out more as we move through this process of rapport and trust building.
There are a lot of topics that have become important for me over the years. One of them is individual differences we present as unique, whole, human beings. Perusing through the markdown books section a few years ago at a store, I came across a book on birth order. “Oh! Birth order, I wonder what it says about me”, was the question that instantly popped into my head. Of course, I turned to the page where it talked about the youngest child. To my surprise the chapter started with, “First of all, I want all you babies of the family to know that I’m on to you.” (Leman, p. 166). Whatever did he mean? You guessed it, I did buy that book and I read it in entirely three days. It is called The Birth Order Book, written by Dr. Kevin Leman. In overall terms, he described the birth orders and personalities of individuals born in a certain order well. However, many questions came into my mind as I was reading his work. Surely not everyone would fall into these categories. What about individual situations and differences? What about family history, socio-economic status, trauma history, health history, relationships, neurobiology, attitudes, behaviors? I could go on. In practice, I started asking my clients their birth order and how they thought their birth order affected how they thought, felt or behaved when with their family, with their friends, and on their own. It helped draw part of the picture for me to see and the work with my clients reached a depth that I had not observed before.
Families have a lot to do with who we are and what we stand for. It is spectrum of effects that can be observed – one side starting from I want to do A, B or C because my family did this and I agree with it to the other side that starting from I do not want to X, Y or Z because my family did so and I don’t agree with it. In between the two sides would be a balance of both aspects, or so I visualize it. We don’t want to forget here that it is also the interaction of the individual with the family, a back and forth, that contributes to how we develop as individuals, the roles that we play within our families and outside. This interaction, of course, takes place within a socio-cultural and political context, therefore aspects of those systems also influence an individual’s development.
I am sure I missed a plethora of constructs that influence us, however the whole is what is most important. The whole individual. And in our work with our clients, do we treat the whole individual? Do we ever get to know the whole individual? I worked at a residential treatment facility few years ago and there were clients that I knew for more than nine months to a year who would surprise me every single day. Some nitty gritty detail, some incident, some insight that I had never heard them express before. So how do we as counselors undertake this journey of getting to know an entire individual? I think I have a few thoughts that may be helpful for us to consider as we sit with our clients and what they bring to us once every week (sometimes more or less).
- Humility: Oxford English Dictionary describes humility as “the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance”. Now we know that we are professionals and we know that we are the experts in our field but we also know that the individual we are working with is the expert on the topic of interest - themselves! Therefore, working with clients we need to assume that they know more than we do and how does our skill set fit into their lives to help them.
- Mindfulness: By using mindfulness here I simply mean being mindful of what we say, how we behave, what we convey with our nonverbal behavior. Not rocket science and yet I am sure you have observed people you work with or yourself (if we are being honest) forgetting this simple aspect.
- Simplicity: Often conversations that start simple go further than any contrived plan that I may have in mind while working with a client. Reminding ourselves that the complex patterns we see are not obvious to our clients and meeting them where they can start from instead of forcing them to leap to where we are as professionals.
- Creativity: This does not mean having art supplies or musical instruments in your office, you may have those too they work along very well with counseling, but, here I mean this in the context of being creative with what you have. Using creativity of mind to learn about your client and help them learn about themselves. Use a novel, refreshing idea that is like cool lemonade on a sunny humid day like today.
- Honesty: Be honest. Sounds super simple and yet it is difficult to convey. We cannot genuinely display care, warm, or honestly unless we feel it. Finding and creating that space for our clients that allow us as professionals to honestly display the care, the empathy, and the understanding of their life situations as we see it.
My intention here of sharing these five things with you today was not to try and oversimplify the complicated work that we do as counselors and therapists, but more so to provide some avenues that we tend to forget in our busy lives as professionals. May be these can help us to start putting the puzzle that is our client(s) into place one piece at a time and it may be that one fine day we figure out the best way to work with a whole human being.
So now you know two things about me – I belong to a warrior tribe and I am the youngest in my family. What’s next?!
Reference to book:
Leman, K. (2009). The birth order book. Michigan: Revell.
_________________________________________________________________Jyotsana Sharma is a Doctoral Candidate, Counselor, Educator, and human being in the making. Visit her website at: www.jyots21.wordpress.com or find her on twitter @jyots21s.