One of my absolute pleasures is being able to spend time with my nephews and niece. They are a few of those individuals that manage to bring a smile to my face every time I am with them, think about them, or when I’m describing some prank they pulled off to my friends or family. Being an aunt has taught me a lot about family, parenting, culture, genetics, and about developmental stages an individual goes through in their journey called life. My specialization being adolescents, having worked with them in the field for approximately 6-7 years, they were certain things that I was prepared to deal with when the kids in my family started turning thirteen and progressing through teenage a little too quickly. It was like magic, one day they were kids and the next day their voices changed, they started looking, thinking, and behaving differently. Some of the thoughts expressed and the behaviors observed were typical to developmental stages that they were going through and some were relevant to the respective situations.
Had I not known them or spend enough time with them though, I wouldn’t know the subtle changes that I now observe. Often, while talking with my nephews and niece, I see some patterns and themes that continue to alter over time as they gain a better understanding of personal, academic, social, and familial realms. Their concrete thoughts and ideas of ten years of age have now morphed into sophisticated abstract thoughts that a teenager can manage and they have started exploring the depths of conversations and ideas being presented to them. It is like watching a sapling growing slowly, deriving nutrients from the soil and with the help of suitable conditions, turning into a tree with a plethora of ideas traveling through the trunk and emerging into the world by spreading its branches and leaves out into the open sky…as independent and carefree as possible.
What if the conditions are not care free though? Then the growth must be stunted, right?! Do we as counselors always remember to consider this aspect when we meet a client for the first time? Some aspects of an individual’s life are expressed only when we are able to spend time with them, mindfully. To be with a client and to learn how this one individual sees the world that circles around them. Aren’t there times however, when you find yourself in a hurry to get to the bottom of the issue, or figure out why an individual is thinking, feeling, and behaving a certain way? What happens to just being present with the client then? Do we forget about it, or are we busy in trying to complete intake paperwork, dot all our i’s and make sure all the t’s are crossed?
Counseling is one of the situations where an individual should have permission to slow down. In our work, it is important that we allow that space, isn’t it. It is also important to consider whether we are considering big picture aspects, such as developmental stages for example, when we are getting to know our clients. Counselors in training are often asked what their theoretical orientation is and how they approach or start working with their clients. I always wonder whether one or an integration of two theories is suffice to understand an individual’s journey through life in a manner that can be considered holistic. Knowing my family, I am able to recognize and see which aspects of family life, culture, genetics, and environment are influencing and shaping the growth of the young adults in my family. Is it possible to understand a client in such a manner or is a lofty goal? I wonder.
Time constraints and pressure to perform appear to be the biggest limitations towards this goal. What can we as counselors in the field do to reduce this pressure and make sure our clients have the space that they need to relax, be themselves, explore what they need to, and help them develop an action plan provided that they are the ones coming up with it and that we as counselors are invested in them and their journey more than the plan we help them formulate. If I close my eyes and imagine the process of counseling with a client, many artistic and fantastic representations come to mind – the simplest one being that the counselor is present to ensure the client gets a space for 50 minutes that has ideal growing conditions so that it becomes an experience that the client may derive nutrients from until the next visit. Again, I do not intend to make a complicated process over simplistic, and yet, isn’t simplistic always more difficult to achieve?!
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.