One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn as a beginning counselor that I can’t save every client from their issues if they don’t want to be saved. We all know compassion and empathy are a part of our greatest strengths as counselors. Many of us that have these two strengths often want to save every adult or student we can so they can cope and hopefully even get rid of what is hindering their success at school, home, work, or in relationships.
My first few years as a school counselor were rewarding, but there were a few students who would not improve as fast with regard to using techniques I provided to help them cope with an issue. Of course I would worry about other colleagues saying things such as, “Have you talked to the student this week at all?” “What are you doing to help her, because she is still misbehaving?” “I don’t think the counselor knows what he is doing to help that boy.” I worried about many other things too, including my job security.
However, I began to realize after talking to another counseling colleague that I can't save every student from what is hindering him or her if he or she doesn’t want to change or use techniques that I provide for help. This save-every-client syndrome can even affect us in our relationships at work, at home with family, and someone we are dating.
Some Personal Experience
I also learned that I cannot save everyone in my relationships if the person does not want to be saved from a negative behavior. I won't disclose too much, or any specific details, because I don’t want it to affect any colleagues that have had any similar experiences. I will just say that I was dating someone whom I devoted myself 100% to in every way for ten months and that person still didn’t want to change the negative behavior of using me and cheating on me. Then the person rudely ended things in a way that I didn’t deserve and played victim like I was the bad one. Something similar to sociopathic behavior and gaslighting.
It almost destroyed me, but I used things to keep myself afloat like talking to my mother, focusing on the good I did at school helping students, watching my favorite shows, and reading. I also went to see a counselor for the first time in my life. It was hard at first to do it because I thought, “What am I doing going to see a counselor when I am a counselor?” I have always been able to handle things and move forward, but this person did quite a number on me. So I put my pride aside and sought help to try and heal from this experience.
I felt guilty because I could not save the person even treating the person with compassion, honesty, affection, respect, and faithfulness every day we saw each other. I almost lost myself because I couldn’t save the person from the negative behaviors. However, my mother, counselor, pastor, a few colleagues, and my own inner strength saved me from deep depression, guilt, and destroyed confidence.
I wanted to save this person so badly from the negative behavior because I loved them, even though the person obviously didn’t love me. However, here I am in a new city, a new home, a new counseling job, and healing much better. I have even grown more as a counselor because I realize it's hard to save someone if he or she doesn’t want to be saved using what techniques I give to help him or her.
After discussing the idea of wanting to save every client, we, as counselors, must realize that it is only possible to save clients from themselves if they want to be saved and move forward to achieve their goals. If a client is fine with their negative behavior, then whatever help and techniques a counselor gives them to help cope with or rid the behavior will not work, especially if the client is unwilling to use them in the first place.
We also know that, even if a client does respond to our techniques, not every client will achieve their goal of coping with an issue or getting rid of the negative behavior in the same length of time. The only thing we can do is continue to do the best we can to help a student or adult client. We cannot save every client if they do not want to be saved from self-destructive behavior, especially things like addictions, when its something the client is so used to doing on a daily basis.
Joe Murphy, Jr is a multilingual certified school counselor (English, Spanish, and some French) working as an elementary counselor in Hattiesburg Public School District, Mississippi. He has three years of high school counseling experience and at least thirteen years of teaching experience. His counseling interest areas include academic, career, multicultural, mental health, substance abuse, sports counseling, family, migrant youth, and LGBTQ youth issues.