Counselor’s are expected to handle a wide variety of situations. This can include various forms of counseling such as family, couple, and individual counseling as well as the never ending list of issues that counselors face with their client’s every day. This can range from trauma counseling, to suicidal counseling, to crisis intervention, to even working alongside individuals who’s issues are a hot button topic in current politics–transgender, abortion, healthcare—the list goes on.
One question I often get is “how do you do it?” I understand what the question means–they want to know how I can possibly be present with my clients and help them through these difficult and sometimes torturous situations and issues. Truthfully, I’ve wondered the same at times. How do I do it? Well…I can’t speak for every counselor out there. But I can tell you what my life is like as a counselor and how I personally handle these types of situations. But first, let me tell you a story.
Early in my career, I was in the phase of a counselor’s professional life where I was still learning to treat the most common issues we see in our offices–depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, identity issues, grief and loss, etc. These issues are ones that I understand from my own life, but helping a client through their own experiences is an entirely different thing. So, I was still learning treatment models and options. Then I started seeing a person who dealt with severe depression. “No problem!” I thought. I’m learning to treat depression in other clients, so I should be able to help this one as well, right? Well…this client was different than the others. They did have severe depression, but they also had suicidal ideation and a suicidal crisis once every few months. This was the first time I had ever had a client with active suicidal issues. Oh yes, I had plenty of clients with suicidal ideation, but they were typically along the lines of thinking things would be easier if they were no longer alive. They never had a plan or intent. This client was different. They had strong feelings of intent. Though they never acted on it, it was serious enough to warrant clinical attention and treatment. Being new in my profession, this caused what I would like to name “professional growth” in myself.
When the first suicidal crisis happened, I’m not going to lie to you. I was anxious. I thought, “how do I handle this?” “What’s the right way to go about treating this?” Being a perfectionist (wanting to do things right out of fear of failure), I frantically searched my Treating Suicidal Behavior book. I wouldn’t say I was panicking or freaking out, more so anxious about handling a situation I had never handled before. At the time, it was rough. As these situations typically provoke in counselors, I questioned my abilities as a counselor.
Now that time has passed and I can look back at the situation, I can see how I have grown so much. That cliché saying that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger—yeah, that’s true. Feeling like you don’t know how to help someone is rough. Questioning your abilities as a counselor is rough. But it comes with the job. And truthfully, I’m grateful for it.
These situations have taught me SO much. It has taught me to mentally separate my struggles as a counselor from my worthiness as a counselor. Yes, even when I am 50 years into this profession, I will still have struggles like this. That is the beauty of working with human beings. You think you have it all covered and then BAM! A situation you have never dealt with before presents in your office. I now know to tell myself whenever I am dealing with such situations that “I am struggling…I am fumbling” AND “I am a great counselor.”
These situations have taught me that in order to help human beings with the sh*t in life, we have to remain open, curious, and vulnerable ourselves. We have to accept the bad along with the good. We have to get curious on the topics that come up, the things in our own personal lives that trip us, and we have to be open to failure, heartache, nervousness, anxiety, and uncertainty.
These situations have taught me that all of us, including my clients and myself, can be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously (quote by Sophia Bush). We can be worthy of _________ while we are growing. For myself, I put in the title of “great counselor” in that blank. I am worthy of the title of “great counselor” while I am still growing. Someone else might include love, acceptance, and happiness in that blank—the sky is the limit.
So, cheers to being vulnerable to the situations that cause us uncomfortable emotions and experiences. May we ever grow.