Pulling Back the Curtains: An Inside Look at What Really Happens Inside the Counseling Office

Today I was at the doctor’s office and I was asked by the doctor, who was making small talk, what I had planned for the rest of the day. The doctor knows that I am a counselor and I replied that I have clients for the rest of the day. Now maybe the doctor said this because of the physical pain I was in but the next comment was, “So will there be a lot of ‘hmm’ , ‘ahh’ and ‘uh-huh’s’ today? I laughed and told the doctor that for me to treat a client like that would be the equivalent of him having a patient walk in, high-five ’em and send them back out the door. He wouldn’t have any clients if he only gave out high-fives and neither would I if I only made sympathetic sounds. Goodness. Do you think we do 8 years of University and 2-4 years of Residency just so we can make noises? πŸ™‚ (I could do that without all the training- call me skilled πŸ˜‰ lol).

The event at the doctor’s office reminded me of a meme. And like all the best memes it was from the TV show The Office. In this meme (below), Stanley imitates what he thinks a counselor does and what a counselor makes; both of which are laughable. In fact, even I bust up laughing at most counseling memes … because they’re funny. Enjoy them, laugh, but please, please do not think they are accurate.

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Do we make sympathetic sounds? Sure, if that’s what you want to call it. πŸ™‚Β  I call it communicating and letting the other person know that you hear them, you understand what they’re saying and you care. Have I heard stories from the Crypt about counselor out there who only stare at their clients and if you’re lucky they’ll make a noise? Yes, I have. However, most of us counselors do not fit in that category. Please, keep “shopping” for the counselor who is a good fit for you – it is life-changing to say the least.

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I am so grateful for my career. It feels like a perfect fit – like the way we all would like our outfits to feel- “right” and comfortable with the elements of style that makes you YOU. Though Stanely likes the idea of an air conditioned office downtown where you sit and judge people, that is not the case.

Fact: I do sit in a chair

Fact: I do have an office that I love and feels like a cozy “second home” to me (and hopefully to you too, should you stop by πŸ™‚ )

Fact: I do have some seriously great air conditioning for summer and heating units for winter

Fact: It is not a physically demanding job. We don’t get “body tired” (except for discomfort if we sit too long- gotta get some laps around the building here and there to keep the blood flowing πŸ™‚ )

Fact: It IS an emotionally demanding job.

Counseling is a career that takes every ounce of who you are into the room with you. Literally. We must take good care of ourselves throughout our everyday lives in order to be able to fully focus on you and your needs. We put every ounce of US into being present with you.

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Fact: WE NEVER JUDGE. This is such a true statement. Another true statement is that I did not laugh with this meme because to me it is sad that someone, somewhere got that idea that this is what we do. 😦  When someone is pouring out their heart, their fears, the things they are scared to tell others, the very crevices of their soul that even they are afraid to look at, I can honestly tell you, judgment doesn’t come to my mind. It is such a privilege when someone trusts us with who they truly are. I cherish, respect and protect that vulnerability. I am honored by someone’s willingness to share, because I know it’s not easy.

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Do you remember when the style of meme above was trending on social media? I found it interesting because there are so many misconceptions from field to field of what we actually do. Even the counseling meme doesn’t match my opinion of what I think I do, and it’s supposed to shed some semblance of light onto this career path! πŸ™‚

Here are the top 10 things that I do in a day at the office:

  1. I form relationships. When people walk into my office, they’re not “one more patient”, they’re not a task to check off or a “disorder” to cure, they’re PEOPLE. And I’m people. And we relate. We talk. We laugh, we cry.
  2. I learn about you. I find out through comfortable conversation what brings you in, what you would like to have change in your life, what your struggles are and what your successes are. What makes you smile brightest? What makes you angry? Learning about you helps me help you. My goal is not to change you to what “I think you should be” (you live your life, not me – and remember, we’re not there to judge). My goal is to learn what you want for yourself, your relationships, your career, your mental health, etc.
  3. I listen. Most of us in the world listen to respond, not listen to hear but wow does it change things when you experience the feeling that someone hears you- someone sees you. And they care. On paper, these are words. In the counseling office, this breathes healing and new life.
  4. I take what I learn and conversationally draw the picture of what I heard as if displayingΒ  it on a white board for the person to step back and look at from an objective vantage point. This tends to bring a lot of clarity as “we can’t see the forest through the trees.” This can induce many “aha” moments (they’re the best, aren’t they? πŸ™‚ ) A lot of times, our friends and family mean well, but they are stuck in the trees with us and often times cannot clearly get a bird’s eye view of the forest either. It is emotional blinders that keep our friends and family from thinking clearly and that is very normal. When we are too close to a situation, we are sometimes absorbed into it, which brings me to the next thing I do.
  5. #5 is kind of like when you feel all emotional and you talk but you feel like you’re making no sense at all and feel almost tongue tied, as if you cannot get the words out so you groan and put your head in your hands in frustration. Then you you look up, wondering if the person you talked to understood anything you just said… AND THEY DID! They “get it”! Not only do they get it but they help you find the words to express the emotions that are all tangled up inside you. Ahh, that feels good. Just think of counselors your emotional constipation relief. πŸ™‚
  6. Back to that white board: Since I am not you, and you are not me, and I am not part of your family, chances are that I am going to have some different insights into the situation to share and perhaps lay some things on the white board that you didn’t notice before thanks to the “forest through the trees” phenomenon. Suddenly you’re not feeling so dang stuck, right? Look at all these things I didn’t even realize were there, you may think. Wow, I have more options than I initially thought... Hey, I don’t have to stay tangled up in this tree! (back to the forest analogy) your brain may shout!
  7. So now you are feeling more empowered, excited and stronger than you were when you walked in 45 minutes ago. You may realize that when you let go of that emotional constipation, you feel so much less pain! Great!! So… now what? You have options, you know you’re not stuck, you’re excited …. but how do I go back home and live this out, Bobbie-jo?
  8. I’m glad you asked πŸ˜‰ lol. This is the part where us counselors show you a way to take everything you have gathered today and use it to start the process of moving from where you are to where you want to be. Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to go from taking a walk to being the next American Ninja Warrior by the next session. We always work with you where you’re at – it’s not until session 2 that we expect you to be Ninja Warrior material (totally kidding πŸ™‚ ).
  9. Life is always lived one moment, one step at a time and not one second or movement sooner. Well, so is healing and recovery. We take one step at a time. Perhaps that sounds meager but I assure you it is not!
  10. Trust the process. This one always makes me smile to write because I have always been a GOAL! person. Process? Yaaaaaaawn. πŸ™‚ But guess what I have learned about life? Life is Lived in the Process. The goal is the direction, but life is the process. When you’re stuck in the trees and you have someone (your counselor) saying, “This is what the forest looks like. I know you’re struggling to see it right now and I get that. I can show you the way to get yourself out but there are going to be times when it’s dark and you can’t see. You will need to listen to my voice as I show you where the next step is. But you have to take the step; I can’t take it for you. I’m right here and I am going to walk with you through this. Yes, counseling requires a trusting relationship, which is why us counselors are to uphold high levels of personal and professional ethics.

We will cheer you on andΒ  encourage you every step of the way. And when you are in the process of “becoming” as the Velveteen Rabbit says, you can fully step into who you are. Counselors don’t “fix” you. Counselors show you how to find and “follow the yellow brick road” that you’re looking for. But you must walk it. We cannot do it for you. We will walk along side you throughout the entire process.

And when you feel empowered, confident, healed and whole again, when you enjoy life and feel free, you may think we did something extraordinary and that we really do have a “magic wand”. But we will simply smile and say to you, “You’ve always had the power [my dear], you just had to learn it for yourself.”

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