About a week ago, I got back from a three-week, concentrated, six-hour-a-day face-to-face finish to a couple of courses I was taking in my Master’s program. They call it “Summer Institute” or “SI” … but near the end, one of the students said that SI should stand for “Summer Intensive.” I think she was right!
The first day, we got to practice one skill and one only: listening. No uh-huhs, no mm-hmms. Just eye contact, facial expression and paying attention to what the other person was saying. The exercise was only a few minutes long. Yet it highlighted the importance of being present with the client. And over the course of the next several days, we added new skills, techniques and strategies to that one until, by the end, we were counselling each other in 45-minute sessions, using all the things we had been learning, finding our own style, and creating a trusting atmosphere. Some techniques were a little harder to master than others. But still, it was almost like magic… how much easier it got even after a night’s sleep.
And there were a few times when I caught myself actually DOING what I had dreamed of doing since I began this program! As each of us “practiced” our developing skills with the others, taking turns being client and counsellor under the watchful eyes of our instructors, we used the raw material of our lives, and each of us found ourselves touched and transformed even while we learned how to help those in need. Friendships were forged in the fires of care and empathy; we got to know each other better in those three weeks than many do in years. There was a spirit of camaraderie and caring that infused us, where we cooperated, cheered each other on, helped each other succeed.
It was marvellous.
It was a foretaste, a sneak peek into the lives we had chosen for ourselves, one on which we would soon be building in the months and years to come. Our confidence in ourselves and in each other blossomed and thrived in that atmosphere of acceptance, respect, and genuineness. We started to see how therapy could be a conversation that in itself is helpful regardless of the theory or orientation chosen by the therapist. We saw – some of us for the first time – a clear picture of ourselves as counsellors. That was the most powerful experience, one which I will carry forward into the rest of the program and into my counselling career.