Tag Archive | be the change

Uncharted waters

Here I am, in the last trimester of my second of four years in my Master’s program at AU. In another 3.5 months, I will be half-way through the program and a year away from starting my practicum. You’d think that by now, I’d be more confident in my abilities as a grad student. While in a certain sense I do have more confidence than I did starting out, I still feel as though I am sailing in a gale (not knowing how to swim) through uncharted waters.

At the moment, I am taking a course in group counselling. Someone told me that this was the “Kum-Ba-Yah” course – referring to the summer institute in July when we meet face to face, and we all (metaphorically) join hands and sing “Kum-Ba-Yah”, which gave me a picture of a course that would be somewhat easy – but they were wrong. So far, the reading has been overwhelming, the first assignment has been a challenge to complete, and my anxiety is growing!

Part of the problem is that I took the course to “stretch” me because I am uncomfortable in groups, but I know that it will be important for me to know how to facilitate groups, especially for my Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC) designation, a pre-requisite to registration as a registered psychotherapist candidate in my province. Another part is that I did not anticipate the newness, the unfamiliarity, of the material I would be studying. I am starting to catch on now, but it took me off guard at first.

Image “Rushing River” courtesy of        Maggie Smith at www.freedigitalphotos.net

On top of all of that, there have been some … upheavals … in my family of origin, who live out of province. A medical emergency for my brother, followed by a temporarily unsupervised mother with dementia, and someone contacting Social Services, led to her hospitalization. Because of that, the whole process led to the court (province) becoming involved, removing power of attorney from my brother (through no fault of his own), and deciding to place my mother in long term care. She is now waiting in hospital for a spot to open up in a nursing home close to where her home is, wanting with every ounce of her being to just go home and fix dinner for my brother … and not realizing that she will never be allowed to do that. My brother has been facing destitution and is trying to obtain assistance while he waits for his CPP disability pension to be adjudicated on. I have been calming him down for the last month while he faces the most anxiety-producing experience of his life. Fortunately, my professor was sympathetic and granted me an extension on my first assignment – but that means I’m a week or two behind on everything else, and I need to play catch-up.

Like I said, sailing in a gale, through uncharted waters, not knowing how to swim. But today, I managed to finish my first draft of my first paper – a proposal for a 6-session group counselling program for adult survivors of childhood physical and emotional abuse. I have no idea whether it will be acceptable, but I suppose that I will find out soon enough. 😉

At least, so far, I have not capsized.

A Sneak Peek

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.

Photo "Opening Door Knob" courtesy of sixninepixels at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Opening Door Knob” courtesy of sixninepixels at www.freedigitalphotos.net

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.

Change is good – but it’s hard

In my last post, I talked about my multiculturalism course.  I said it was outside my comfort zone – and it was – but what I was unprepared for was how FAR outside my comfort zone it was!  The readings, assignments and discussions confronted me at every turn with how wrong my thinking had been all of my life about people who were different from me: different in belief, dress, class, religion, skin colour, ability, and sexual orientation.

Most of my life I have been in this white, Christian, heterosexual bubble that not only tries to pretend the non-existence of other ways of thinking and acting, but (when confronted with them) says they are automatically wrong… because they don’t look like me or think like me or act like I do.  I guess our society is set up to compartmentalize people into categories.  And it’s a given that the church does – to the point of excluding everyone who doesn’t follow the pattern. (I could be pulled off on that bunny trail, but let’s not do that right now.)

People are different. Different is good.

In the last 13 weeks, I have been exposed to the dangers of non-acceptance, of judgment, of abuse done in the name of love (whether that is familial love or romantic love or Christian love), and of viewing someone, ANYONE as “less than” just because he, she or they are different.  I have been outraged at the holocaust perpetuated in this country over the years by those whose stated mission was evangelism but whose real agenda was cultural genocide.  I am referring, of course, to the tragedy of the residential schools and the fact that generations of First Nations peoples had their culture, their very identity, ripped from them in an effort to ‘better’ their lives.

I have talked with people who are of different races, genders (and yes, there are more than two), religions, classes, and sexual orientations.  I have learned that “treating everyone the same” is not enough.  People who have been oppressed need greater consideration, more access to the things I take for granted.  For example, some people cannot even go to the bathroom without their identity being questioned.  Think about that.  I don’t need to pass an inspection or show my ID every time I go to a public washroom.  These people need laws to help them carve out a place to exist in our society, to even have the right to have their significant others make decisions for them in hospitals … or funeral homes. The level of oppression is unbelievable, and by far, most of that oppression comes from those with privilege.  White privilege, cis-privilege, (cis is identifying as the same gender as the parts you were born with), middle-class or rich privilege, and Christian privilege (link) are the chief offenders.  And it is rampant.

I didn’t understand privilege (most privileged people don’t) until I had someone explain it to me.  Privilege is an unfair, unearned advantage that someone has over another person on the basis of some part of their identity: skin colour, gender identity, religion, and so forth.  Here is a short video explaining the basics of white privilege : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysj_8fqnNcY

Change is good. But the process of changing is hard.

The amount of change that this experience has challenged me with has been overwhelming at times.  I am not one who likes confrontation (who does?) but I felt confronted … and I felt ashamed of my ignorance and unthinking attitudes toward people who were different. It was really hard for me to address those things in my life because I had thought a certain way my whole life … and then there were these readings – and these discussions – that really pushed me to the limit (and perhaps beyond the limit) of what I could endure. It was rapid-fire, too; there was no time to recover from one body-blow before the next one came.

I am coming to terms with the idea that becoming a counsellor means a great deal more than it did when my parents were my age. It involves scary things like being an advocate for my clients and maybe even fighting the bigotry of the very groups of which I am a member in order to gain a hearing for those who seek my help. It might mean that some people might not like me anymore – a fate that a younger, more impressionable me might consider as worse than death.

However, I am slowly seeing that if I want to make a difference in my world, I cannot just stop at helping people cope with (for example) racism that exists in our society; I need to empower people to stand up against it … and that will involve me standing up against it too.  I cannot sit by and listen in silence while people call every Muslim a terrorist when I know for a fact that this is not true. I cannot look the other way when someone is bullying someone of another sexual orientation, or when someone is loudly protesting against “those people” coming into our country.  Silence is not a luxury I can afford anymore.

In a way, it’s like learning to drive.  My daughter studied and got her learner’s permit a while back.  Knowing the rules of the road and learning how to put those into practice has opened her eyes to a number of things she never expected: among these is her awareness of how other people are breaking the law when they go over the speed limit, or don’t come to a complete stop at a stop light or stop sign, or don’t signal before changing lanes or turning.  Before she got that permit, she never noticed these things. Now she does.

And just so, I am seeing more and more the multitude of examples of racism, sexism, classism, FATism, and heterosexism (homophobia) that people demonstrate in my interactions with people, as well as in the media, even so far as in comedy shows that take pot shots at folks who are different in some way.  (By the way, I no longer laugh at such humour, simply because I don’t find it funny any more!)

What is all of this going to mean?  Well, as I continue my grad school journey, I suspect that I will be more sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who are different.  I suspect that, as I enter the profession of counselling, I will be more likely to set aside my personal beliefs and listen to my clients, so that I can understand what it is like to be them.

And that will make the biggest difference of all.