Tag Archive | counseling

The Donut

I have twenty-nine days left in this Assessment Processes course I am taking. It is a core course and a prerequisite for my practicum. And it is brutal.

In that 29 days, I have three assignments due, which will comprise 75% of my course mark in total. The first of these three is due in just eight days. It is worth 30%. And it has been (so far) the most difficult because it requires me to analyze the real-life results of personality and aptitude testing, integrate those results into a cohesive description, and synthesize recommendations on someone’s suitability for graduate school. That someone is me.

mri-2813914_640 from Pixabay

I found this picture of an MRI “donut” on Pixabay!  Free!  Check them out at www.pixabay.com

The process reminds me of an experience I had about 11 years ago. I had injured my left shoulder, and I was scheduled for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. This diagnostic procedure required me to be inserted into this tube that looked like a giant doughnut (or donut, depending on where you are from). I had to take off everything metal, put on this johnny shirt, lie on the table, and stay completely still in spite of the noise they told me not to pay attention to. The noise was LOUD! They offered me earphones to play music and drown out the sound, but nothing would drown out that sound.  Buzzzzzz, click-click-click, buzzzzzzz, … it was not what I would call pleasant. I turned down their offer of the headphones.

However, the strongest sensation from that experience was not the sound. It was that the donut was so narrow and I was so … not narrow. They had to put me into it head-first, and I was in there down to my elbows. I felt like the last pickle wedged into the pickle jar! And I knew that I had to lie perfectly still so the imaging equipment could get a good picture of the inside of my shoulder (which it did).  I found myself humming songs I liked to pass the time. Each song would take five minutes, so it was a way to mark the time for me – so that kept me from panicking.  The feeling of not being able to move – of not having the option to even twitch – and the pressure of the sides of that apparatus on both shoulders and arms was quite unnerving.

But it needed to be done. I was confident that this procedure was necessary to show my specialist what was wrong with my shoulder. (I had a torn labrum, by the way, and it needed surgery – which was entirely successful.)  Was my time in the donut pleasant? No, not really. It was just something that I had to endure to get to the place where I needed to be. And I did. I endured it, and it ended, and it served its purpose.

Just like this course. Not pleasant, to be sure. Necessary, yes. Difficult, most definitely! But I am enduring it. It will end. And it will have served its purpose (when I pass the course) in being the last prerequisite for my practicum.

I am fortunate to have had the support of my employer and my doctor in taking some time off so as to devote more time to this course, which I believe I said (in my previous post) is three times the work / reading / assignment time of any other course in this program so far. But it has to be done. All I have to do is to submit to the procedure and commit to it. I am sure it will involve some singing to calm my fears and to pass the time.

And in 29 days, I will be able to get out of this donut.

I think I had better go now, and get this next assignment done.

♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫

Advertisements

Spring Whispers

I thought I heard Spring whisper last week in my heart.

I was in the middle of a phone interview with a supervisor in a counselling agency out of province, and the lady and I were hitting it off. She and I both agreed that I should come and see her and her CEO, and we set up a time for the following week.

And Spring whispered, “Soon.”

Yesterday, I had finished a face-to-face interview with another site in that city, and I took a break to gather my thoughts in what for me was essentially a strange place. After I took a bite to eat, and got to the second site, I walked into a clean, bright, well-appointed office where everyone was respectful and kind. I waited in a waiting room that had reading material and activities for people of all ages. Soon, the lady I had met over the phone took me on a tour of the facility, and introduced me to a few people. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. We went into her office and talked for an hour, with her asking me questions and me answering her, then me asking a few questions and her answering me.

The supervisor works with a specific clientele: low-income clients usually, and referrals from those who provide services to victims of crime. Just what I was looking for … seriously. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm at the thought of learning how to do trauma work with an expert to mentor me.

“Come with me,” she said finally, and she led me (after a small wait) to the CEO’s office. I sat before him. He had questions for me about my history and my education. And then he started talking about criminal record checks and paperwork.

And Spring whispered in my ear again. “Now.”

I cleared my throat and spoke. “I’m sorry to interrupt you but I have to ask you a question right now.”  He said sure, okay.  And I found myself looking him in the eye and asking him (because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t misreading him), “Are you offering me an internship here?”

He smiled and said, “Yes I am.”

The breath I had been holding in without knowing it, suddenly came out in a rush as I said, “OHHHHH good!”

Spring stopped whispering in my ear, and started chirrup-ing in my heart. That big weight I had been carrying around for weeks, the weight of timelines and uncertainty and stress … rolled off my back like a 100-pound pack and tumbled into the ditch. All I could hear was that chirrup, chirrup of the harbinger of warmer times and milder climes.

 

American Robin by mvp at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “American Robin” courtesy of mvp at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Holding Pattern

So I am knee-deep in this practicum search. I have exhausted all possibilities in my province (it sounds ludicrous to say that!) and am now actively engaging in a search in a nearby province. If it works, I might just relocate there for the duration of my internship. And arrange with my employer to telework two days a week while I do that, so that I can afford to pay for an apartment, and groceries, and utilities, plus my regular bills (including mortgage) … oh yes … it will be tight, but I think I have enough saved up to act as a buffer.

Throwing Fishing Net During Sunset by noomhh at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Throwing Fishing Net During Sunset” courtesy of noomhh at www.freedigitalphotos.net

But the waiting! Oh … my … goodness. I send out message after message after message and it’s oh no, so-and-so is on vacation and that one has a special project all next week … and well, we have the supervisor but not the space … and from some, the sound of crickets chirping. (That is, the sound of nothing happening.) And meantime, my practicum clock is tick-tick-ticking closer and closer to April 13 – which is the latest I can leave it in order to get the paperwork out of the way for any site and supervisor that DOES offer me a spot. ARRRrrrgh!

I’m not sure if you can tell, but this waiting – and especially the ‘not knowing’ – is stressing me out. I’m in my late fifties, and the part of me that is winding down my first career is screaming that I’m too old for this. The other part that has spent about $18,000 on these courses since September 2015 (and over $32,000 if you go back to September 2013) is saying, “But you’ve come so FAR! And you’ve invested so MUCH” And I roll my eyes, dig in, and take another arduous step toward my goal. This stuff is not easy.

There is a part of me that would love to just get a phone call and someone amazing to say, “Yes, of course we’ll take you!” That would be so super, I can’t begin to articulate! But the reality is more likely to be that after fits and spurts of absolutely nothing, interspersed with frantic activity, I might find something worthwhile by mid-April.

And if I don’t, then I don’t. There’s always next year.

Ready … Steady … Go!

When I was a kid, I would participate in Sunday School picnics and they would have egg and spoon races, three-legged races, and sack races. The superintendent of the Sunday School would always start the races by saying her little rhyme:

One to get Ready … Two to get Steady ….. GO!

That’s where I feel like I am right now.  I’m at the starting line, and my body and mind are preparing for the “qualifying” rounds – pardon the pun!

Four more days until I start my winter semester for my 2nd to last course before my practicum.

I only have 114 days until my practicum plan must be approved by my university. By that time I will have finished my last course before the practicum.

And there are just under 242 days between today and the day I start my practicum! (Can you tell I’m excited?  Keep reading!!)

I had been “courting” this one spot for my practicum placement for the last several months, corresponding back and forth with one of the counsellors there, a really nice fellow.

This past Thursday morning, (to give a bit of context to what’s coming next) I had had a particularly challenging meeting with my manager at work regarding my request for the leave I wanted to take in September to do my practicum.  The leave was denied for various reasons.  However, I had worked out (and presented) an alternate plan during that meeting for working part-time two days a week from September to April inclusive, and she was much more open to that. It was disappointing because of the decrease in money and the increase in stress from juggling two “jobs” (one of them unpaid), but I suppose it is better than having to make a choice between them.

That same afternoon, after I got home from work, I decided to re-contact the fellow at the potential practicum spot again to let him know that I would be available three days a week in September if they were still interested.  The site is at the local university in the Student Services department.

Yesterday evening, I received an email from this gentleman after I turned on my computer. In his email, he said that he was glad that I had indicated my continued interest, since two people had changed their plans for this year, and that the next step for me would be to sit down with (a) the director of Student Services and (b) the person who would be my supervisor. He gave both their names and took the liberty of copying them on the email, and said he’d be backing out of the conversation at this point. Then he said what absolutely floored me: that, after we met and discussed our expectations, if the three of us agreed that it was a good fit, (and I quote), “you will be our intern for the 2018-2019 academic year.”

The Green Way For Start Bike In Park by ArPleum at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “The Green Way For Start Bike In Park” courtesy of ArPleum at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Boom! No carefully worded escape clauses – just – if you like us, we want to work with you and learn together.

I’m still totally floored.

Within 24 hours of that email (just about an hour ago, in fact), my daughter also got an email from the same university (this time, from admissions). She’d been on a waiting list to take a course in Sociology (she was 21st on the waiting list) and all of a sudden, they told her that a spot had opened up for her, and she could register for the course. She did, almost right away, and is even now looking at her course requirements, readings, assignments, and exam schedules for the semester. (She’s not even behind on any readings because they haven’t assigned those yet.)

Whaaaa???

So the atmosphere in the house is one of stunned and grateful silence, broken by the occasional, “Wow.” In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said that word. Wow.

Oh yes, just to follow up on the email I received, I wrote back to the director and the supervisor. I thanked them and told them I was looking forward to meeting with them, and gave my availability dates and times for the next two or three weeks.  In fact, just now I took a break from typing this and sent a private email to that gentleman and thanked him for his encouragement and guidance, letting him know how thrilled I was to get his email.

And as I mentioned to him, my feet haven’t quite yet touched planet Earth since that moment.

Can you blame me??

Solar Powered

It has been almost two months since I finished my Group Counselling course.  I managed to facilitate my mock group session (see last post) and do well in the course; I maintained my 4.0 GPA. 😀

And now I get to do something that I have not done for what seems like a very long time – I get to take a few months off.  I have already registered for my January 2018 course, but until Christmas, there are no courses that I need which are currently being offered. So … for the first time in four years, I get to take a break!

That’s good, because I was starting to feel kind of draggy. You know, like WALL*E when his battery was low in the Disney Pixar flick from 2008. I was pretty much spent at the end of a day: I fell into bed and awoke tired, and life was into a routine of work, eat, homework and sleep with no room for looking after me or spending time with friends.

Since beginning this term with no schoolwork, I have been able to do things I had put on hold for a while. I have put in the occasional bit of overtime at work, and spent more time cooking / baking and crocheting, activities which have been on hiatus for a while. I also have more time for blogging – which I love doing! And fairly soon, I will be able to get back into a bit more physical activity, which I got away from after my surgery in January of this year.

And yes, I have spent more time in the sun this past summer, beginning back in July when I was in Calgary, and continuing all summer long here. What a treat to feel that warm sun and drink in the beauty of the birds and the flowers from the safety of our deck! Winter lasts such a short time where I live, so I really have made a deliberate effort to enjoy those simple pleasures.

I have had the opportunity to reflect on my scholastic journey and plan for the upcoming months. In less than a year, if all goes as planned, I will have started my counselling practicum at a local counselling centre – I haven’t finalized which one yet – and will hopefully be able to focus solely on that instead of dividing my time between that and my job.

With a start, I realized that there is less school in front of me than behind me. Counting my practicum (which spans 2 terms so it counts as 2 courses), I have five courses ahead of me (one per term, starting in January.) And there are seven behind me.

Wow.

Somehow the thought of what lies ahead doesn’t fill me with as much trepidation as it once did. I feel more prepared, more confident than I was a year ago. Part of that had to do with last term, because I was taking that Group Counselling course right alongside people who had already done their practicum! That was a big shot in the arm for me.

Sun In The Sky by graur razvan ionut at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Sun In The Sky” from the kind courtesy of graur razvan ionut at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Another stress reducer is the fact that there are a couple of places that have expressed an interest in having me be an “intern” or practicum student next fall. I am in touch with them and have been educating them on the requirements of my school for practicum sites, as well as the number of hours I will need to put in. I am pleased to say that there are places that welcome students… so I am starting to look forward to rolling up my sleeves when the time comes. 🙂

My family has been so supportive right from the beginning. They have taken up the slack, learned to cook simple meals, done housework, and freed me to pursue my schoolwork unhindered. What a great clan!

My team leader at work has been another source of support. She has opened up my eyes to the possibilities for me should I decide to return to my workplace and postpone my retirement for another few years. She has my back and is advocating for my needs with senior management. I could not ask for a better professional in my corner.

Friends and extended family have been following my progress with interest. My brother tells me almost every time we talk that he is so proud of me, that he tells people that his sister is “studying to be a psychologist” … a term which I have told him is not accurate (it’s actually a psychotherapist), but it is nice to feel that sense of pride he feels spilling over onto me. I have colleagues at work who ask me how my studies are going. At fifty-seven years of age, it has taken me quite a while to figure out what I want to be when I grow up… but this… this feels right.

I am starting to feel that not only is this break from school a solar-powered break for me, but so is the schooling itself. I am charging my batteries and preparing to enter my second lease on life, so to speak.

It feels good. 😀

Treading Water

Yes. I am surviving (see my last post.) And no, I still have not capsized. So far, so good!

At the moment, I am in Calgary Alberta, and doing the face-to-face portion of my course. In a week, I will be heading back home, but in that week, I know that I will become a better person and a better counsellor. (And yes, in Canada, that’s spelled with two Ls, haha).

This coming Tuesday, I will be facilitating a portion of one of the sessions from my 6-session program (again, see my last post). I got marks in the 90s on both the program outline and the manual (a monstrous document 25 pages long, single-spaced…. gulp!) While I am nervous about my session, and the resulting assignment that will come out of it, what I believe is most transformational about the past week is getting to know these people very well in such a short time. One of the components of our classroom time is to be able to participate as members of a counselling group facilitated by our instructors, and to spend time reflecting on what that process is like for us as future counsellors. What our prof and instructional assistant are trying to do is to model how a counsellor works in a group, working with the raw material of the things we talk about and co-constructing meaning in the midst of all of that, and getting us in touch with how we are feeling and what those feelings tell us.

You will recall that in my last post, I referred to sailing through a gale not knowing how to swim.  Well, I don’t know quite how to “swim” yet, but I have learned that I can tread water – and I won’t sink. The water is still quite choppy, but I think I can see a light in the harbour, and someone – well, several someones – have thrown me a lifeline in case I need it. I know I switched metaphors there, but you get the idea. 🙂

Having this opportunity to be away from the pressures of the office and to focus solely on my studies has been a Godsend… I have even had some time for some much-needed self-care … and to my surprise, I am learning self-compassion. Just yesterday morning, I called my mother at the hospital where she is awaiting placement in a nursing home for dementia. She still thinks she is there for “a rest” and that she will soon be going back home. While we were speaking and she was telling me that so-and-so never visits, when I know full well they go and see her at least 4 times a week, I found myself thinking that she probably tells folks that I never even call her, and that they would believe her and think I was a horrible daughter. That notion would have bothered me a lot even a few months ago. But as I thought about it, I began to understand that it doesn’t matter what she thinks of me, or what anyone thinks of me. It doesn’t even mater that 30 seconds after she hangs up the phone, she’s forgotten I even called. What matters is that I know I have brightened her day, even only ten or twenty minutes out of that day.

And that is okay. I don’t know when it started to be okay, but I know that it is – that I have grown into it in tiny increments over the last few months and finally, throughout this week, it’s like I have given myself permission to be human and not to be able to do it all or do it perfectly. (WOW.)

Does that mean I’m growing up?  I guess it does… it has taken me a while though. Oh well. That’s one more proof that I’m human, and knowing that helps me let others off the hook when they make mistakes too.

So it’s all good. I’m treading water, and I’m okay with that. Maybe by this time next week, I’ll have done a little dog-paddling. 😉

Not knowing

There has been a recurring theme in my graduate studies in counselling. I keep coming back to what my professor called a “not knowing stance” when I was at Summer Institute in 2016. Every course I take, every experience I have in this program, keeps circling me back to this one inescapable truth, a certainty that bases itself in not being certain … of anything.

When counselling, when researching, even when faced with an ethical dilemma, it all boils down to this: I don’t know.  I might think, or believe, or even suspect, but I don’t know.  I am not the expert; I am not even AN expert!  Guess who is?  The client!! The client is the expert in the room, the expert in whatever situation or problem brought them into counselling.

I am learning to take that stance, to not have my mind made up, to be curious and compassionate, to gather more information, to encourage the other person to fully be who they are and feel safe in doing so.  Does this mean that I have chosen a theoretical orientation, as psychology graduate students have been expected to do for generations? Absolutely not!  Even regarding theory, I am on the proverbial fence.  I can see good in almost all therapeutic approaches, and I think that each of them would work best in different situations for different types of people with different backgrounds.  One person might need to explore their family-of-origin dynamics, delve into their childhood issues to uncover something in them that affects today’s functioning.  Others might find more help in a short-term solution-focused approach to a specific problem. Many people respond to identifying and countering their negative thoughts with positive ones.  Still others could be looking for a way to relieve stress in the moment and would respond to a mindfulness-based thrust.

“Man Lying on Chaise Lounge” courtesy of Ambro at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Regardless of where I end up on that spectrum, or whether I just take an eclectic approach, I know one thing: I don’t know.  Not knowing has become something of a pattern, a habit, a rhythm of life for me. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be qualified to be a counsellor.  In fact, it might mean that I’m better qualified than I ever thought possible.  Not knowing will force me to ask questions, really listen to the answers, and then ask more questions. It will help me to understand my clients’ experience from their own perspective.  I won’t assume that I know about someone’s life just because it might look like they belong to this or that group; instead, I will ask them to help me understand how it is from their point of view.

This not knowing mentality has so many applications, not just in counselling but also in relationships, work, and family.  When people understand that I am not prejudging them, when they know that they are safe with me, they will feel more free to open up and share their experience.  It feels good to be with someone who accepts you unconditionally, and who creates that atmosphere of caring and respect.  I want to become that someone.

In my last post, I spoke about health issues from pre-cancer in my uterus, in addition to my brother’s colon cancer.  I am happy to report that they got all of my brother’s colon cancer, literally saving his life, and I underwent a hysterectomy in early January, saving mine.  I feel very grateful, and even more so now that my winter term is done and I got a great mark on Professional Ethics.  I have plans to practice a fair bit of self-care over the next couple of weeks, and I hope to squeeze in a visit to see my brother and my mother; it will be the first time since his surgery.

There’s a lot that is up in the air of late.  I’ve been acting as a team lead at work since October, and the employer has been conducting interviews to fill that role on a permanent basis.  So, I’m waiting for the results of that, at the same time as I am reaching almost the half-way point of my degree.  I decided to slow down my degree so that I could do my practicum in September of 2018, so I am hoping to be a little less stressed than I would have been going full bore.  And even making all these plans, I still don’t know what will happen.  All I can do is take each day as it comes, do the best I can, and keep asking questions.