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.
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.