Tag Archive | ethic of care

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.

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.