Tag Archive | self-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.

Putting first things first

I think that I’m safe in saying that so far in my graduate program in counselling, the course for which I just submitted my final assignment earlier this evening has been the most technically difficult one so far – it was on research methodology and made it necessary for me to use something that I abhor: statistics. But … let’s not go there tonight, except to say that two weekends ago, I got a brand new book: Statistics for Dummies. And I plan to read it!

All that drama aside – there is something so satisfying about passing in a final paper. No more schoolwork for four weeks! And you can bet that I’ll be squeezing as much enjoyment out of those four weeks as possible!

The course taught me a lot of things, and not just about research design and how I am drawn to qualitative rather than quantitative research (the latter being about numbers – numbers being about statistics – and here we are back at the boogey-man again!) In the course, I worked in a small group to conduct a tiny research project over the course of the term, and the topic we chose was the relationship between burnout and self-care in online graduate students. Learning more about the factors in burnout made me re-think the pace of my education plan. (Of course, there were other reasons for re-thinking it as well!)

oil-massage-by-samuiblue-at-www-freedigitalphotos-net

Photo “Oil Massage” courtesy of samuiblue at www.freedigitalphotos.net

In fact, there were four major reasons for me deciding to turn my program from a 3.3-year program to a 4.5 year program.  The first was purely practical and self-serving: I have an opportunity to get a good practicum if I defer it to September 2018 rather than 2017.  That was the first domino, so to speak. Then I figured that if I were to defer the practicum, I could stand to slow down the pace from a  total of four courses per year (over three terms) to a schedule of three courses per year (one per term). Doing this allows me to take more electives as well, which I am enjoying the thought of doing. The pace of the online program being more manageable is reducing my stress levels and making it more possible for me to sleep at night.

My physical health is another reason why I’m slowing down my program. I believe you know that I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last May.  But after a procedure to test me for cervical and uterine cancer, and the lab finding that I have pre-cancerous cells in my uterus, I am scheduled for abdominal surgery on January 9, 2017. Yes, that’s right – a hysterectomy.  This will mean a three to six-week recovery period at home, and the less stress I pile on myself, the better my body will be able to recover.  I will be able to do my schoolwork but not much more during my recovery period – and it will be good to get away from such a hectic pace and to regroup.

One more reason I’m spreading my courses out is that there are some possible opportunities at work that I may be able to benefit from – and pushing forward on my practicum date to 2018 instead of 2017 gives me the time and space I need to explore those. That has meant that I haven’t been able to avail myself of that volunteer opportunity, at least not yet. Perhaps in time…

And finally, my brother was just diagnosed with stage one colon cancer this past month. His surgery to resect a section of bowel (major abdominal surgery) is set for around the end of December. Hopefully, with me spending a bit less time with my nose in the books, we will be able to spend a bit more time together, especially as our mother’s dementia is getting worse.

Self-care takes many forms. Sometimes it means going for a massage, a manicure, or a spa treatment. But for me lately, it means making every moment count with family and friends, looking after my health, and being able to sleep without stressing about deadlines, and it also means not falling asleep in front of the computer screen.

It means putting first things first. Prioritizing my life makes for there being more room for the important things and then, if there’s room, adding in some nice-to-haves. It means having it all, but not all at once: each thing in its own time. And it means being satisfied with what I have for as long as I have it. That’s something that I think I could get behind.