So what exactly is it like to be a counselor? Do you ever get tired of hearing people talk about their problems? Do you worry about your clients when you leave work? What’s the difference between a Christian counselor and a regular counselor?
When I am out in my non-work life and friends, or even people I barely know, find out what I do in my work life, I get questions like these a lot. I am always careful in my answers, but have often thought it would be good to explain some of what I do as a counselor, in case as I suspect, the questions might be a way of deciding if going to a counselor is something a person can feel comfortable doing. This will be a two part blog so as not be too lengthy but get to all the questions. Here is my disclaimer: my experience as a counselor is limited to working in a Christian counseling center with a brilliant clinical director, a compassionate boss and gifted, caring coworkers. I have no idea how it might feel to be in private practice or work in an environment where you are judged and criticized or overworked. There are many, many variables that could alter the way any one therapist or counselor would answer these questions. This is my attempt to explain my experience and perhaps show why counseling is a wonderful avenue for receiving help.
So, what is it like to be a counselor? Well first, I’ll tell you my official title: Licensed Pastoral Counselor and Temperament Therapist. (fancy!) It means I am first and foremost in the ministry of counseling and I view my responsibility to my clients as one of leading them toward healing by embracing God’s truth in their lives. It also means I can tell you why you don’t like crowds, love hugs, hate being told what to do, enjoy crossing things off a list or wait to be invited before you join a group- God made you that way! (explaining temperament, often called personality, is one of my favorite things to do) I suppose the best word I can use to explain what being a counselor is like is sacred. People invite me into their deepest pain, fear, shame, dreams and hopes. I get to walk with them through dark valleys and remind them they will come out on the other side. I rejoice with them when they finally realize, often for the very first time, God really does love them. I feel truly honored to be part of my clients’ journeys. Of course in dealing with broken people there are hard moments. Hard because I am just a safe person on the outside in a sense. I have no control over the choices my clients make, or don’t. No control over the other people in their lives who may be wrecking havoc. And ultimately I am reminded that they are in God’s hands and I know His purpose is to love them and expose their need for Him. So when my clients lives go from hard to harder, I pray for them. Sometimes with them if they are willing.
In a typical day I see between 6-8 clients. I take notes to keep it all straight. I return emails. And I depend on God to guide each session. I aim to be three things to my clients: compassionate, consistent and confrontive. (my brilliant clinical director taught me that!) I do not succeed in these every session, every day- but it’s my goal. It helps that I have something called peer supervision. This is where we allow a group of other therapists to help us stay on track as a counselor. It keeps me honest about where I need to have better boundaries, when I need to choose a different approach with a client who is struggling and on a personal level, make sure I am doing okay so I can do my job. This is a common practice in this industry and also peer supervision is a wonderful biblical concept, as Proverbs says “He who walks with the wise, become wise” and “The way of a fool seems right to him, but the wises listen to advice.” (Proverbs 13:20 and 12:15) If you were in private practice you would have to find other therapists to form a peer group. In my counseling center, it is a monthly group we simply attend as a part of our policy.
The most common question I get asked “Is it hard to listen to people talk about their problems all day?” is easy to answer. No. It’s really not. In fact, I like it. Because as they open up and talk about their problems we work on goals to help them get through them. Not all problems can “go away” but we can set goals about learning to cope and establishing healthy community and growing in their faith. I am so thankful people are brave enough to open up and tell me their problems and hurts. That’s where healing begins. You gotta’ get all that stuff in the light so you can really look at it. I’m not saying however that sometimes what people share isn’t hard to hear. I care deeply about my clients pain, but I don’t carry it myself. The way I have learned not to worry about clients outside of work is to remind myself God is in control of their life and to pray for them. Plus, I just accept that people are where they are. “Everybody gets to pick” is a truth I have to come believe- it’s okay for people to not do it all “right” and I am not responsible for anyone’s life but my own. This keeps me from worrying for the most part, and while I’m not perfect at that boundary, it gets easier the longer I am counseling.