From a reasonably young age, I knew exactly what I wanted to be — a professional helper.
I remember taking a social development course in high school and being fascinated with the lessons in psychology that it had to offer. Freud, Erickson, Jung, and the whole gang were there, and I loved it. This new-found passion caused me to begin devouring anything and everything that was related to psychology and the human mind at a relatively young age. As I sat in the classroom one day during the course, listening to the lecture, it dawned on me.
I said to myself, “I want to be a counselor. I want to be surrounded by all of this every day. I want to help people.”
Friends and family often ask me a question that I have grown rather used to: “How can you be forced to deal with people every day on such an emotional level and not burn out?” I always point out one thing: I have not been forced. I chose this. This is my calling. It is what I want to do with my life. I cannot picture doing anything else with my days. Being a counselor is, hands down, the most fulfilling line of work that I could ever picture myself in. I love having the ability to be a catalyst for helping a person to change. I also love how the stories my clients come in and share with me me are so powerful and moving that they have the ability to change me as an individual, as well.
I have been through a lot of schooling — lots of it — but I still hold one major belief after it all: A lot of things that we learn as counselors are not learned on a university campus. They are, however, learned through firsthand experience. Oftentimes, our clients are the individuals who serve to be our greatest teachers. They teach us what can never be learned while sitting behind a desk, listening to a lecture, or reading a book.
My training as a counselor has changed my entire outlook on life. After sitting down with my first-ever client, I realized a crucial facet to my role as a counselor – my clients teach me things and have the power to change the way that I view the world around me, just as I have that same influence for them. The relationship is reciprocal. Each client has the power to alter the ways in which we view life. Ultimately, every session and every client, in my opinion, teaches us to be better counselors.
As counselors, I honestly believe that we are ever-evolving people. We walk out of a session a bit different, or changed, than we were before we entered into it. How we view the world; the person we are outside of the office; who we are as mental health professionals; who we are on a basic human level – this can all be changed through the lessons that clients often teach us. A depressed client’s story can remind me to be thankful for my own personal relationships; a client with immensely low self-esteem can remind me how just a bit of kindness can truly brighten someone’s day; and a client with a terminal illness can remind me how to appreciate and celebrate my life, not take it for granted.
We cannot help but be moved by the stories of our clients’ struggles, triumphs, changes, and failures. After all, our job is to try our best to see all of this through – to be professional listeners. We are trusted with our clients’ most intimate secrets, feelings, thoughts, and fears. How could our relationships with each of them not change our outlooks on ourselves as professionals, or simply as people? Every relationship influences who we are, how we think, and how we proceed to act with that individual. Why would a therapeutic relationship be any different? Like any relationship, the relationships that we share with our clients are change-inducing relationships.
I truly hope that this short piece inspires you to open your mind about how you relate to your clients and other individuals in your life. Being mindful of the changing properties of our relationships with others is truly one of the most glorious, meaningful, aspects of being a human being. It makes our relationships with others all the more important and valuable. As counselors, this is of the utmost importance. Every encounter and what it stirs up within us is worthy of being explored.