I used to love being a counselor. I was so proud to call myself that when I graduated from school and for years afterwards.
I did work I believed in. I witnessed people fight their way through their deepest challenges. Over and over again, I fell a little in love with my clients and their courage, vulnerability, and humanness. I still do.
And over the last few years I have slowly fallen out of love with my profession. I’ve fallen so far out of love that I have stopped calling myself a counselor and am seriously considering not renewing my license when it comes due. Not because I love my clients or my work any less. I fucking love and adore my amazing clients and my work.
No, because of articles like this one. Articles that unintentionally (please for the love of Pete, let it be unintentional!!) create a chasm of fear and disconnection between counselors and the people they serve. In a nutshell, here’s what this article is teaching counselors:
- Show your personality, but not too much of yourself or you won’t be professional.
- Don’t bother to spend time connecting with clients in ways that clients WANT to connect with you (i.e. social media). (This is especially true for younger clients.) Rather just attend more professional development and self-care.
- Create ONLY one-way connections with clients – you talking at them. It’s okay if they follow you on Twitter, but don’t follow them back or converse with them. Post to your website but don’t allow for any interaction. Don’t bother with Facebook or other sites because they are a waste of time and only allow for back and forth connection.
- Don’t trust your clients to make their own choices about privacy, confidentiality, and to decide who gets to know that they are in counseling.
Seriously? This makes me sad for my (former) profession and the people seeking support from it.
A HUGE chunk of my work with clients it about teaching them it’s safe and okay to be their authentic selves in all aspects of their life. They get to be their true self, all the time. Yet as a counselor, I’m not supposed to be too much of myself with them. Gotta keep that professional wall up.
Bullshit. How can I teach them that it’s safe to be their genuine, authentic, amazing self all the time if I’m afraid to model that for them? As I teach my clients, I am who I am in all areas of my life. I’m the same me in my office as I am in my personal life, on social media, and the me that goes out to buy groceries. I’m not afraid to let them see the whole of me – my gifts, my flaws, my courage, my fears.
I can be all of me, let them see that, AND still be professional. Because, yes, while my clients come seeking a professional with the training and skills to help support them, they want human connection even more.
A human-to-human connection. Not a professional to someone-who-needs-fixing connection.
My clients see me curse, see me tired, see me make mistakes and correct them, see me laugh, see me cry, see me admit when I don’t have an answer, and they see me love them through whatever painful shit they are working through.
I have excellent boundaries with my clients. We talk about them regularly. Boundaries are essential and non-negotiable. And, boundaries don’t have to be walls and disconnection.
My clients know that they can trust me because what they see is what they get. Nothing hidden, nothing false, nothing walled off.
In return, I trust them. I trust them to make decisions for their life. I trust them to make their own choices about their privacy. I trust them to decide if they want anyone to know they are coming to see me.
I don’t share their private or confidential information. I’m like fucking Fort Knox. Nothing gets out without their permission.
Do I talk with them about what that might mean for their privacy and confidentiality? Do we talk about the fact others might know they are seeing me professionally?
Then I trust them enough to make their own choices. I trust that they are capable of making that decision.
If we don’t trust our clients to make their own decisions regarding their privacy and confidentiality, if we tell them they can’t connect with us on social media because it might mean others find out they are seeing us – what are we teaching them?
To be ashamed of reaching out for support?
To be ashamed that others know they wanted or needed support?
That they aren’t capable of making their own choices around that and we need to do it for them?
Fuck that. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of for seeking professional help (I have my own professional support…and many of my clients know that!). I have absolute trust and faith in my clients’ abilities to make their own choices. I believe in them.
So, if they still want to connect that way after we talk about it, I accept. I have nothing to hide from them. I teach them that they don’t have anything to hide either.
And, honestly? Most of my clients don’t give a shit if people know they are coming to see me. In fact, many of them try to talk friends or family into coming to see me, too. Many of them have friends and family who frequently tell them, “you need to bring this up next time you go see Emily.”
They aren’t ashamed. They don’t feel the need to hid it.
Neither do I.
So, I walked away from my once much loved and cherished profession. I couldn’t live with the fear and disconnection anymore.
I still witness people fight their way through their deepest challenges. Over and over again, I fall a little in love with my clients and their courage, vulnerability, and humanness.
I just call it life archaeology now.
Here in life archaeology we dig trust. We dig boundaries. We dig genuineness and see-me-as-I-am-ness.
We especially dig connection. Whatever form that connection might take.