Archives: School

every year / everything / I have ever learned / in my lifetime / leads back to this

Although you wouldn’t know it from the weather, April is ending. A lot has happened, and writing has fallen by the wayside as I’ve scrambled to keep up. A few highlights of note from the last month or so:

  • Our TEDxEMU video went up! I am so proud of the work that we’ve done for this project. It was very difficult to sum it all up in fifteen minutes, but I do think that this video provides a good jumping-off point to what Dana, Katie and I have done over the last year, and to what we hope to do with it in the future. More on this later!

on vacations, reflections, and rocks (these are a few of my favorite things)

I am finally finished with work, school, and DVRT for the rest of December — i.e., I am officially on a break, with NOTHING TO DO. Literally. Nothing. My days are filled with questions like “should I bake cookies today, or scones? hmm I’m going to Panera,” and “do I really need to take a shower today?” (because there’s AN ACTUAL LIKELIHOOD that the answer is NO, BECAUSE I MIGHT NOT LEAVE MY HOUSE) and wow maybe I should focus on the positives of being on vacation?? Tonight, there’s a holiday pop-up market in Ypsilanti that I didn’t have to check my planner before deciding to attend.

This feeling of not having anything to do is pretty foreign to me and it’s been compounded these last few days by the fact that we’re a week outside of Christmas and it’s sixty degrees out. Weather shifts for some reason are always really strange for me — it’s like my brain doesn’t know what to do if the weather outside isn’t textbook-cliche given the date — and between this and the (mandatory) self-reflection I’ve had to do recently for various classes, my introspective side is kicking into overdrive.

All of the self-analysis I’ve had to do for school and for DVRT point to one common theme: one of my biggest obstacles to helping is an almost crippling fear, but as time passes, my fear is melting away. One of my best friends is in town for the holidays right now and I was able to spend yesterday afternoon with him. I was on call last night, so we got to talking a little about that and he asked me a few questions, the most important of which was “are you still afraid when you go out onto calls?” My answer surprised me, really, because back in September it seemed like I would never get there, but I can say, honestly, that unless I’m getting called into the hospital, the answer is: no. I am not afraid anymore. Do I get apprehensive as I knock on a door? Does my heart break more often than I’d like when I’m talking to survivors? Do I still leave sometimes and wish I had said or done something different? Yes, yes, resoundingly yes. But I’m not afraid going in anymore. The difference between then and now is that now, I know that whatever happens, I can do it. I can get in and do some good, no matter how small. Which is a pretty good feeling.

It’s not really the end of the journey, though, like I thought it would be. I thought I would be afraid the entire time until I got to be A Good Counselor (whatever that means??) and then I would suddenly stop being afraid. Like so much else… this is wrong. I guess I can’t explain what’s different? Experience? Having had a chance to see the potential I do possess? The knowledge that I’m going to keep learning, refining, and getting better?

My basic skills class ended on Wednesday, and as part of the final class we had to give oral presentations. The last bit was an instruction to talk for a minute or so about “a topic of your choice related to professional helping” so obviously I chose to talk about river stones? (If you are wondering what the heck is my problem/how I am allowed to leave my house, I can tell you that you are not the only one/I don’t know.) Anyway, the deal with river stones is that they are pretty normal rocks (nothing special, nothing gem-y, just rocks that are in the right place at the right time) and through some intricate series of events, they wind up being transported down the length of a river. By the end of their journey, which is at times stressful and turbulent and which winds up taking them very, very far from where they’ve started, they are smooth and round, all their edges sanded off. You can actually tell generally how far a stone has traveled by its general shape.

Obviously my love for both metaphors and rocks has kept me coming back to this idea every time I feel like throwing my hands up and admitting defeat. I can’t express how many times I have sat at my desk and thought, river stone, river stone, river stone, as I decide to stumble through another assignment or another call. Another encounter, another rough edge gone.

This idea of constant refinement is somewhat challenging for me. I am kind of at a point in my life where I don’t really know what’s coming next. I am incredibly different, already, from the person I was in August. I have no idea who I’ll be a year from now. It’s pretty hard to contemplate that, to know that I’m sort of just along for the ride. Not knowing how I’ll change, only that I will. I really have no idea where the mouth of this river is.

BUT, for now, it’s winter break. I’m going to my parents’ house this weekend for the first time all semester to procure and decorate a Christmas tree. I’m not going to think about anything, for two blissful weeks, except my family and my friends. This little river stone is taking a break. ROCKHOUND OUT.

new skin new life

Right now I am procrastinating on finishing a paper for my Human Development class. (It’s a strange class for me because I am so interested in most of (…much of) what we learn about and yet I just can’t stand the class itself — probably because of its hybrid “take a four-hour class session once every two weeks and complete activities online in between” format, ugh.)

Anyway, what’s on my mind right now is the following short observation: I feel really good about my program right now. I’m writing a few large papers right now (or at least, large by my undergrad standards) and they’re really serving as a reminder that I love what I’m studying. They’re taxing in a way that papers never have been for me: writing these papers is very difficult because I care so deeply about getting it right.

One of the papers is for my research class. I’m writing a review on commonalities between students with disabilities who graduate from four-year institutions: things like whether their universities have an office for students with disabilities, etc. My other paper is on transgender students on college campuses, and what we as student affairs professionals do well in terms of supporting them, and what are still represented as huge gaps. (Both of these papers, and the latter paper especially, are really making me work hard to zero in on precise language and clarity of ideas. I can honestly say that I’ve never had to work on that before. For me, writing a paper has been, until now, like unravelling thread: once I figure out where to start it’s rarely difficult to finish it off. But writing in these domains — again, writing about something I care about, to be read by someone whose opinion I deeply respect and value — is a whole other ball of wax. So really, even in addition to building the content, even figuring out how to physically write it is teaching me a lot.)

Writing both of these feels like I’d always hoped writing papers would feel during my undergrad. It is not about HOMG I HOPE I FIND TEN SOURCES FOR THIS AND THEN PEACE OUT BRAH. I find myself actively seeking out reference pages for the primary sources I really enjoyed. I’m reading dissertations that I can’t technically cite solely because they make me a better professional. What is going on here?? Is this what it’s like to study something you genuinely care about?? And honestly, this feeling, probably above all other positive reinforcement I’ve gotten over the last six months or so, is just the most reassuring thing. It’s okay that I’m here. This is where I’m meant to be. This is digging in my heels and wanting to learn and do a good job. I keep getting lost in the garden paths of “Oh what an interesting reference page this source has, I’ll check that out!” and just… endlessly wanting to learn more. Also, I have to say that one of the huge differences between my undergraduate degree and this degree is that now, whenever I learn something, the ways that it will make me better are tangible and obvious. I learn things and immediately think, this is how I can apply this to my practice, which is awesome. I’m almost glad I never felt this during my undergrad, because now that I know that school can be like this, I honestly don’t know how I could have finished anything that felt like less.

it’s a little bit me & it’s a little bit you, too

We’re in the middle of another weekend of advocacy training right now (the final training!), and tonight’s sessions touched on a lot of the same stuff we’ve been touching on in my for-credit classes this semester. One theme that’s been really emerging for me lately is diversity in terms of the strengths and the weaknesses that a cohort of counselors brings to the table, and in turn, then, what I bring, as a part of that cohort.

I talked a bit in my last post about some of the weaknesses that I bring – and probably will continue to discuss that, for whatever the duration of this blog is – and so tonight I think I’m going to spend a little bit of time writing about what I think is probably my biggest asset when approaching both clinical work and advocacy work, which is: in most aspects of my life, and especially, so far, in my professional life, I don’t really have an ego. Or anyway, as someone who did recently manage to pass an exam covering Freud, I have a very relatively small ego, and I don’t tend to let it get in the way very often.

We did a small ice-breaker in my development class yesterday wherein she created a maze taking up the room with a bunch of obstacles throughout. She divided half the class into “counselors”, who were not blindfolded, and half into “clients”, who were blindfolded. (The metaphors, they abound.) When she called “start”, we all, simultaneously, had to either guide our clients, or be guided by our counselors, through the maze.

During the debrief, many students mentioned that they were much more stressed out as the blindfolded client than as the counselor, because they “didn’t have control of the situation” as the client, but as the counselor, they could see the obstacles and felt confident guiding their clients through a (relatively simple) maze. This theme came up very frequently, and almost everyone in the class mentioned some derivative. I, however, had exactly the opposite experience. Having control over a situation, I’ve realized, doesn’t calm me. I don’t crave control. I have never been a person that needs to be specifically and pointedly in control of a situation. All I want is to help, whether I’m seen or not, and then slink back out of a situation.

The other thing that struck me is how often people tended to comment on having trouble with getting their clients to do what they told them to do, which is just… mind-boggling to me. “I instructed my client to step over a book,” one girl said, “and we had trouble because she didn’t know how high she needed to step.” We had that trouble too, but the second my client said he was uncomfortable attempting to step over an obstacle he couldn’t see, I made a mental note. No more “over”; looks like we’re going around things from now on. And we did, and we finished the maze without ever hitting anything. I’m not afraid to be wrong. This has always been true. I’m very quick to go out on a limb, see that I was wrong, talk about my error with my peers/supervisors, and immediately refine my approach. This has always served me well in academia, and I think it’ll serve me even better in counseling.

Tonight, in class, we talked about the fact that usually, being a crisis intervention advocate means that you’re dealing with people at their worst: you’re dealing with people who are drained, whose emotions are frayed. We talked about the fact that often, you’ll get yelled at, or snapped at, or have a door slammed in your face. This seemed to make a lot of the class really uncomfortable, but before the instructor even mentioned reasoning, I knew where she was going: sometimes, you’re going to get yelled at because you’re the only person in her life that she feels safe yelling at. Being someone who shoulders pain is important to me, but, if your advocacy is going to be a long-term part of you, so is understanding what that means: sometimes, shouldering pain is a matter of allowing another person to release something, directed at you, without letting it hurt you.

Without going into too much personal detail, there are definitely a lot of relationships in my life that survive because of how willing I am to be this person. It takes strength and skill to do it right. I suppose the most concise way to say what I do well is: I don’t take things personally. I’m very good at listening to very sad, angry, disappointed people rail through an entire spectrum of emotion, and knowing that everything they’re throwing at me isn’t directed at me. It’s flying in my direction, but that’s because I’ve chosen to stand there and listen, not because I’ve caused it. A lot of people have a far harder time than I do making that distinction, and I am grateful for this trait literally, now, every day.

What I need to get better at is remembering this on the days that things don’t go well. We open each and every session in my skill-based class with an informed consent policy & multicultural statement, even though you probably wouldn’t go through it more than once or twice with a real client. It’s so that you can get practice: not only is the content itself incredibly important, but it sets the tone for the rest of your session. On Wednesday, I bungled mine. Hard. So far, it’s the worst I’ve felt about anything I’ve done as a counseling student. It’s so easy, during these moments, for me to think, “OBVIOUSLY NOT A GOOD COUNSELOR!!!!1!” What I need to do is think, good counselor, bad moment. I’ve learned to play a lot of instruments in my day, and the best thing about that is that it taught me how to practice. Fall. Get up. Fall again. Get up again. Rise. Sometimes things are hard. Sometimes things fall into place, though, and I need to remember the things about myself, many of which have been true all along, that are going to keep me being good at this.

back to school

After months of anticipation, I’ve finally started my counseling degree, and I turned in my first assignment yesterday. The assignment was for my Basic Skills class, and we’d been instructed to create an outline of meeting with a client for the first time. We focused on covering informed consent protocol and multicultural competency. Throughout the semester in this Basic Skills class, we work in counseling dyad teams (one “counselor” and one “client”) and tape each other, preparing an analysis of last week’s session to hand in for each new week we meet. This allows us to get both practice speaking with “clients”, and feedback on the work we do on a regular basis.

For me, this assignment encapsulated everything I’ve been excited to start working on since I was accepted to the program. My entire reason for leaving geology in the first place stemmed from what I perceived as an unacceptable lack of focus on social justice work in my potential career. Writing an outline of how I would be doing my job seemed like such a fitting introduction to this new part of my life. I worked for ages on making each word perfect, and getting across exactly what I wanted to say, and, and, and —

and it turns out that counseling isn’t really about writing papers at all.

I was so proud of what I’d written, but the second the tape recorder clicked on, everything blanked out for me. I could have looked down at my paper, but the lecture that night had been all about earning trust. If I were a client and my counselor read a statement from a piece of paper, I would have left. So I blazed my way through it, trying ridiculously hard to remember the bolded headers in my outline, making sure I got all the points out without using five-dollar words, and doing my best to keep my tone conversational. When I was finished I turned off the tape recorder, let out a big enormous breath because WOAH, and looked at my partner for feedback.

“You did really well,” she said, “but honestly, between us, if a counselor had said all of that to me on our first session, I’d be out of there.”

I want to make it clear that she wasn’t putting me down. We’d been given the main points that our outline needed to contain, and you couldn’t pare it down for the purposes of this exercise. She was just airing a general grievance about an assignment that she had to do as well — on this particular instance she disagreed with the instructor’s method of gaining trust, and felt that a wordy, monologue-esque outline of informed consent and multicultural competency got in the way of the counselor/client relationship. And I can totally see that. I think that maybe for a lot of (most?) people, that’s true.

However, I had never even considered that someone might feel that way. When we got this assignment, I was excited because it was meaty. Something I could sink my teeth into, something I could use as a platform to fully articulate how I want social justice, diversity, and multiculturalism to fit into my professional life. I’m at a point in my life right now where from a professional standpoint, that’s about all I want to talk about. And so it was such a strange, foreign feeling to me to hear a classmate saying that the speeches we had to prepare were what she was specifically not looking for from a client/counselor relationship.

It didn’t make me feel any worse about what I had written, or about how I’d performed. (For what it’s worth, I listened to the recording to write my analysis tonight and I am honestly pretty proud of myself.) It was just a difference of opinion, and I respect that, and I think it’s really important to talk about it because if a counseling student feels that way then the chances are good that I’ll work with a client sooner rather than later who feels the same way, and I need to recognize that. What it did make me do was think about the concept of eagerness.

I am so excited to be in a field where we are finally encouraged to talk about these things. We are asked to “break the ice” with a client that might initially be skeptical about relating to us by immediately acknowledging our very superficial & obvious differences, which is a) not typical of all other interactions I’ve ever had and b) terrifying. frankly. But it also feels good, to me, because I’ve spent the last two years of my life coming to terms with what makes me different from others, and what that means for both my own humanity and others’. I’ve thought this entire time that that interest, which translates practically into an eagerness to discuss this huge “multiculturalism” word that keeps getting thrown around in all of my syllabuses, would be a good thing, would be a driving force. And I’m sure that there will be many instances throughout this degree where it will be, but last night was the first time I’ve ever come face-to-face with the notion that sometimes, it will not be. Sometimes, I will sit down with clients and the last thing they’ll want to hear is a little excited young white girl talking about how different I know we are, and isn’t that wonderful and beautiful, and we’re going to have such a great time together, aren’t you excited!!

Writing the outline was a good experience for me. It was hard. It forced me to think about myself from a professional standpoint in a counseling context, which I had honestly never done before. It made me articulate my goals, both as a person and as a person practicing counseling. But I think that carefully presenting the outline verbally to someone who was less than impressed was maybe even a more valuable experience.

© 2018 Caroline Horste

I am neither a professional nor an expert, and nothing here should be taken as counsel or legal advice. Along the same vein, nothing here should be taken as representing the views of anybody but myself, including my employers or the organizations I volunteer for. -CH