We may have mentioned this in few of our other posts, but it’s worth repeating, again and again: the support and intervention that counselors provide help clients in immeasurable ways. The benefits the people see from treatment are often life changing.
But how does counseling affect the actual counselors?
We’ve used our professional contacts and interviewed a number of different counselors from the Northeast—Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City—and asked them about their favorites aspects of the profession. Here’s what they said—some are inspiring, some are kind of sad, but all of them are honest and interesting.
Are you a counselor, and want to share something about the job that you love? Leave us a comment below!
«Counseling is a process,» says Maria, a counselor in Queens, NY. «A counselor may see the problem in one or two sessions, but the client—sometimes they’re not so quick so the things in life that are hurting them.»
It’s easy to imagine that counselors simply give advice. That’s not accurate, though—a good therapist helps a client come to his or her own insights about life, because those observations are far more powerful than a counselor’s interpretations.
That «a-ha» moment, where a client suddenly understands life in a new way, and discovers optimism in the process, is an incredible joy. Insight can be a life-changing event, and being present to witness it is a privilege.
Seeing Someone Begin to Hope Again
Many people seek counseling because they feel depressed, or pessimistic, or helpless. They see no help, and believe that their lives aren’t going to change, and that if change does happen, it’ll be for the worse. They are 100% certain that they will «stay stuck.»
But something amazing can happen along the way: a breakthrough, some good news, or simply a silver lining. Patricia is a counselor in West Orange, NJ, and shares that «I’ve seen it happen in my practice, where a client who literally believed that his situation would never get better begins to feel hope. That feeling is powerful. It can change everything.»
Seeing a client who truly believed that nothing was going to get better show some signs of hope–it can be inspiring. «It motivated me, to be honest,» says Patricia. «I’m the counselor, but when the client starting gaining strength, I felt empowered, too.»
Finding Someone’s Strengths
It’s a sad, ugly truth: there are people who our society sees as «good for nothing.» People look at them with disgust, or—even worse—dismissal, and we don’t expect anything from them. They may have a criminal history or behavioral problems. They could even be the problem child at school who isn’t quite likeable and bullies the other students. We think, «They’ll never change.» People look at them and think they’re hopeless.
The rest of society may judge, but that’s where counselors make a difference: instead of judging, counselors offer support and assistance, and help a person find their best self. When a person who has committed a terrible wrong begins to live a life that is healthy and safe and beneficial, that is an incredible victory. When an individual with personal problems commits to finding new ways of interacting with others, that is an undeniable good.
Counselors get to be a part of that process! That is a privilege, and it can be amazing to see. Setting a Goal with a Client—and Actually Achieving It
«I’m not gonna lie, this job ain’t easy,» says Janelle, a counselor from Newark, NJ. «So many of the goals that clients set for themselves… they don’t always achieve.»
As with any endeavor, accomplishing a goal is difficult work. And when those goals are of a personal nature, and require a drastic change in lifestyle or personal behavior, the risk of failure is always present. «That’s why, when you actually help someone repair a relationship, or find a new way of living, it means so much. Counseling is not a sure thing.»
When you think about it, the counselor/patient relationship is an odd dynamic: the two do not know each outside of the therapist’s office, and there is no real bond between them, other than the trusting one that develops over time. But strangely, that is one of the reasons why counseling is so effective: the counselor is able to stay «dis-entangled» in the client’s affairs, and provide an unbiased anchor to help him or her achieve goals.
«I’ll tell you the truth,» says Janelle, «I keep those clients in mind. Those are my victories. It doesn’t always happen, and when it does, you have to remember them.»
That correlates with the next aspect:
Getting a Letter from a Client
Many people will come to a counselor’s office, and leave after a single session. They may get scared, or they feel overwhelmed, or they may simply feel like counseling isn’t for them. But some commit, and stick to it, and develop the lives they want to lead. Very often, later on in life, they’ll write a letter. Sometimes it’s to say thank you, sometimes it’s simply a «This is where I am and this is what I’m doing,» but either way—an update can be «professionally satisfying» to receive.
Gary, a private practitioner in Manhattan, says: «I’ve been doing this for forty years, so I’ve worked with thousands of people. And believe it or not, yes, I have an whole box of letters that clients have sent me.»
It’s worth noting that it is not professionally ethical to develop relationships—even simple friendships—with people who have been clients. But clients don’t operate under the same ethical guidelines that counselors do, and many choose to follow up.
An interesting detail: Gary never reads the letters that his clients have sent him. «I read the first few, and I got very teary-eyed. It made very happy to hear how important our sessions were to them, but…. It was intimidating for me to read that I had such a big role in their lives. It was scary for me to read. So I don’t read them.»
One Last «Best Thing» Realizing There is Good—and Bad—In Everyone
There is no other professional that allows insight into the human condition like counseling. Maybe artists or teachers have similar experiences, but the nature of a counselor’s work is to deal with the «realest» aspects of life, and to do so every day. Julie, also in West Orange, NJ, says that «it can be a humbling experience. After a while, you see that people are people. They are amazing aspects to everyone, and areas where everyone is damaged. And no matter who you are or where you’re from—whether you’re an African American from Kenya, a blonde woman from Norway, or a kid from the ‘wrong side of the tracks, ’ everyone has a whole lot in common.»
Many counselors who have practiced for years are amazed the similarities between people from all walks of life. Gary from Manhattan says, «It’s inspiring, really. Despite all the differences we see, and all the conflicts we make up… we’re all people. We are all so similar… It’s amazing. It gives me a lot of hope.»