Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Bad Counselor

"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. B as I walked into the teacher's lounge to take my lunch break. I hadn't meant for it to be obvious that I was suddenly in a less than great mood.

"Turns out I'm a bad counselor," I said. Then I threw in, as a joke, "Not that that should come as brand new information to you."

I had just come from supervision, the weekly face-to-face ordeal in which I'm required to discuss how things are going with my supervisor. It's not that I don't look forward to these weekly sessions. It's just that I don't usually walk away from them feeling like the job I've done has been inadequate.

Today I was informed that one of my client's is unhappy with the services that I've been providing. Or, as this client's mother has put it, the lack of services. This is a legitimate concern, and one that I've had myself. I'm about to explain myself, and it's going to come off as me making excuses for slacking on a part of my job. But, please, believe me when I say, I'm not slacking.

I have six clients at the moment. That's the most that I'm legally allowed to have at one time. Those kids are spread throughout the school in 4-6 different classrooms. I say 4-6 because five of those children are spread between a 1st grade classroom and two 2nd grade classrooms. The other is a 7th grader who moves between three classrooms throughout the day. This is the one that I've failed as a counselor.

I've expressed my concern with my supervisor a number of times in the past. This 7th grader is a well-behaved kid. As a counselor, part of my job is to observe and maintain classroom behaviors. When a client is well-behaved in the classroom, it means there isn't a lot for me to do while I'm there. So, can you guess where I spend the majority of my time throughout each school day? If you guessed the 1st and 2nd grade rooms, you'd be right.

Those younger kids have the more severe disruptive behaviors. Their need for a counselor is far more evident than my 7th grade client's. Not that his need isn't there. It's just not as obvious. Another part of the job is to meet with each client individually and in group counseling sessions. This is where therapy takes place. Can you guess how difficult it is to juggle 6 students' schedules, attempting to find appropriate times to meet with each of them multiple times a week? It's really, really hard.

Especially when it comes to the 7th grader. With the younger kids, it's generally no problem to pull them out of the classroom at any given moment. For older kids, they miss even a little bit of class time, they potentially miss some important information for coming tests or quizzes. When you calculate snow days, sick days and days when my client just doesn't want to meet, or can't meet due to a need to make up classwork, it makes meeting individually next to impossible.

I hate feeling like I'm neglecting one of my kids. Again, I've expressed this attitude of guilt with my supervisor. At the same time, I've described my clients as being different balls that I'm trying to juggle. Five of them are made of glass, while one of them is made of rubber. This means that I can drop one of them and not worry about it shattering when it hits the ground. It'll just bounce back up and I can pick it up where I left off. My 7th grader is the rubber ball in that metaphor. At least, that's what I've thought until today.

I've never had an easy time connecting with this client. Talking has never been my strong suit, even in a counseling capacity. As a counselor, my best assets are my ears. I'm an excellent listener. Always have been. But I can't listen if the client isn't willing to talk either. This has made for some quiet counseling sessions. Rapport just hasn't been built between us. One more thing for me to feel bad about. I have no problem connecting with the younger kids. Candy Land can easily turn into a therapeutic activity. I can act like a fool in front of those kids and they love it. Have you tried connecting with a teenager by acting like an idiot? It doesn't work for me. If it works for you, let me know, I could obviously use the pointers.

There are times when I'll joke with my co-workers that I'm afraid someone will come in to observe me and figure out that I'm some kind of fraud, that I don't really know what I'm doing. Even though that's said in jest, it's a real fear that hides just under the surface of my confidence and bravado. For someone to come along and expose that fear to the open air kind of makes me doubt my ability to do the job at all.

I think I've done a pretty decent job with my other five clients. But should that make me feel better about all this? I feel like I've failed the one, and I can't get that out of my mind.

Am I a bad counselor?

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