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More Empathy Please.


 First I apologize for not writing in my blog for so long.  We moved, and other things have held my attention and so I have not been actively writing in here for you.  I plan to resume my writing and offer topics of interest.  First, on a personal note, I felt compelled to write about my own quest to find a counselor here in Colorado. 

Counselors do go to counselors for help with their own personal issues.  My personal quest to find a counselor in Colorado has been a challenge.  I have been to highly skilled counselors in Illinois, and felt very supported and helped.  Since moving to Colorado, I have visited three different counselors all with disappointing results. 

I had hoped to find a safe place where I could talk about the painful things, and so far I have been unsuccessful.   I realize that some folks who come to my door have had this experience also.  They are frustrated with searching for the right person to talk to and are leery of me.

I asked myself what it was that caused me not to continue with the counselors I met  (Certainly, when a client discontinues with me, I ask myself if I could have done anything differently).  Upon reflection, I recognized that it was the heavy reliance on “tools” or “interventions” that were used prematurely.  Granted,  I already have file cabinets full of tools.  I have so many pages of handouts, and workbooks, and intervention strategies I don't know what to do with it all.  

There are definitely times I pull out the tool box.   I find tools helpful to clarify things I say in session.  It also gives clients something concrete to hold onto.  Maybe it’s a relief to see there is a definition for something that has been indescribable or confusing for years.  Tools can offer a road map.

However, what I wanted, when I first walked into the counselors office, was empathy and loads of it.  I just wanted a place I could dump my pain, heartache, and tears to someone who would purely listen and show they cared. 

 Out in the world we all have to put on our happy faces, the, “I’m fine” persona.  At my old agency job we used to joke that the phrase, "I'm fine" stands for; Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.  By that definition, I was "fine" and I needed a place to let down my guard and express my feelings openly without fear of jugement. 

Each time I tried a new counselor they immediately pulled something out of their “tool box” to help guide me through.  It was all well intentioned, but I warily looked at the piece of paper and listened to the intellectual description of dynamics, mechanisms and solutions. I felt more alone and misunderstood than when I walked in the door.  I felt caught in a vacuum and the silence in my soul was deafening.  You could hear a pin drop.  

I look back now and laugh at some of it.  The first counselor seemed strange to me.  Her house smelled like musky perfume and she kept talking about her birds and how they sang the praises of God.  She wanted me to look at them and admire them with her.  "Hmm...this is not going to be a good fit," I remember thinking.  I politely said goodbye and didn't reschedule. 

Following that experience, my new counselor was much better until she drew a diagram of enmeshment and ask me if I have ever heard of it.   Yes, I do know what enmeshment is.  I gave that counselor a few more tries but felt it wasn’t worth the 30 minute drive and the $90.00 when I needed something else.  Definitions of things weren't what I needed. 

Another counselor seemed uncomfortable with my tears and quickly pulled me up to an intellectual level theorizing why I was feeling that way.  He may have been correct, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  “It’s okay really,” I told myself, as I pushed through and tried to give them another chance.  Another chance to understand that what I needed was simple; just a listening ear.  Solutions could come later, what I needed now was to unload my story.

Maybe that is what you need, a place to unlock your story and tell it like it is; raw and un-edited.  I understand why counselors are eager to rely on their tool box, and I do too sometimes.  It just seems that we are all in a hurry to get it and move on from the problem.  Life has taught me that, “getting it” is only part of the problem.  It takes time to gain insight and it can’t be rushed.  We might have all of the insight in the world but the pain won’t go away.  We learn that insight doesn’t always change our circumstances although it can help us navigate through.  At least initially I have learned to simplify and just listen and care for a while.  

Overall, I hope to rely on both in my counseling practice; a good dose of empathy, and, tools that guide my client’s through a problem when the forest and the trees look the same.  (Disclaimer; I most certainly have missed what someone needed before and haven’t been a perfect counselor.  This is merely an effort to describe a time in my life I struggled to find what I needed from the other side of the couch).  Sometimes Empathy is the only thing that is needed.  

Carl Rogers felt, in his theoretical framework, that with, "unconditional positive regard" most motivated clients will find their own way.   I agree, up to a point.  I do believe that some guidance and direction is needed.  However, not too soon.  We mustn't be in a hurry.  Recovery takes time and dedication.  It is a delicate and unfolding process.  I find that if I rush my clients they start to shut down.  I certainly shut down if I feel rushed or pressured to do something.  Hopefully that is what you will find in your journey forward is a chance to heal in an empathetic environment, at your own pace.  

by Gretchen Flores