I LOVE counseling. LOVE IT. I'm not sure of any other profession where you are actually able to reap the rewards for your hard work almost on a daily basis. Two weeks ago, I spent a little over an hour with a student who is committed to working on some personal issues that hamper her relationships. As we sat there, she realized the root of her inability to maintain intimate personal relationships, and I could almost see the light bulb turn on in her head. That epiphanic connection made the late stay at the office worth it for me, and I can truthfully say that I experience those moments almost on a weekly basis.
However, there are times when I just want to walk away from the profession. For all of the beautiful moments and the rewarding outcomes of my job, the times where I can't help a student are the ones that weigh heaviest on my heart.
I utilize a variety of counseling techniques based on several theories that resonate with me. I love Carl Rogers' Person-Centered theory, Albert Ellis' Rational Emotive Behavior therapy, even my homeboy Fritz Perls with his Gestalt therapy gets some play. (WHAT? I'm a counseling geek!) I also keep student development theory in mind when working with my college-aged students. I try to work with students on the level of development they demonstrate when they come to me, while attempting to motivate them to push themselves to the next level. This usually works for me. However, I have encountered a few challenges that no theory could withstand. One is that I may not be privy to important information about the student that could assist in my work with that individual. Another is the student's desire (or lack thereof) to be helped. Oh, and then there's the challenge of working with a student without the support of his or her parents or other professionals when the student cannot make rational decisions of his or her own volition. These issues lead to crises that are antithetical to the rewarding moments in my job. These crises are similar to holding the entire weight of another's life in your hands, and then dropping it.
I had such a moment very recently. The details don't matter. What matters is that I had no reassurance that the student would get the help he or she needed. I knew it was beyond me, but I could not understand why practically everyone else involved seemed to be okay with washing their hands of the "problem" (aka the student). I was AFRAID. What does a counselor do when she has done all she could, and it wasn't enough?
After crying and writing and praying and crying some more, I realized a very important fact about my job that I had forgotten: I CANNOT BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. Sometimes what I do is not going to work. Sometimes legislation, bureaucracy, and apathy will win out. Sometimes I have to let go, and let that blossoming adult make his or her own decisions and deal with the consequences. That doesn't take away from the light bulb moments. As a matter of fact, it will make the next light bulb moment that much sweeter.
Am I right or what? I don't know. I really don't.