In my work with non-mainstream clients, I’ve often thought that being an immigrant is a crucial advantage in counselling other immigrants and refugees. But it is not enough. Although once being an immigrant has helped me understand common issues brought by this population, I don’t believe it provides automatic credentials to help other newcomers.
As counselors we need to have knowledge of ourselves and important issues in our own biography, so we can not only use our strengths in session but also navigate wisely through the muddy waters of our traumas. And it is particularly within such waters that we need to look closely when trying to figure why we decided to help in the first place.
I remember vividly Dr. Alfried Langle’s lecture in which he explained how help must come from a free place within ourselves. By ‘free’ he meant that help must be a conscious decision, one in which we are not feeling obligated or compelled to help. If I feel so overruled by impulse that I can’t resist (“I can’t help it”) but to throw myself into assisting someone, there is a great danger I am feeling triggered to fix it. When in a place of trigger, I am more susceptible to reacting automatically and not fully being there for my client.
I take every experience of being triggered as an opportunity for exploration of my muddy waters. These are usually clients that I feel either very compelled to help or that I feel tremendous difficulty in helping – the common factor being that I feel the work as extremely easy or difficult.
If I am unaware of my motivations to help newcomers, I could be perpetually triggered into helping, seeing only my suffering in the client and, in fact, treating my own. The impulse to help gains an element of compulsion: I must always offer my hand in order to avoid the greater task of healing myself first.
This posting will be continued…
Bianca Buteri, M.A., M.Ed., is a Child and Youth Mental Health counsellor, working with diverse and mainstream clients in Metro Vancouver, BC. She became a Canadian citizen and busy mom in 2010 and shares her time with her husband and 11-month-old daughter.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA