Walking our Walk…When Counsellors Don’t DO as they SAY

Posted by: Siri Brown on April 27, 2015 12:00 pm

I will admit it – I have had several moments in my past counselling experience where I found myself giving feedback that I, myself, could probably have taken. Whether it was managing negative thinking, using healthier coping skills or just eating more mindfully, I could have “walked the walk” a bit better than I was.

Set boundaries. Set goals. Avoid toxic people. Use “I” statements. Identify your values. Understand and soothe your inner critic. All helpful psychological tools we can use to work towards greater self-awareness and personal growth.

Yet how are WE doing? Yeah, us – the “professionals” who have made personal growth our business.

people-690953_640Interesting question…

As far as I’m concerned, we fall on a significantly broad continuum in this regard. Personally, I’ve met counsellors who’ve struggled with addictions, Major Depression Disorder or Bordeline Personality Disorder; presented as highly defensive, passive-aggressive, or traumatized. I’ve heard from clients about various transgressions of boundaries or negligence from their counsellors, and from counsellors about their out-of-control or toxic colleagues.

We’re human. We all make mistakes. But how can we strive to uphold our ethical code of conduct while allowing ourselves an understandable slip now and then? Where do we draw the line so we can honestly say we are doing our best to work in alignment with our values and professional expectations?

I’ll never forget the time a supervisor of mine said it was okay if the staff showed up hungover to work, as long as they could do their jobs. The staff consisted of addictions recovery counsellors.   Many of us weren’t in recovery ourselves, but I still felt funny with the whole idea – if we are supposed to be helping others learn how to deal with life’s challenges without abusing substances, shouldn’t we perhaps do the same, at least when we had work the next day?

I really believe that you can help another successfully as long as you are slightly farther down the path; not perfect, not enlightened, not even fully “self-actualized” – just farther down the path.

I also think that one reason many counsellors don’t do the work they need to do is that they (falsely) believe they should have it all “figured out” (or at least the big bits) by the time they have a client sitting across from them. This just isn’t true, nor is it helpful.   We are all works in progress. Counsellors and clients alike.

I’ll never forget taking my first “stress leave” (yes, I took more than one!) – the shame and fear were only exceeded by the extreme Compassion Fatigue I was experiencing. I had chest pains, was drinking too much, crying too easily, numbing out and pulling back from clients. Looking back, I shake my head in wonder at how much suffering I caused myself, when I could have sought help so much sooner. And healed so much faster. We need to start recognizing our limitations and allow space and time for our own growth, in order for us to best serve our clients. We need to sharpen the saw every once in a while.

My suggestions coming from my own and others’ experiences: Seek support. Take time to heal what needs to be healed. Be gentle with yourself.   Refer clients that have issues that you haven’t worked through in yourself yet.   Be honest.   Here’s to walking our walk, as well as talking our talk.

By: Siri Brown, M.A., CCC




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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