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The Calm During The Storm
What a Counsellor Generally Needs to be in Many Counselling Situations

What should a counsellor do when an agitated client (counsellee) talks of taking some drastic (wild) action?
How should I, a student counsellor, counsel a group of agitated boys who've come to me, bursting out in panic that they want to run away from home?

Author: Sreedhar MA
(Sharing notes from my conversations with working counsellors.)

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When the Counsellor is at the Centre of a Storm

I had taken a class on the emotions of a counsellor when she is in a counselling session. In the class, we all had a lively discussion about the need for counsellors staying calm and not panicking when counsellees are agitated or tell them something shocking.

When working as counsellors, quite a few of the students get a chance to actually practise what they absorb in the class. A student working as a school counsellor shared one such experience with me sometime back.

People, especially teenagers, Succumbing to Pressures is But Natural

In her work as a student counsellor, Namitha's (name changed) friendly approach has made her very popular with the students. She has her hands full with students coming and discussing all sorts of things with her.

High school boys want to run away
Image Credit: Vinoth Chandar, flickr.com, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

In her school, five boys had been transferred to the CBSE section from the State Syllabus Section as their parents thought that that was the right move. With the CBSE syllabus reputed to be tougher than the State syllabus, many parents believe it gives their children a better footing in the long run. These five boys, try as they did, could not cope with the change and the pressure was mounting on them. The exams were coming near. Don't thoughts of drastic action enter our mind when we're under pressure?

Sure enough, Namitha found herself facing five excited boys who had barged into her room, all speaking different lines at the same time – 'We can't take this anymore!' 'We've had it with our parents and teachers!' 'Nobody cares how we feel about this!' 'All they can say is Work Hard, Work Hard.' The boys told her that they had decided to run away from home.

The counsellor should try to go with the flow

Listening to the emotional outburst of the boys, Namitha did not react in panic or in a hurry.

If the boys had told other adults that they wanted to flee their homes, wouldn't they have got a earful of how they were wrong, why they should'nt do it, how they would be letting their parents down by their action, how they were being cowardly, how they should be stronger, how they should change their attitudes & so on?

It is important that counsellees realize that we are on their side first. In the outside world, they receive a lot of sermons, lectures on what to do or not to do in life. Do they come to a counsellor to listen to more homilies?

Counsellor should not panic facing a stormy counselling session

Namitha stayed calm and told the boys that listening to them, she could understand how they felt. The boys relaxed and told her that as they could not take the pressure any more, they had decided to leave Bengaluru and go and stay in some village or town. Namitha told them she was interested in their plans. She discussed with them how they planned to travel, how much money they had, where they planned to stay, what they planned to take with them and so on.

The conversation went on for quite some time with Namitha being actively concerned with what the boys wanted to do; but she never in any manner opposed their plan. After an hour of discussing various options, the boys themselves concluded that their idea was not very practical - with the kind of resources they had, they could not go very far or stay away for long.

Only when Namitha was convinced that the boys had realized the futility of their idea, did she broach the topic of involving the parents. She asked them if they would be comfortable if she talked to their parents. With the permission of the boys, she proceeded to talk to the parents.

The Counsellor's Calm during the Storm could help the Counsellee Calm down after the Storm

Often, counsellees come in an agitated state of mind to a counsellor. They happen to be facing issues with seemingly no solutions. Feeling cornered, they consider taking drastic measures like running away from home, quitting a job, breaking a relationship or even taking their own lives.

As counsellors, it is important that while we empathize with our counsellees, we don't get dragged into the storm of their emotions and react in panic. That could only make matters worse for the counsellee.

When a counsellor listens concerned but calm, seriously discusses with them without judgement their drastic (no matter how wild, absurd, illogical or ill-advised) plans, counsellees could calm down from their stormy emotional states of anger, fear or panic and, often, get fresh perspectives that suggest to them some other steps they could take in their given situations. Does a good counsellor need to do anything more than empathizing with and empowering the counsellee in the manner outlined?

Counsellor should be at peace
Image Credit: anurag agnihotri, flickr.com, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Author: Sreedhar MA

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