I use the word joy sparingly in life and in work. Two things will produce it in my work. The first is when someone comes back into safety from the dark brooding land of depression or that scary nightmarish land of anxiety. The second is much more beyond my control. Its when I’m called in to do a de-briefing after a near miss. Usually on a mine site or construction site. Someone has had a narrow escape from death. We unpack what happened. Its obvious they should be dead. Its very moving.
Counselling is not necessarily enjoyable. But it is satisfying.You utilise all your therapeutic knowledge and your history and your experience and focus on listening and opening your mouth strategically.
In counselling people might tell you their story for 10 minutes or an hour. But its still not their whole story. Such a brief time cannot capture their whole life. Not all stories are awful. I have heard much over 40 years. Many stories are intriguing. Some are heroic or comical. Some seemingly unbelievable and of bizarre coincidence. I am amazed at the stories that people tell me of their lives. They fill in the back story. A summary of what’s important or what their life means to them. Or told with such nonchalance life means nothing. Stories of dying or being bereaved. The aftermath of a child’s deaths with parents. Of shame or fatal mistakes that people believe can never be forgiven. Adolescents suicide. Stories of terror or hurt or savage abandonment in childhood or of attempts at murdering them or of things done in wartime. Individuals awaiting the hangman’s noose and even separate narratives from the hangman himself and then stories of the Judge. Of being pursued to death by entities legal or illegal without mercy. Or betrayals or cruel actions in marraige. Bizarre family dysfunction. Of allusions to being in dark places of the mind and without hope. Nightmarish places drug induced. Occult involvement getting out of control. Of being saved quite miraculously when there was no rationale hope. Or sometimes only half the story. Individuals trusting too much and being tricked of their life savings. Individuals never trusting and never abandoning their suspicion of others. At other times a great deal of the story without inhibition except for the deep hidden shameful parts. At others times no boundaries and with malicious intent to be scandalous and obscene in what they say. Of the misuse of power or the neglect and corruption of those in power. Or domestic or workplace despots. I think the back stories are just that. They are the back stories. Not the full story. Or they have left out parts because its just too horrible. Or they leave out parts because its too shameful. None the less you are at the receipt of the these stories and you take them and you don’t share them. Stories are powerful. Tens of thousands of them. The above barely touch the surface.
There is another feature to this. There is a whole spectrum of counsellors listening and hearing stories on a daily basis to material dark and ugly. Its not always just counsellors say in Psychology or social work or occupational therapy but in other professions which have exposure to people and are mandated “to listen” or take into account peoples stories in some legal or medicalised or human resource fashion or caregiver role.
Listening and empathising and collecting narratives and stories has its own impact on counsellors and those who work in chaotic settings. Witnessing such material on a daily basis will have its own impact. It goes to the inner spaces of the heart,so to speak. We have to do something with what we have witnessed or what we have heard. What has been narrated to us has become a picture adhering to our thoughts. Its like a short piece of cinema on a repeating loop in our memory. Sometimes its uglier. Like the house visit where dysfunction reigned and the spooky unblinking kid had pressed turd into the fly wire mesh of his bedroom window. The stories stick like that to memory. There are other fields where people choose to work in contexts where obscenity and filth and threats of violence are played out on a daily basis. I’m thinking here of custody situations or community guardianship scenarios or policing. All the while being at the receiving end of tirades and narratives and brutal sadness but having to act professionally and having to suppress their personal opinions or thoughts and act within procedural guidelines. The bottom line is that these professionals and carers whatever their job have to go home to lasagne and kids and credit card debts stuck on the fridge door like everybody else. They go from a work shift and from a chaotic , crisis prone world to that of home life and recreational life where their story of work can’t or shouldn’t be told. Even if that was the case there are occasions when words would escape description. So,I have set the scene. I want to pursue a series of essays on dealing and separating or navigating safely away from the chaotic and destructive dimensions of professional exposure.This is in preparation for a series of seminars in 2019 on clinical supervision.