Counseling Is Not Always Safe – Blog 77

The company that I work with provides free counseling sessions as part of the Employee Assistance Program and I make full use of the free sessions.

My logic around counseling is simple. When I have a toothache I go to a dentist, if my feet hurt I go to a podiatrist and when I feel ill I go to the doctor, so by extension when I feel unsure I go to the therapist and have a chat.

I appreciate the work of the counsellor as I get full attention and support to work through my feelings about an issue.  From their work I have gained wonderful insights about my behavioural patterns and now I know what makes me tick. I view counseling as an opportunity to bring closure to a problem, or to analyze an experience or to put words to an issue that has been nagging me and sometimes to devise an action plan.

Over time I have had interesting experiences with counsellors.  There are the great ones who make me feel safe as they hold the space for me to explore.  They ask powerful and probing questions that make me think and examine my feelings as I listen to the messages that lie within me.  They also share the relevant psychological theories to add context for the work that we are doing. In those engagements, I have felt respected for my intelligence and that the counsellor and I were partnering together for a positive outcome.  Though I may have left these sessions with a bundle of emotions, I always walked out with my dignity in tact.

Not all counsellors are created equally.  After 30 minutes of meeting me for the first time, the  counsellor recommended a psychiatric evaluation. While I understood logically that this was a data gathering process that will be used for further assessment, I was put off by her bandaid approach.  Without understanding my issues she moved to apply her formula – “chat with patient, send patient for evaluation, get results, determine what to do with patient”- which had nothing to do with me or what I wanted from the session.  I thought that I was being objectified and that my story became a statistic to be lined up on a chart.  I left her office confused, and never made my way back.

Then there was the counsellor whose remarks were loaded with double entendre.  He made unsavoury comments and offered his mobile number in case I needed to see him outside of office hours.  I felt both unsafe and exposed in his presence and I bolted from that office.

My counseling experiences provided benchmarks for co-creating the safe space.  I mimicked the work of the great counselors as I held the space for members as and when they need support.  From the terrible counselors I know what I should not do to have my charges feel unsafe and to ensure that they leave each encounter with me feeling that they were seen and heard and willing to reenter the space.

( Lead Your Team To Win)

Have you ever experienced a violation of a safe space?  Tell me about it

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