From Healing to Healer: An Encouragement to Aspiring Counselors
By: Lexxy Trujillo, Masters Level Intern
I’ve heard it time and time again, almost as much as I have fingers on my calloused hands. The slight blush, aversion of eyes, and tucking of hair being the ear. “I wanna do this,” the brave soul sitting in the chair across from me will whisper with a sense of brave uncertainty. Each time I smile back with warm reassurance, hoping to convey all the swirling emotions and validations rapidly firing in my head with my eyes and demeanor. As this hopeful soul, that feels it’s lived a thousand lives over, understands that statement and feeling all too well, right down to the brave uncertainty. And how complex is that feeling. The bravery and sureness of knowing exactly what it feels like to be in that chair, to feel the debilitating blows the undiscriminating foe of mental health struggles throws, as well as to know the otherworldly strength it takes to get back on your feet and stubbornly refuse anything but happiness. But the contrastingly uncertain fear that insists that it is because of those exact reasons that count you out from the running. “Me too,” I quietly whisper back.
There’s a common misconception about psychology majors and counseling students in higher education. That we are all just trying to discover the missing pieces to the puzzle we never could quite find the solutions for in our own personal lives. I find this take to be nauseating for a few reasons. The most prominent of which being that it invalidates both the pursuers personal experiences as well as their aspirations. Rather than being a weighing anchor that drags you down it can actually be a great tool used to strengthen your drive as a clinician, create a more comfortable and empathetic space for your future clients, as well as increase your abilities to connect with and understand any who may enter your office. In schooling, you will be assigned all the readings. By the time you’re done you’ll have read chapters and chapters of theories in behavior, counseling approaches, and the do’s and don’t of professionalism. But the effectiveness of this knowledge can only get you so far if your client is not in a space where they feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable or understood.
As I child and throughout much of my walk in life, I didn’t have the understanding to comprehend what was happening within me nor the resources to properly cope with such. I’ve fallen in love with the quiet solace of my present life and have no regret abouts the treacherous journey it took to get here. But I won’t deny that before I got to this secure place of acceptance I used to wonder what life could have been, what I could have achieved, and all the hardships I didn’t have to go through. That is the core of my drive for this career and the warmth extended in sessions. In the quiet confines of my tiny office, in between sessions, I’ve shed tears of pure joy over seeing my younger clients make the smallest of strides because it is indicative of all the big changes that can be created in their lives and all the chances that I never had the opportunity for. That empathy extends beyond the younger clients too. Even if I can’t personally relate to a client’s exact circumstance, I understand the pain and trials that come along with fighting the seemingly intangible foe of mental health struggles. The frustration of fighting against oneself and discovering our limbs to be more foreign than familiar. I can not fight battles for them or promise they’ll never experience another heartache, but I can be there to provide a safe space in which they feel comfortable enough to build skills to better tackle future stressors and build the confidence in them that knows they can do it too. At minimum, I can at least provide them an ear that’ll never judge nor assume. I used to think of all the lost happiness and good times that passed me by due to the lack of resources and education available to me. But I’m eased by the change I get to create and the resource I get to be for those I encounter in the future.
The first time I ever said “I wanna do this” and actually meant it, was in an inpatient facility. The cold counselor scoffed in my face and my world suddenly became more shattered than it already seemed to be. Needless to say, personal progress was not made and I almost shied away from mental health assistance or pursuing a career in such for the rest of my life. The first counselor that ever made progress with me was the one that warmly smiled back and whispered “Me too.” It is her plights and empathy that encouraged me and gave me the first of many glimpses into how to turn what others perceived to be fatal weaknesses into undeniable strengths. And so here I am. Doing this. Although most of the work from my part is thanks to my education, I could not get to a place of progress with my clients without providing that empathetic space in which they feel comfortable enough to grow in. The space that understands when to simply listen, to push a little, to reflect, to cry it out, and even when to giggle. The space that understands the vulnerability and vast emotions that come along with being in the chair. That isn’t something that can truly be taught. That drive, compassion, and empathy is not something that can be learned through books and lectures. That is why your journey is needed and so valid. As clients walk through life, they may not remember the exact steps to that particular coping technique you taught or even your exact name, but they’ll remember your kindness and warmth. The extended hand of healing that did not judge nor assume. The extended hand of healing that was patient and seemed to understand without needing verbal communication the client may not be quite ready for yet. The healing hand that walks beside the client, in quiet empathy, letting them choose the direction.
It is scary enough to admit a need for assistance and that fear increases tenfold when it comes to dipping into the vulnerable spaces of working through processing their concerns. Your experiences help you create a space that conveys the power of the statement “me too” into a warm embrace of empathy. With that space you’re going to change lives little by little, and you probably don’t even know it yet. I’m so proud of you, being strong and willing enough to take the bad cards dealt and turn them into goodness. Don’t pay any heed to the jeers of those who demean your plights and aspirations. Wear them proudly knowing that it is what’ll make the difference in becoming a counselor with passionate drive and undeniable empathy. I’m so excited for all the good you are going to get to bring into this world!