By Tanya Glover
In order to get a full and complete picture of who we are, it is imperative to look back at where we came from. This means a deep reflection of your past and especially your childhood and the people who helped to shape you. This paper is a personal reflection of my family life describing the overall dynamic of the family I grew up in. I will also address the role I played within my family as a child and how my experiences have impacted me as an adult. I do have much unfinished business from those days and that will be addressed here as well. Last but not least, I must recognize where my family experiences may impact my growth as a person and as a professional counselor.
In the Beginning There was Me
When we are born into our family, what we see is what we know, and what we know, initially at least, seems normal. It was not until I became a teenager that I realized that my family was one of severe dysfunction, each member contributing to the overall abnormalities of the entire group. Looking back I find it very ironic that my father was always so quick to point out dysfunction in other families as if he were totally blind to the world he was living in. I am still unsure that he gets it, that any of them do.
When I was a child, I knew nothing of my family outside of the immediate group that surrounded me all the time. Those people were: My mother and father, my paternal grandparents, my half brother (who I had no idea was a half sibling until some nice neighborhood child pointed out that “he is not even your whole brother”.) and my Uncle (dad’s brother). These people were who my world revolved around. When I was three and my parents could not afford to pay rent for our home anymore, my grandparents made their single story home into a two-story home and we moved upstairs. The upstairs was a complete house with kitchen and all. All I needed to do to see my grandparents and Uncle who lived with them, was walk down the stairs and go through the door to the first floor. I made that trip downstairs a lot as it was the only place I felt safe and protected.
My Role in the Family
Even now it is hard for me to define what my role in the family unit was. I was the youngest person in the home. I was in the way a lot, at least from my perspective. My brother came only every other weekend and I could tell how much more important he was then I. (Again, from the perspective of a child.) My grandmother doted on me though and my uncle was my best friend. My mother was someone I looked up to and looked to for protection. My father was the unstable force that drove our lives. Our happiness revolved around his moods which were usually bad and put us in volatile situations. My grandpa was the head of the family and though I loved him dearly, he was not an affectionate person. As far as I knew, the life we lived was normal. I know very different now.
Reflection Minus the Rose Colored Glasses
I learned much from my role in the family unit. Since I was the one who was in the way so much I had much time to listen and observe. What I ended up finding was the following; None of my friends had to be afraid of their fathers. None of their mothers were hit. None of them hide in their bedrooms praying for the daddy to die. None of their grandparents allowed abuse to go on in their own home with only a warning to “keep it down up there.” and none of their uncles were drug addicts and alcoholics who were totally dependent on their parents to survive. I learned that my father was a natural abuser (natural as in he did not drink or do drugs), that my mother was weak and allowed herself to live like a caged animal (this was perpetuated by her own family experiences), that my grandparents did nothing because my grandfather was abusive to my grandma, father and uncle and that my brother hated us all because of the suffering he endured from our father. Simply put, I learned not to trust.
The Impact of Unfinished Business
There is so much that I still carry with me from my childhood that I still struggle with and yes, I do realize how unhealthy it is and it is something I need to work on. If I had to choose the top three things that I still carry with me and currently struggle with I would say that they would be, the overall abuse from my father, the pain of the non-existent relationship with my brother, and the pain I suffered from my uncle’s addiction and chosen behaviors. Having carried these with me my entire life, as an adult I am very jaded and biased. I have gone through unhealthy relationships due to the impact my father had on me. I have looked to the wrong people for love and protection. I have gotten past these things. From all of the things I experienced as a child, I have learned as an adult, to tread carefully. I have learned to assert myself or be walked upon. I have also become a controller. I see that in my marriage. In my mind, if I give, even a little, I am becoming my mother and I tend to take comments and actions out of context because I am looking for my father to pop out of my husband. I push my children to be as close as possible because I still yearn to be loved by a brother who does not care if I am dead or alive.
Knowing that all of this is inside of me I understand that there are risks of my growth as a professional becoming stunted. I have not yet worked in the position of a counselor but I can see where I will have to be very careful not to transfer my emotions and needs onto my clients. I feel this is true of all counselors, but especially me. I say this because many of my childhood problems are those of people who seek counseling so I am bound to run into clients who have suffered the same types of experiences that I have. I do believe that I can and will grow and my professional growth will begin with personal growth. Just the fact that I can see the things in my way and admit that they are problems is, in my eyes, a huge step in the right direction. Self-reflection has gotten me to this point and I feel that it will continue to help me throughout my career. In addition, I will get into personal counseling before I begin practice so I can feel confident that I am addressing the things that need to be addressed in order to be an effective and competent counselor for my clients.
In this, the second half of my paper, I will analyze the roles of mental health counselors. Analyze a model of self-supervision and then personalize the model to reflect my personal and professional growth plan.
Roles of counseling professionals
The counseling professional can, and usually does, fall into many categories and has many different missions. A counselor will many times find themselves working with a diverse population and providing therapy, rehabilitation services and other support services. Depending on the specialty of the counselor, their roles and missions are different. However, in general, the counselor will find themselves being challenged by both children and adults, family issues, addictions and other mental health disorders. They can play the role of teacher (and student in some cases), mediator, confidant and advocate. The missions differ from case to case but overall, the main mission will be to provide quality care for their clients in such a way that no harm is done and the desired results are achieved. More specific missions may be career counseling, educational counseling, relationship counseling, and guiding people to the right answers and choices for them.
Qualities of effective counseling professionals
It is my opinion that some people are just made for the counseling field. However, I do feel that the qualities that need to be present can be learned by everyone who wants to learn them. These qualities include being an active listener and also by showing interest and caring through body language (not slouching or looking away). Being able to appear relaxed and at ease with clients goes a long way in helping them to feel the same way. The same goes for facial expressions which should also come across as natural. The counselor should be able to respond to the client without overtaking the conversation and talking over the client. The effective counselor should be well trained in cultural diversity. This is very important in my opinion and for good reason. The basic rule of eye contact may not be appropriate for all clients. Some cultures find this rude and/or uncomfortable. The counselor should also be self aware, especially while in session with a client. That way they are less likely to show bias to their clients and experience countertransference. They need to have good communication skills, be able to show support without smothering or idea planting and show that they respect the client as an individual.
My Motivation to Become a Counselor
The Kottler text sums this up well for me. “Whether we actually got started in the helping profession to save the world, to save our families, or to save ourselves, we enjoy getting close to others and helping them solve their problems.” (Kottler, 2010, pg 99-100). I do recognize that the reason I got into this field is that I wanted answers for my own life. My past was so dysfunctional that I felt that I needed what a psychology education had to offer. However, the bottom line is, above all else, is that I do in fact enjoy getting closer to others and fell wonderful about myself when I can offer help for their problems. I have to keep myself in check in this area though as in certain situations I can see how easy it would be to simply tell the client what to do, especially when they are asking me outright what they should do. Again, I know I have much work to do before I can be a top notch counselor.
Model of Self Supervision
Self supervision is essential for every counselor. “The basic premise of self supervision is that the principles of supervision are applied for self development of clinical skills and professional growth.” (Morrissette, 2001, pg 15). It is achieved by overseeing your own work and activities as you would another person who needed supervision. The only difference is that you are supervising yourself which can be much more difficult. It can be more challenging to police yourself and must have a certain degree of self awareness and the ability of self reflection to achieve this practice.
After much research on methods of self-supervision, I finally settled upon the one that I felt that I could work best within. It is a generalized model of self-supervision. I choose this generalized model because of its sheer simplicity and I believe that keeping things simple leaves less room for mistakes and more room for success. Within this model are three main concepts that are incorporated; Self disclosure, ethical mindfulness and cultural values. From there, the major components must be added in. “A self-supervision model must put emphasis on the self-reflective process. The three major components must be incorporated in the model: self-monitoring, ideal structure or model, change towards the ideal model.” (Exforsys, 2011).
To begin with, self-disclosure centers around the concept of open communication. It is highly important that you supervise yourself when it comes to this aspect of your work. It has been pointed out by an article from Wells and Pringle (2004) that for a beginning counselor it can be difficult to know what aspects of self-disclosure are actually legitimate to share and which ones are not. This is certainly an area where self-supervision must play a significant role.
Self-disclosure can become a positive part of the client/counselor relationship or cause negative results for the client. When self-disclosure is done at the right time and for the right reason, it can be very beneficial. Here is an example of a positive self disclosure: Mary has come to see me because she is 18 years old and about to get married. She wants to go to a college that is out of state but her boyfriend has threatened to leave her if she did not marry him now and forget about school. She is torn about what to do. In this scenario, I may disclose to Mary that I too gave up the chance to go to college upon graduating high school so I could stay with my boyfriend. I may tell her that while I did love him, I personally regretted not going straight to college. But, when I turned 25 I did go to college and in essence, corrected my earlier mistake. In this case I am sharing my own similar story with Mary and modeling the action of learning from mistakes. I am not telling her that she should go to college if that is what she really wants, but giving her an example of how even if she chooses her boyfriend now, it is never too late to make her dreams of college a reality. Another good reason for self-disclosure is to help normalize the client’s feelings and concerns. Overall, self-disclosure should only be used for the good of the client. The sessions should never be about the counselor and how their experiences affected them.
When self supervising, ethical mindfulness should be at the front of the mind at all times. Counselors “need to carefully and honestly self-monitor for their own semi-conscious, self-serving intentions.”(Wells & Pringle, 2004, pg 13) By doing this they are also ensuring that any negative impacts that they may have had on their clients are attended to as well. In my personal view, ethical mindfulness is directly connected to critical thinking. “Thinking ethically, the background assumption is, largely involves being able to apply specific logical abilities, to distinguish good reasons from bad reasons and hence to come to better ethical decisions.” (Thomson, 1999). Going along with this assumption, consider the following when working with your clients; Am I causing any harm? Am I being just and fair to my client? Who is benefiting from this action, my client or myself? Am I behaving in a discriminatory way? If you keep these questions in your mind when working with clients, you are already practicing ethical mindfulness and being ethically mindful also helps a great deal in knowing when to self-disclose. Also keep in mind the cultural values of both yourself and your client. While it may be acceptable to self-disclose to clients of one culture, it may not be for clients of another culture. Let us reflect back on the example of Mary and her choice of marriage or college. Had Mary come from a culture where it was expected that women marry off and have no use for an education, I may not have self-disclosed. However, if I were to disclose, I would be mindful of the fact that I honestly feel I am putting out something that may be beneficial for Mary to know about.
There is a certain feeling of inner strength and inner power that comes with being able to self-supervise. Not only does it allow for a freer flow of the counseling process but it also teaches the counselor how to be self-reliant and learn how to problem solve without going for help with every issue. “every career individual must learn the skill of self-supervising so as not to depend mostly on supervisors for the things they need to do.” (Exforsys, 2010) However, this is not to say that you should never go to a supervisor for help. If you have reached an impasse or do not feel competent to deal with a situation on your own, ethically speaking, you should get some outside help. While there is strength is self-supervision, there are many limitations. One major limitation to self-supervision is that sometimes a counselor will not know when to get that help. “One potential limitation to self-supervision is that the therapist may not be aware of when consultation is needed.” (Kottler & Jones, 2003, pg 258). There can also be blind spots found in self-supervision. Examples of blind spots include not being aware of issues of countertransference, therapist burn out preventing proper self-supervision and the therapist not being able to see when they have become too emotionally involved in the clients life.
Self-Supervision and My Plan for Growth
In part one of this paper, it was seen how my childhood affected the person who I became and helped to shape certain themes in my life. Over the course of this class, I have found that my two major themes are with my trust of others and my need to control everything around me. These are of particular concern to me as I go into the field of counseling. I do not want my trust issues to be transparent, transferring them to my client and their outlook on life. I also know that as a person who feels the need for control, I must supervise myself so that I do not tell my clients what they should do.
I know that it will sometimes be challenging to keep my opinions to myself, especially in certain cases. As a non-licensed mental health professional, it is hard for me to hear a woman talk about being in an abusive relationship as all I want to do is tell them to get out of it and show them how to get out of it. I have done this with friends in the past and found myself angry with them for not listening to me and staying with the abuser anyway. I cannot let this happen with my clients as it is not my place to tell them what to do. Rather, I need to guide them in making their own personal choices, free of any bias from myself. I can also see where I will have to be ethically mindful when it comes to self-disclosure. When it comes to clients who have had or are having the same experiences I did in the past, before I self-disclose I have to stop and ask myself the pertinent questions about my motivations for doing so. Am I self-disclosing so I can feel connected to someone who had the same experience or because it will be beneficial to my client?
I will apply the aforementioned techniques for the use of my personal and professional growth by using this model on a daily basis. It is my feeling that self-supervising in my personal life will be much more difficult than doing so in a professional capacity. If I can do well with it personally it will not only help in my professional growth but it will also improve the relationships in my personal life. However, in order to assess the effectiveness of my plan, I will have to continue to be self-aware. I also feel that it would be beneficial to make a checklist to go over on a regular basis to ensure that I am meeting the professional (and my own personal) requirements of self-supervision. Another process I would apply would be a skills checklist. This way I can see where I need improvement. It is important to know what skills are necessary for self-supervision. An individual can acquire a wide range of skills, but in the case of self-supervising, maybe not all the skills are applicable and suitable. You must know how to identify which skills are needed for a certain aspect.” (Exforsys, 2010). Self-reflection will also play a significant role as I look back as sessions to see if I am doing the right things for my client.
Being a mental health counselor can be just as challenging as it can be rewarding. It is important to keep in mind that counselors are no different than the clients they treat. We all have unfinished business and we all must be able to self-supervise on a certain level, both on the job and at home. Knowing our weaknesses and understanding how to overcome them to be a success for both yourself and your client is an important aspect of the counseling career. Finally, it is important to remember that we are there for our clients, not the other way around. By proper self-supervising, we can ensure that our own personal issues do not have a negative impact on our clients.
Exforsys. (2010). What are the best self-supervision techniques. Retrieved from http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/self-supervision/best-self-supervision-techniques.html
Exforsys. (2010). What are the self-supervision models. Retrieved from http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/self-supervision/what-are-the-self-supervision-models.html
Exforsys. (2010). Why self-supervision is an essential skill. Retrieved from http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/self-supervision/what-are-the-self-supervision-models.html
Kottler, J. A., & Jones, W. P. (2003). Doing better: improving clinical skills and professional competence. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Kottler, J. A. (2010). On being a therapist. (4th ed., pp. 99-100). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Morrissette, P.J. (2001). Self-supervision, a primer for counselors and helping professions (pp. 15). New York, NY: Rutledge
Thomson, Anne. Critical Reasoning in Ethics: A Practical Introduction (Routledge, 1999)
Wells, M., & Pringle, V. B. (2004). Use of self-supervision model: relational, ethical and cultural issues. Unpublished manuscript, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia. Retrieved from http://www.cimh.org/Portals/0/Documents/MRR/Use-of-Self-Supervision-Model.pdf
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