One of the most interesting aspects of working in mental health is telling people what it is I actually do. Inevitably, when this question comes about there are all sorts of preconceived notions. The most common reaction though, is a cartoonish imagery of someone sitting on a leather chaise, while their every thought is being penned into a notepad. I don’t know if it is the fault of late 1980’s sitcoms, but for some reason counseling is always presented as a very passive process. Like a one-way street in which someone is confessing their inner most thoughts, and at the conclusion, the process is over. The reality is, as with most TV depictions, that is far from the truth. Counseling is actually a very interactive process; often-times with no notepad at all.
Most troubling about this characterization of counseling is it’s stark contrast to many counseling modalities. The example that immediately comes to mind is play therapy. I am truly amazed at the variety of mediums that can be employed within this context. Dance that is used to tap into emotions that are deep inside the body, or chalkboard drawings that suddenly become maps of a client’s thoughts, and even stories written out like a chapter book that give the individual insight into their life. Individuals interacting to envision their lives, far away from what one would think of as the traditional “chair.”
Counseling is a collaborative endeavor in which both parties actively participate, moving towards helping the individual lead the life they want to live. Counselors, their modalities, and the presentation of the counseling process is highly individualized. Having many different alternatives to the counseling process (even the traditional chair) is very important. It creates space for all of us to participate in counseling in a way that is impactful and holds meaning. If you have questions or comments, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org