I realized that counselling is inextricably linked to teaching because students often came to me not only for academic matters but also for their personal concerns, whether connected to studies or not, and I grappled with concerns about whether I was giving correct advice. All I knew was that I am not judgmental about people’s life choices, I don’t require anyone to seek my agreement and that I believe they have to be willing to carry out the solutions.
I have always found it a mystery that I seem to attract people burdened with their secrets. As I am quite accustomed to being gossip fodder, I keep anything I am told private, guided by the principle that the story is not mine to tell, and only mine for the safekeeping. This is why I immediately took Feminist Counseling when it was offered as a special topic for WD270 during my first year in Women and Development Studies.
The following are some of the learnings that have become part of my psyche, in my estimation:
- The client is the expert. The counselor is there to listen, point out or suggest options, and facilitate the client’s chosen journey. In a world where certain individuals and institutions claim to know what is best for you and how you should live your life, this tenet honors one’s own knowledge of one’s realities and the workings within which one has to navigate. Having someone help you see, or equip you with night vision is refreshing, and is more desirable than the imposition of an authority’s will over the course and choices in your life.
- Give your client unconditional positive regard, and distinguish the deed from the doer. Thus, if you need to call on something that the client did, it has to be emphasized that your regard for the person does not change. Let them understand that they remain persons of worth for you despite mistakes and problematic choices they may have made.
- Do not pretend to be objective. State your frame of reference, value system, and biases up front.
- Assess client’s situation and proximity to danger. They have to understand that you will hold everything in confidentiality, but cannot continue to do this if they pose a threat to themselves and to others.
- When questions arise, throw them back at the client so that she can be empowered in the search for solutions. Many times, when guided and equipped with feminist lens, they do know the answers.
- Recognize and remember that problems always have social causes. Regard of the self, conduct and situations are always colored by social construction. We have to utilize their expertise in locating these problems.
- Self-disclose when needed. It’s natural for me to use myself as an example in class, especially with funny situations or examples where I committed mistakes because I find that the students become more willing to share and more forgiving of themselves as well. I realize that I began to self-disclose in more serious matters after having attended Feminist Counselling class.
- Regard the client as an agent of her own change, and that she can eventually effect this change herself.
- Hold her to her responsibility to herself with you as support (for example, “You have to get out of this abusive relationship.”).
- Do not change what should not be. For example, when someone wants to be cured of homosexuality, it has to be pointed out that this is natural, and what can be worked on are ways of dealing with the world, but not changing the self. A brilliant example was given in class: “Why chop off a perfectly functioning hand?”
- There should be no barriers during counselling. Ideally, you should be facing each other, with no tables or other furniture in between. I have found this especially effective in aiding to change perceptions of power structures within the classroom.
- Enough time should be allotted for sessions, because it’s difficult to give unconditional positive regard when you are rushing. As such, I prefer long class periods. When I have no choice, I plan with contingency time in mind.
- Identify with the client. Allow yourself to get emotional, but be careful not to send wrong message. While it is alright to feel for them, you must be careful not to communicate that you seem to view the client as pitiful, or make the client feel compelled to comfort you.
- This is about them, this is never about you.
- Hold everything in confidentiality. The only reason for you to break confidentiality is when the client poses a risk to herself and others.
I was extremely pleased with myself to discover that I already practiced some of the tenets I learned in Feminist Counselling, while the others proved to be in harmony with the way I am as a teacher and a woman. These concepts naturally found their way into my practice of education, since these are principles that make for a feminist classroom and lend themselves well to group dynamics as well. These have undoubtedly affected not only myself in terms of perspectives and approaches in the different areas of my life, but also the people that I have encountered, particularly the students, who continue to come to me for reassurance and positive regard.
- Psychology in Writing: Unconditional Positive Regard (wtjowett.wordpress.com)
- U is for Unconditional (motherwifestudentworker.wordpress.com)
- Role Reversal (divineguidewithin.com)
- Week 5: Foundational Philosophies of Counseling (slzchapper.wordpress.com)