Sunday, November 14, 2010

What I'm Learning from Counseling

And by counseling, I mean being in grad school to become a counselor.  Actually, I am technically being counseled as well, since we counsel each other in order to practice and work on our counseling skills. 

The end of my first semester of grad school is almost here - almost exactly a month away at this point.  Kinda crazy.  I am really enjoying it so far; it's difficult, as grad school should be, but I love the stuff I'm learning.  To me, one of the best things about what we learn is that it can be used beyond just our careers.  The basic foundation of counseling is listening - a very important and useful everyday skill that everyone should possess but way too often gets overlooked.  Another big skill you need to have as a counselor is unconditional acceptance of your client.  This is not just "being okay" with who they are but also showing them that you fully accept them.  Both of these pieces of counseling have been researched and shown to be very effective in creating the intimate and trusting relationship needed for therapy.

So why do they get skipped in everyday life?  Everyone wants to be accepted and understood, yet it is so easy to only expect it for ourselves and not give it to others.  We can be so selfish in this.  All it takes is focusing on another person and truly hearing what they have to say and accepting it.  Each person has their own perception of reality that is constructed by the environment they grew up in and the people around them, but we like to act like people are either for us or against us - there's no gray parts.  There is no room for different beliefs, different ideas of what it means to be "right" or "good."  You don't know where someone else is coming from until you actually listen and then accept how they see things.  It doesn't mean to conform to everyone around you - it means to be empathic.  Empathy is diving into someone else's world, trying to see things from their side but not getting so caught up in it that you lose yourself. 

It's so hard not to judge people and think they're just ridiculous for doing what they did (whatever that may be), but it would be so much better if we tried to take a step back and listen to where they are.  It can be so simple.  But when have we learned this?  From whom would we have learned that there are other points of view, that everyone is not going to be like you, and that you should take the time to find out about that and appreciate the fact that life is made infinitely more interesting and vibrant by the differences in people? 

I get frustrated by the lack of listening and acceptance in the world (particularly in politics, but I won't even go there).  However, I am glad that I get the chance to be at least one person in someone's life that takes the time to listen to his or her story and accept the way he or she sees things.  Because we all need that.  And we all deserve it.