A little background on me: I’m a 24 year old chick living in Chicago, about to start her second year of graduate school in social work. I had a pretty rough day yesterday at my internship, which is in the counseling center of a family medicine center. A few thoughts:
I decided to study social work mostly because I like engaging with people. I thought, “cool, a job where I get to talk to people all day and help them solve their problems!” I didn’t realize that there was a whole lot more involved in the process, certainly a lot more than just “talking it out” or giving advice. SILLY ME.
Flash forward to the second year of my grad program, a month and a half into my new internship. Things had been hunky-dory with the first 7 or so patients I’d had sessions with, solely (I realize now) because they were there on their own accord. I’d never experienced a resistant client before, and it didn’t hit me until I was sitting in the exam room across from one. This 15 year old was literally snarling at me as she “answered” each of my questions, looking like she was ready to spit on me at any moment.
I felt offended. I wanted to shout, “WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME!? I’M A NICE GIRL! YOU’D PROBABLY EVEN WANT TO BE MY FRIEND IF YOU JUST GOT TO KNOW ME!” I let my emotions get the best of me, and for a moment I selfishly made the session about me. I don’t think she realized, but maybe she did if she noticed the way my hand was shaking or the way my voice was quivering. All of these things matter in therapy; the way you present yourself, the tone of your voice, the way you sit, fold your hands, cross your legs. It can get overwhelming, and I found myself noticing what my body language was saying, creating a lovely snowball effect of FREAKOUT. Which is not ideal, especially when you’re completely out of your comfort zone sitting across from someone who absolutely “despises” you for what you perceive to be no reason.
But then it kicks in. You figure it out. You realize you can show this person who you are, and help them let you in, by being yourself. WHOA, CHEESY. No, calm down. All I meant is that I cracked a joke, got her to laugh, and BOOM. I was in. I think I’m a funny person (Okay. Sometimes. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here), and it felt good to be able to use that part of my personality to make this kid a little more comfortable around me.
Therapy is a strange beast, and it’s easy to get caught up in the technicalities of it, focusing on the unspoken messages you might be sending or worrying about what the patient might think of you. The fact that a joke was able to turn this session around helped remind me that even a small, normal, human interaction can be MUCH more powerful than the way my body is positioned in relation to the client or the way my head might be tilted. It sounds like common sense writing it out like that, but trust me, in the moment, it’s a whole nother story.