One/Memoirs: Counselling the Counsellor

Journalling my journey as a mental health practitioner in training

Counselling came as a sudden decision. A calling, in fact. After a summer internship with human resources, I knew this wasn’t where I would spend my life.

A friend mentioned during lunch one day about counselling, about possible future plans of taking a Masters. And it hit me: Why haven’t I considered it before? When the course began, I felt safe, belonged. It wasn’t love. I found my kindred spirit. But I wasn’t ready for what came next.

The start of internship shocked me into realising what counselling truly was. On the outset it looks like another job, a career, or what most like to call talk therapy. No, it was the beginning of deliberate, life-long introspection i.e. examining and learning about what’s going on in my psychological, emotional, spiritual, existing being. Simply put: watch myself dig my insides out, nice and nasty, exposed to air, and carefully study them as I squirm in absolute vulnerability.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the therapeutic process. It’s where I feel most at home. Yet beyond helping others, I desperately felt the urgent need to make sense of myself. Everything was so confusing — why I said that to a father of a rebellious 13 year old, why I froze when a couple session spiralled out of hand. What I didn’t know going on in my life affected competency, the helping process, but more importantly my sanity.

To find yourself, think for yourself. — Socrates

While Socrates’ “think for yourself” opens up to various interpretations, I thank Merriam-Webster for ideas which I’ve adopted:

  1. on behalf of: “thinking on behalf of yourself” lets one assume a sense of responsibility; while
  2. with respect to: “thinking with respect to yourself” notions the process as something very delicate, personal and intimate in nature. In other words, no one gives a shit if you think for yourself or not, they’ve got their own thinking to do.

Humans slip into the comfortable we know ourselves best fallacy. Isn’t it everyday-ish to tell others, “I support left-winged politics because I cannot sit and wait for change to happen!”, or “Kids are so impudent these days, I’m never having one”. We pass remarks like these mindlessly.

But if psychoanalytic theory was right (and I believe it is), our likes/dislikes are the tip of the consciousness iceberg. Sigmund Freud contended that human behaviour was primarily driven by the unconscious mind. The more we believe already knowing ourselves, the less motivation to uncover the dormant, submerged iceberg.

I was surprised my course didn’t require trainee counsellors to undergo personal therapy. That was also the day I figured, this counsellor needed some counselling. I wasn’t about to give up that plunge into deep, frigid waters.