Wednesday, July 13, 2005

My Feelings Are Still Here...

It's strange that there are often times that something will be fresh on my mind, something I've read about, or something I hear about on the news and then it springs in front of me in real life. (Most of what I'm going to write about will be extremely vague, protecting confidentiality for my client is more important than me clearly explaining the situation to the offense).

Most of my clients come in for HIV counseling and testing and, while each session is unique...different risks, different risk reduction plans, different ways of making them comfortable...they all kind of follow the same pattern. They're coming in for their annual or bi-annual test, they did something crazy and have been going out of their minds with fear, or they're the worried well (those who use condoms 100%...even during oral sex...and they still worry, and they're just as important as everyone else...they benefit from a pat on the back, reassurance, and eventually the test result). Occasionally I'll have a client that's been assaulted. These are difficult, but I've been trained to counsel them, and I understand their cultural perspective...I don't fear instilling more fear or shame in them through a language barrier or miscommunication.

Ok, so I've written this paragraph 3 times and each time I still feel like I'm being too specific. Basically, I had a client walk in today from a country with a very different culture, especially where the prevalence and acceptance of sexual violence is concerned. I could tell it was very difficult for this client to even talk to me. I could feel his/her shame and discomfort. I wasn't sure what the appropriate approach was. I could only speak from my experience as a white, American female.

So I did what I could. We talked, I clarified some information about HIV and STDs, and that was it. They thanked me, told me they were glad they had met me, and agreed to call with questions (I gave my cell phone number out for the first time to a client).

After he/she left, I felt like I had let them down (mostly because of my own ignorance). So I made an action plan of sorts.
1. I got their permission to call them with a mental health referral from the International Institute (they have counselors that are trained to understand different cultures).
2. I found research on culture and sexuality in this particular country. It's actually quite fascinating and written in a very straight-forward manner. I'm going to read the paper before we meet again in 3 weeks.

So I wrote this to pretty much just get it off my chest. It's also a good reminder for me that I'm still human. Sometimes I feel like nothing a client says could shock me. I need to remember that when it really comes down to it, my feelings are still here.


Blogger Liz said...

Thanks for sharing what you could share. I think your experience IS a good reminder that we are human, and have feelings. I hope your next encounter with this person is more satisfying for you.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

You do skilled work.

I think you should feel reassured on occasions like this, when emotion suddenly overwhelms you.

Because of my experience in ministry, I know that every counselor has to maintain a certain degree of emotional detachment. Partly, it's for the client's comfort: keep the interaction clinical. Partly, it's for your own sanity: if you took every person's tragic situation to heart, you'd be depressed and suicidal in no time. You'd certainly be in no condition to support anybody.

The danger is, you can become so jaded that it's almost like you no longer care; it's almost inhumane.

That's why it's good to get that uprush of emotion once in a while. To remind you that the clinical detachment is just that. The lack of emotion doesn't mean you no longer care, and care deeply.

2:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home