Emotional Vulnerability in School Counseling

March 29, 2009

When does a counselor become emotionally vulnerable? Should a counselor be vulnerable? The dictionary’s definition to being vulnerable is being “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm : we were in a vulnerable position”. I’m thinking that there is a two sided view. From one viewpoint, if one is to be empathic, caring, and sympathetic, one needs to be vulnerable. Attempting to walk in another’s shoes, or at least sense what it is like, means one is putting one’s emotions at risk. From another viewpoint, as anyone assertively attempts to help, intervene, question, or move a person toward problem solving, one can be seen as on the offensive. Attempting to view others from God’s point of view will mean being on the offensive. Passivity is not a part of God’s agenda, unless it means waiting, being patient on Him.

But perhaps there is another vulnerability. As a counselor takes on the burdens of others, one can be vulnerable to imploding. Without appropriate support, continuing strength building from others, or without stable growing relationships apart from counseling relationships, a counselor is at risk of attack emotionally.


The Public’s View of Education

March 28, 2009

I’m acutely reminded of our culture’s view of education. While many parents desperately want their children to receive a quality education and are willing to assist professional educators in a variety of roles, there are still many voices who continually criticize, complain, and accuse educators of providing a minimal level of service to children. Others want quality at a cheap price, sacrificing enrichment experiences for maintenance of the basic core curriculum. I’m also reminded that many powerful education voices side with the criticism, adding fuel to this low cultural value which enables our society to ‘dumb down’ a strong academic approach to education. Visiting the Nebraska Legislature on March 19, I witnessed the chairman of the education committee answer pointed questions about the rules and regulations of hiring and dismissing teachers. He had very little knowledge of these rules, yet was willing to change those rules in order to accept an uncertain handout of stimulus money from the Obama administration.

There are many voices shouting a variety of causes toward education. Few have any solid direction or common sense. Educators are blamed for the lack of educational performance, lack of financial support for classroom improvement due to teacher salaries, and for the lack of innovation in the classroom. At the same time educators are blamed for not being adequately trained, not wanting to police their own ranks, and wanting to receive high salaries while only working nine months of the year.

Frustration and emotional dismay regarding these voices deflate inspiration and a strong work ethic. A lack of appreciation toward educators is a banner of glee for many.

While these words reflect a victim mentality, I still believe that one educator can make significant difference in the lives of students. Developing and maintaining one’s own resolve to persevere, to have confidence in one’s own philosophy, and to pursue excellence must overcome the political debate of the moment, whether nationally or locally.

While our culture screams for the pursuit of power, possessions and pleasure, it is the educator’s mission to prepare the student for the 21st Century. Preparation goes beyond the curriculum to providing a parental role at times, to teach manners, ethics, and principles that are lacking, to inspire direction and goal directed living, and to be a role model when mentors are absent.

Being fair minded, sensitive to all subgroups, including ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic circumstances, and all levels of abilities and skills, requires a missionary zeal not found in other professions. Public education must inspire an entrepreneurial spirit while public education itself is managed as a socialist agenda.

Standards, assessments, outcomes are all important. Yet the quality of educational relationships that are developed must surpass the data. A student will remember the inspiration from an educator, not the cumulative data accomplished for the Superintendent’s report to the department of education.


A Counselor’s Prayer

March 20, 2009

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Nelson Publisher, suggests a prayer each day for those we work with. Below, I’m adding to it from a school counselor’s perspective.
This prayer was originally composed by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (1782–1867).It seems particularly relevant and timely in these turbulent times.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day and all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me.
-Amen

Edited version from the school counselor’s perspective:
O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me to be a peaceful presence, especially those who need to sense your presence. Help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. Throughout the day reveal your will to me as I work with students, teachers, parents, and my administrator. Work through me, use me, love them through me, without them seeing me, but rather you. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that your will governs all, for you are sovereign and in control of all things. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. Help me to keep my focus on you, that you might be seen. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all individuals and experiences are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day and all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray continually. May your Word always be present in me, that I may not stray from your will, so that you may be honored by my life.
-Amen


A Counselor’s Guarded Speech

March 18, 2009

Today’s events and school activities reminded me again, that I need to guard what I say. Whatever is said by a public educator, especially a school counselor is similar to putting the statement into newsprint. Criticism of a community issue, a community person, or stating a personal opinion can go from student to parent to other community members. I know that if I want to be heard, I need to listen. Yet I also want to be honest, up front, and a positive force for good. At times I am convinced that if I do not state my opinion, I am enabling a negative behavior to continue and develop. If I am silent, I am not following my convictions. When another person or group becomes involved in a counterproductive action, or even sinful course of action, I need to take responsibility to confront. Yet there are adverse consequences tostating my opinion or the truth. Psalms 17:28 states that it is better to be thought of a fool and not open one’s mouth than to open one’s mouth and remove all the doubt. Other references include: Mark 9:50 – “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Luke 14:34 –
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?

Colossians 4:6
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Working in a public school is similar to a fish bowl. Everyone is watching and listening. It takes great discernment when to speak and when not to speak. Discernment that takes advantage of each opportunity to glorify our Lord, not ourselves, our own knowledge and insight, our pride of knowing the inside scoop.


Helping Others To Have A “Life Plan”

March 15, 2009

As a school counselor, I am increasingly mindful of our Department of Education’s mandate to have every student document a “Plan for Earning, Learning, and Living.” The theory that if students have a purpose for being in school, they will stay in school, may hold a lot of credibility. I ran across Michael Hyatt’s blog “Creating a Life Plan“. Mr. Hyatt is CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Mr. Hyatt begins: “I have met very few people who have a plan for their lives. Most are passive spectators, watching their lives unfold a day at a time. They may plan their careers, the building of a new home, or even a vacation. But it never occurs to them to plan their life. As a result, many end up discouraged and disillusioned, wondering where they went wrong.”

I like what Michael Hyatt suggests. Perhaps this can be the most rewarding part of a school counselor’s life. Encouraging a student to set and achieve high goals is very worthwhile. But, even though, this may meet the satisfaction of the administration, parents, and students, does this effort glorify our Lord? Inspiring, encouraging, or teaching students that life goals are important may require a variety of teaching / counseling strategies, how can we avoid supporting the cultural goals of pursuing power, possessions, and / or pleasure. Are there some life goals that are unethical? I think so! How can a school counselor move a student to pursue goals that reflect God’s leading? This will definitely take much prayer and thought!


Counseling Goals Conflict

March 15, 2009

gdpit_com_63508937_28As I am reading “Transforming Grace” by Jerry Bridges, it is confirmed again and again that a Believing counselor, one who is serious about following Scriptural commands, is regularly in conflict with what most would consider ‘normal’ counseling goals. Normal counseling goals in a school setting is to assist students in adjusting the school climate, motivate them to pursue excellence in academics and activities, and to assist students in establishing goals for earning, learning and living. If a survey were taken of most educators who are serious about their faith, with one question being, “What is a daily priority for you everyday on the job?” I am sure there would be a wide variety of answers, many unrelated to what Scripture has to say. Answers would be similar to the ‘normal’ counseling goals suggested above. But if we are to love God with our whole self, and love our neighbor, these normal goals often become the antithesis of the called life of a Believer.

Our whole culture is saturated with the attitude of pursuing either power, possessions, or pleasure. Our entire educational system supports this cultural ethos. How does the individual Believing counselor / educator deal with cultural pursuits (self and those we work with) while earnestly following Jesus’ commands? Love for others from the ten commandments perspective is a list of don’ts, backed up by Leviticus 19, and enhanced by 1 Corinthians 13. The story of the good Samaritan further defines love. Teachers, and hence counselors, have a high responsibility to communicate in a clear distinct manner what God desires, whether we are working in a faith setting or cultural setting. There is no difference. It is too easy to hide behind a wall of ‘public education’ and the idea of being tolerant toward everyone and everything. Love (based on God’s grace) is the motivation for everything. It is the motivation for obedience to Him, not earn any favor or credit for something later, but merely gratitude for what God has done for us. Fleshing all of this out everyday is not an easy thing.


Security and A Sense of Belonging

March 13, 2009

Counseling is an effort to encourage stability, security, confidence, and a sense of belonging in an individual’s life. Some counseling theories utilize an understanding of the person’s past, especially their childhood experiences. Others focus on life’s scripts and patterns of behavior. I’m over simplifying, but a true sense of belonging comes from a radical change in one’s nature. By ditching the pursuit of power, pleasure and / or possessions, to pursuing goals that have lasting value can only come from a deep belief in the provisions that have been made, are being made, and will be made through the Scriptural fulfillment of Jesus. If a counselee or client is willing to pursue goals higher than power, possessions or pleasure, true and lasting change can happen in a person’s life.
Psalms 27 states: For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I…