“It’s not working!”
How many times have I heard that before? Frustrated, disillusioned and emotionally drained clients can quickly lose hope when things get worse before they get better.
Over the years I’ve worked with so many families that have overcome what they originally thought were impossible challenges, I’ve learned to see the possibilities that come with conflict and the process of change. But it’s hard to convince hurting people that things can get better. Sometimes the best I can do in the short term is encourage them not to give up.
Counselors are in the business of change— accepting change, measuring change, managing change, helping people cope with the stress of uncertainty. We are often faced with the challenge of justifying our efforts to anxious people who are eager for change because they are suffering and scared. But the work we do is hard to quantify and even harder to hurry.
Sometimes threats are in the present and must be met with a sense of urgency. Crisis situations like family violence, unexpected death or natural disasters are some of the most demanding situations counselors must manage. Nevertheless they can also be somewhat rewarding because the effects of counseling are relatively immediate and noticeable.
More often though the threat our clients face is somewhere in the future—an anxiety that if things don’t change right away bad things are sure to come. In those cases our job requires an entirely different approach. By taking the time to meet on a regular consistent basis we have the luxury of being patient and non-judgmental; to ask questions and look deeper. Sometimes it can feel like nothing is happening, but over time real change can take place.
In the movies, when an asteroid is headed for the Earth, the solution is to fire a missile that destroys it with a dramatic explosion and the world is saved. Counseling isn’t like that. We must use a more precise method much closer to what scientists suggest of nudging the asteroid ever so slightly from its current path, a precise touch that over time will allow it to avoid a disastrous collision.
In a world where almost everything can be achieved with the click of a mouse and people around the globe are just a phone call away, our sense of time can get a little out of whack. Although frustration is painful it can offer a valuable opportunity to gain some perspective about the nature of change and the recognition that some things, perhaps the most important things, still might take a while to work.