My first year as a counselor I was on a mission. I was going to be the best counselor ever! I was going to be the counselor I never had and save my students from the pitfalls of high school life! Yep, there was a new sheriff in town! Then reality set in. After a few months on the job I realized that kids were coming to school with so much baggage, it was a wonder they could learn anything at all. It was very demoralizing. My boss, who also happened to be one of my former continuation high school teachers, a good friend and mentor, sensing my frustration, called me into his office and we talked about the realities of counseling. There are several things I remember about our conversation, but one thing stood out above all else and has stayed with me all these years. “Sometimes all you can do is listen.”
Today began well enough, it was my early day and my 7AM Work Experience class was enjoyable as usual. The morning continued to go well and I was getting quite a bit done, when around 10:15 I looked up from my desk and spied a female student heading towards my door. She looked very upset. I invited her in and we went on to have quite a lengthy conversation. She had a run in with one of her teacher and he had embarrassed her in front of the entire class. Rather than retaliate and say something she might regret she had walked out of the classroom and come to the Guidance Office.She definitely wasn’t having a very good day. Actually, the more she told me the more I realized she wasn’t having a very good anything.
Her life, except for school, is a mess. She lives with her mom and sisters in a house with two other families, her dad left when she was a baby, and until recently she had been receiving counseling but had to stop because of money issues. I asked her why she had been in counseling and she revealed that she had been having major anger issues and had began cutting herself as a way of dealing with her problems. I asked if she was still cutting. She looked up at me and waited a moment, then said no. I believe her. She told me that the counseling had really helped and she looked forward to getting more soon. She told me that writing poetry has taken the place of cutting. I could tell that she wanted to talk so I sat back and let her go on. She went on to tell me about her living conditions and about the father who had left her. He had suddenly started coming around after all these years and she was suspicious of his reasons. she also told me that she had changed her name to her mom’s maiden name and when her father found out he was hurt and angry. I thought I saw a hint of satisfaction on her face, knowing she had caused her father some pain.
I sat there blown away, listening to her tell her story. I couldn’t believe everything this poor girl has gone through all ready. She’s lived a lifetime of hurt in just fifteen years. It’s just not fair. She went on to tell me how her psychologist had got her started on writing poems. As I listened I began to wonder about her poetry and what she writes about. I can only imagine how much of herself she must pour into her words. How much she must reveal in order to derive some sense of relief from her writing outlet. I hoped that she might ask me if I would like to read some of her poems, some kids have allowed me to read their words, but she never did. Too personal I imagine.
By the time she left the office I could tell she felt a bit better. I didn’t though. I felt pretty miserable. I sat there for quite awhile thinking about her and her situation, wondering why these kids have to suffer so damn much. It’s just not right. I wish there was more that I could do to help her and other students like her. I wish I could take away their pain and make their worlds a little bit brighter, But I realized that I can’t really change their worlds or take away their pain, all I can do is be here for them when they need a time out or a sympathetic ear, because “sometimes all I can do is listen.”
Just a thought