Being Believed

emotions-Tino SmithAn acquaintance of mine (No, mot a client) sought counseling after suffering abuse that would rival stories more likely to be heard from oppressed women in third-world countries. The counselor’s response? “You read too much; those things don’t happen.” I’m amazed this person kept trying till they found someone to take them seriously.
In contrast, when I survived an abusive situation several years ago and attended a support group, I was immediately believed. That was incredibly therapeutic.
To be fair, there is the occasional person who lies about being abused, usually with some ulterior motive in mind such as gaining a legal advantage. These people make it more difficult for true victims, and should be ashamed of themselves. The overwhelming majority, however, are far more likely to understate the extent of their suffering, and are not at all prone to exaggeration.
This need to be heard, and believed, applies to a plethora of situations and/or experiences. For those who have never heard of Re-evaluation Co-counseling—yes, I am aware that that is the overwhelming majority of the population—it is a movement instituted by Harvey Jackins and is geared toward non-professionals. In a nutshell, 2 or more people share their stories with one another, process the attendant emotions, and ultimately reach resolution. The theory is that processing of the emotions, what Freud referred to as catharsis, is necessary and sufficient for coming to terms with an individual’s angst.
The part I find interesting is, a group member may not wish to share their actual story. They are sometimes told “Then make a story up; it will have the same emotional content.” (Sometimes I wonder if histrionics who invent lies for attention have this end in mind.)
Memory can be a funny thing. Often people will recall the gist of an event but details will get confused. Memories are frequently “chunked” with other memories. Essentially, when the details of a story turn out to be inaccurate, this does not mean a person is lying; they are giving you their own best and most honest recollection.
As a counselor, it is not my job to grill a client regarding the accuracy of their recollection. My job is to help them process the event and help them develop the best possible coping skills and help to make peace with their own unique traumatic history. This starts with listening to, and believing, their story.

e-Counseling and Ethics

diital-touch-310257-sI have been hearing a lot lately about “e-counseling”. I have no plans to join that movement.
Anyone who comes into my office deserves a personal counseling relationship, which is absent in “e-counseling.” You will see the word in quotes here because I don’t regard it as true counseling.
A critical part of my professional work involves watching your facial and body signals: Are you hesitant, bold, teary-eyed? Are you unable to stop nervously tapping your foot? Are your words in sync with your facial expressions? Is your voice shaking?
Some would argue those things can be picked up in a Skype interview. I would argue that they cannot; it is not the same as being in a room with someone, with the feeling you are in that safe place with a caring professional. And Skype is not HIPAA-compliant.
To me, “e-counseling” is a high-priced version of Dear Abby. Or if you go for the better quality advice columnist, Carolyn Hax. Ms. Hax is a true professional advice columnist, excellent at what she does. She is thoughtful in her answers, and leaves the reader with plenty to ponder. And she does not pass her column off as “e-counseling.”
You know what happens when you send off a hurried e-mail, and it gets misinterpreted because your facial expressions and body language could not be conveyed. Frequently the words alone are inadequate.
Are there times when “e-counseling” can be beneficial? Yes. If you are located between nothing and nowhere and cannot physically get to the counselor’s office. Or if you have already established a counseling relationship before you move out of state. But it’s really not the same.
What about benefits to using the internet before seeing a live counselor? Some people do this in order to screw up the courage to call and make that first appointment. Great. So long as you are aware of both the benefits and limitations.
I received an actual survey from a company that fully intends to set up an “e-counseling” business and wanted my opinion about what was and was not ethical to do. That strikes me as very similar to saying “What would be the most ethical way to mislead your sister?” There isn’t one!