Most counselors and therapists get into the field of counseling because they want to help people. This is a good thing! Imagine if they only wanted to make money or to be the center of attention. But, underneath the goal of wanting to help people lurks an insidious goal:
being seen as wise.
Being seen as wise (notice the difference between being wise and being seen as wise) tempts us to become the teacher, the teller, the obnoxious sage. Teaching, telling, training are all activities that may happen in counseling, but only when necessary. Truth be told, we counselors resort to teaching and telling because it gives us a job to do and makes us feel good. This is especially true when we work with the most severely traumatized people. Here someone is hurting in front of us. We can see that they are stuck. Who wouldn’t want to pull them out of the mud? Now, there may well be important teaching moments–gently instructing someone on the symptoms of trauma and/or the physiology of trauma. This might be important for the client who believes that the symptoms are really signs they are sinning and that they can just choose to stop being triggered.
In Counseling, Who is the Teacher?
“The patient is the ultimate teacher about trauma, and a good therapist is a good listener.” (Boskailo, p. 81)
While the counselor has much to offer in regard to teaching, training, and goal setting, we must remember that the client is the one teaching us about their trauma experiences and how much they can deal with at a given time. For example, Boskailo reminds us (see above link for book) that while telling the trauma story is an important part of the healing process, the “how” of telling (and the “how much”) is something each client will need to teach us. One client may need to tell and re-tell the same story each week. Another may be better helped by drawing. Still another may tell once and never again.
We counselors are the student in these kinds of matters. It is our job to listen well and learn well!