Thursday, August 12, 2010

On the job training

Have I mentioned that I was hired to do a job that I'm grossly unqualified for?  In an official sense, I have the license that says I can hold the position.  But, the licensure covers a lot of ground.  Just because I have a degree in school counseling "k-12" does not mean I'm skilled at all levels.  In fact, all of my coursework and experience has been with teenagers or older.

So, what am I doing as an elementary school counselor?  I ask myself that question a lot.

I've decided to view it as a stretching, growing experience.  One area I'm really exploring and studying up on is one-on-one counseling with children.  In one sense, the basics are the same no matter the age of the client.  In another sense, counseling adults vs. children is as different as night and day.  BUT, the craft and experience of being with children in a therapeutic way may be doing as much for me as it is for the child.

The greatest challenge for me is to be non-directive.  If you know me, you are laughing in agreement.  Working with adults is fairly non-directive, but I generally have a sense of direction before a session and things happen within certain predictable peramaters like we both stay in our chair and predominanty use words to communicate.  Play therapy and art therapy are usually child-driven modes of treatment in which  the counselor's job is to follow the child's lead, reflect feeling and observe.  All bets are off.  Anything is possible.  Good child therapists throw plans and order out the window, for the most part.

Early in my elementary experience, I sat down with a little boy to "play" with some small toys and figurines.  This is an asessment tool to help the counselor see into the percieved world of the child.  So, I watch him play for a little bit ... no interaction with me, only touches things with wheels, makes lots of motor sounds.  Hmmmmm.  When I announce that our time is up, he wrecks the entire play area like a hurricaine.  Rather than understanding what he is trying to tell me about his chaotic life and difficulty with transitions, I take this personally.  I try to clamp down.  I tell him next time, he will be rewarded if he does not wreck my toys.  I do not ask him open-ended questions about the destruction to find out more.  I had so much to learn.

I had the mindset that I didn't want the kids to think coming to my office was just about playing with toys.  Turns out, that's exactly what I want them to think!  I wanted to therapize them.  But I must learn that the way to a child's mind is through toys and imagination.  I've told people this before, yet to put the process in my space, under my direction, was a great challenge to my orderly nature.

After a lot of reading and thinking this summer, I'm ready to go back in there and read the chaos.  Even if a troubled child does nothing but "play" while visiting me, the experience of a caring presence will be worth it.

"Enter into childrens' play and you will find the place where their hearts, minds and souls meet."
Virginia Axline


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