At the beginning of the week I often looking forward and consider the clients I will be seeing between now and the next weekend. I often take a wider view of the week and allow my mind to consider the other responsibilities I will have. For me this will include; school runs, meetings, sorting the house befor my mum arrives, planning a joint birthday part for my two daughters, mentoring a counselling student who is fast approaching her assessment and a whole list of smaller things of the todo list.
All of this will all have an impact on my capacity to work. Not necessarily a negative one but we all have a limit on our capacity to be productive before the quality of every thing we do drops off.
I think one of the most draining aspects of this job is to be actively listening – And I mean really listening – while also allowing your mind to consider what is being said in context of the clients bigger story, working out what is important and when isn’t when considering how change is going to occur, seeing connections in what they have said with other things (not just in that session but with something they may have said 10 weeks ago) and understanding the importance of what isn’t being said.
Doing this with the stories of 25 people a week is exhausting. In some ways working with young people can be more tiring. The lives I am trying to connect with are chaotic and so emotionally driven that holding those young people in a place of safety is a delicate balancing act.
So when I am working in the 45 minutes that I have them for there is a lot going on. Working in schools, I also feel an additional pressure to support meaningful change. `So you need to give yourself thinking time. This is where silence comes in.
The importance of silence in counseling is that it allows both the clients and the counsellor to think, which allows them to come up with more profound awareness of all that is being discussed. It allows the clients to dig deeply into what they are feeling or to struggle for alternatives for action, and to weigh decisions.
From my perspective though as the ‘helper’, listening to silence also has a calming effect on both clients, as well as counselors. It prevents us all from racing ahead, giving us time to pause in the chaos of our own minds. It also prevents me from pushing too hard, or at the wrong time. Allowing silence give us both time to consider ‘what’s next’ in the interaction and with so much going on under the surface it is invaluable.
I love the moments I have with young people that are simply silence. Their lives are so often filled with noise and chaos that to have a stillness and an absence of stimuli is rare and often jarring to them. This is a great way top provoke conversation about how busy and full their lives are. In the safety of our room they can be given a moment where they can allow that to drift away and safely hear their inner voice, perhaps for the first time.
It has to be close to over 10 children I am working with that each have; a PS3, Xbox360, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo switch, mobile phones, iPad’s/kindle fires with a 40″+ flat screen TV in the bedroom. None of them have parental restrictions on and have full and open access to the digital world. They have not yet developed a skill to self regulate access and so are constantly tired and struggle with friendships on and off line.
They never encounter silence and don’t know what stillness feels like. So for me to show them, teach them what it feels like and how they can use it is amazing.
But don’t forget that it is also a very helpful tool for me and for you, to be able to take a moment in the interaction to listen back to what has or hasn’t been said and to consider your next words.
This week I am going to practice, more intentionally, the art of shutting the hell up so that when I get that silence I am more effective with my thoughts.