Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Final Bell

There's a bit of history I should share before getting into the guts of this post:

During my first grad school counseling class, Intro to Counseling & Human Development, the instructor asked the class to write a paper about a client population we would be most uncomfortable working with and what we were going to do to deal with that barrier because in all likelihood, we would, at some point, work with that very population.

My answer was, "kids/children/teen-agers." My rationale was that I didn't have any kids of my own, I didn't spend a lot of time around kids, and I didn't have a lot of current knowledge about what their "deal" was; i.e. what music they listened to, what slang they spoke, what they did in their free time. My instructor (full disclosure: she is now my Director at work) wrote on my paper, "Get over it. You'll work with them some day." Actually, kids scared the crap out of me and I wasn't confident that I knew how to relate to them in any meaningful way.

Despite my belief in the CCR song, "Someday Never Comes", she was right. My "some day" started on December 2, 2013 when I began working four full days each week in two area high schools and one area middle school (which was called junior high when I was in those grades and I still catch myself referring to it as such.)

This week is full of finals and senior trips and field trips at local schools as graduation is in two days, June 5th, so my time in these schools during the actual school year ended last Friday, May 30th. I spent a little more than a semester working with kids ranging in age from 13 to 18. No one was more surprised than I was when I realized I love working with this population.

When I was a teen-ager, I took the most innocuous slight as a potentially life-destroying event. Whatever those slights were, they are nothing compared to what the kids I work with face today. It's no longer a world of "teen-age waste land" in the same sense that The Who sang about 45 years ago. Some of my clients are homeless; they spend time sleeping on the couches of various friends' houses. Many of them take food home from their school on Fridays to insure there is something for them to eat over the weekend. Several of them get "new" clothes and shoes from Clothes Closets available to them at school. Some of them get hospitalized over the course of the school year due to unmanageable depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. A number of them are self-injurious - they cut themselves to feel some sort of relief from the severe depths of depression they experience every day. Some are the targets of heinous and cruel cyber-bullying. A few of them spend their weekends in "lock up" at a local jail due to truancy or other legal charges they've accumulated. A few of them have come to school intoxicated because alcohol is the only coping mechanism readily available to them to numb the stress, sadness, frustration and anger they feel due to a parent or parents who place way too much responsibility on them to care for younger siblings, achieve straight As, try out and make "the team" for whatever co-curricular activity, whether it's sports, theatre, debate, DECA or any other of the myriad of available options. I talk to kids who cry over getting an ACT score of 24. I talk to kids who cry because of an unplanned pregnancy. I talk to kids who've had a parent die yet the school expectations go on. I talk to kids who are amazing, bright, talented, "labeled", funny, make some bad decisions and face the consequences. I talk to kids who survive and despite all the "waste land" they experience, they THRIVE.

My part in that is very small. I've always told clients that they do the hard work, I'm just there to offer them some guidance along the way. In that Intro class, the instructor stated something that was repeated throughout my graduate school training: Counselors are not responsible for their clients failures nor their successes. I know that's true, but when I see one of "my kids", as I now refer to them, succeed, it makes my heart tingle just a little bit more. And when I'm the one they come to, to cry about their struggles, that too makes my heart tingle, because if I'm not there, who would be?