Yesterday I was reminded of some of the reasons I went into teaching instead of counseling. The latter takes too long, and more importantly, there are no easy, sure-fire answers. In teaching, there is always a certain amount of planning, reading, preparing, and thinking, but when show time comes, you go in and share the information. In counseling, well, there’s always an element of loose ends and unfinished business.
As I listened to the young woman tell me of her quandary yesterday, I thought of all sorts of advice to give her. In counseling, however, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to listen in an empathic, nonjudgmental manner and ask the “client” what she thinks she should do. You can paraphrase once in a while, but giving advice is taboo. If you tell the person something that works, then she might come back again and again for more of the same. You don’t want that; you want her to gain confidence in making her own decisions. If, on the other hand, you suggest something that doesn’t work, then guess who’s to blame? YOU.
So yesterday I just listened and listened and listened until finally I blurted out, “Look, there are no easy answers to this. I mean, you have a lot to consider here.”
“I know, I know,” she said. “Maybe I’ll figure it out.”
“You will. But in the meantime, don’t do anything rash.”
“I won’t,” she said. “I just wish I knew what to do.”
That’s when I remembered some sage advice from Dr. Scott Peck. I don’t have the book with me this morning, and truthfully, I can’t remember which one I read this in. Yet, this advice has stayed with me for a dozen years or more. Dr. Peck said that the number one thing his patients wanted was absolute assurance that they were doing the right thing. The dilemmas might vary, but the uncertainty was always the same.
Should I go back to school?
Should I quit school?
Should I get married?
Should I get a divorce?
Should I change jobs?
Should I have another baby?
Should I move to Savannah?
Should I retire?
Should I fly to California or drive?
Dr. Peck felt that regardless of the question, the answer was seldom certain. He advised his patients to listen to their unconscious and ask themselves questions such as: How does your body feel? Are you tense when you consider this decision? Does your chest hurt? Do you feel a certain lightness of spirit? In other words, what is your body telling you? Together, your body and unconscious mind are smarter than you are when it comes to making decisions.
I hope my young friend is thinking about Dr. Peck’s words today. As I struggle with a decision today, I sure am.