When you are in the thick of counselling, it is very easy to get either confused about your role or get drawn into playing a different role than that of the counsellor.
At the core, the role of a counsellor is to give emotional support to the client and help them to move on with life either by empowering them to solve their issues or learn to live with the unresolvable issues Often that is easier said than done for many counsellors.
A mediator is someone who steps in to resolve issues between two parties having a dispute. He listens to both the sides and then works to strike a solution that is acceptable to all. He is someone who bargains with each of the sides to come to an agreement. In marital disputes, the court appoints a mediator to help the couple resolve some of the contentious issues. A mediator needs a different skill set than that of the counsellor. Negotiating, Bargaining, Conflict Resolving, these are some of the skills the mediator is adept at. A counsellor is different. The counsellor looks at giving emotional support for the client. The counsellor does not get involved in resolving conflicts between parties.
The role of a detective is to ferret out evidence and decipher the truth. Counsellors sometimes do get confused about the ‘truth’ in counselling. They are bothered by questions like, “Is my client speaking the truth?” “Is she lying about what happened?”, “Is he telling me only part of the story?” etc. Yes, it is true that the clients may be telling one part of the story which paints them in good light, they may be hiding important facts or they may even by lying outright. Is it the job of the counsellor to dig and find the truth? The client has come to the counsellor to get emotional support, seek clarity in their thinking and find hope. The burden of being truthful is on the client. Only if they reveal reality can the counsellor help them. As far as the counsellor is concerned, we have to believe the client and assume they are speaking the truth. It is not our job to don the mantle of the detective and go out and find the truth. We take the clients at face value and believe what they are saying is the truth.
A lawyer’s job is to defend the actions of the client and prove their client is not guilty of whatever they have been accused of. While a counsellor empathizes with clients, it does not mean the counsellor approves the actions of the clients or has to defend them. Empathy is not approval of the actions. Empathy is emotional support for the client. Empathy is not approving or condemning the actions of the client. Empathy is conveying the feeling of understanding of the client’s situation. A counsellor does not ‘defend’ the client like a lawyer.
A judge is someone who listens to the argument on both sides and decides whether someone is innocent or guilty. The counsellor may be tempted to don the role of a Moral Judge to pass verdict on the actions of the client. This will be the most dangerous of all the roles to play. This goes against the very basic role of being non-judgmental as a counsellor. A counsellor does not pass the judgment of “right or wrong” on the actions of the client. This will defeat the very purpose of counselling. A counsellor can always refuse to take a client if the issue clashes with the value of the counsellor and he/she feels she cannot be non-judgmental. That would be very ethical of the counsellor. But they cannot take a client and play the role of a judge.
A counsellor is a kind of a first respondent for a person going through emotional turmoil. Someone who gives complete time and attention to the client hears them out, helps them to calm down from the emotional highs and urge them to resolve the confusion in their minds. At a later stage perhaps explore options for solutions to the issue. If the role is clear in the counsellor’s mind, then counselling goes smoothly.