When we discuss the qualities of a good counsellor, the qualities like a good listener, being non-judgmental, empathetic etc come out clearly. These are of course the fundamental qualities needed for being a good counsellor. Patience does not get the amount of press it should. This is a quality that is vital to the counselling process. Many counsellors lack this or need to work on it diligently.
The meaning of patience in counselling
What does Patience mean? The quality is related to our view of time and work. How much work should get done in how much time? Our expectations that more work should get in lesser time leads to frustration. A kettle of water will take a certain amount of time to get to a boil. Your jumping around or cursing in frustration does not make it boil faster. Patience is allowing the time that a process takes. Patience is not imposing our time frame on the world but adjusting to the beat of the world.
In Counselling where does Patience play a role? There are three areas that I can think of. A client will take time to open out. He or she must become comfortable before they can trust you and start talking about the issues bothering them. Often a counsellor can lose his or her patience here. “Why is this person talking about the traffic for such a long time?”, “Did she come all the way to discuss her maid?”, “She is talking about her Dog for the last ten minutes, does she think I am a Dog-counsellor or a Dog-whisperer?” “Why does he not come to the point? If such questions run in your mind, then you have to work on the quality of counselling. The client who walks in has not come for a business meeting with a clear plan. A counselling session is about someone wanting to bare their soul and that is not easy. They may be observing you for cues on how you react when they are talking about 'non-important” things of their life. Do you still show interest, care and concern? It is not easy to develop instant trust with a stranger. A good counsellor should not be in a hurry to get to the issue. You need patience here.
Always let the client set the pace
When you are into multiple sessions with the client, and the issues being discussed is very deep, a client may go on repeating the same story with slightly different details. “How many times does she want to tell me the same thing?', “There she goes again about her mother”, “Can't he move beyond talking about his brother?” If such thoughts occur in your mind then you need patience. You, the counsellor do not get to set the pace of the counselling process. Only the client can set that pace and you have to follow that. The client goes on seemingly repeating the stories because they are trying hard to make sense of the event of their life. There is still something about it they are not able to reconcile. The human mind does not easily get a grip on troubling events in our lives. They need your patience to get through this phase.
Patience for the process to play out
Sometimes counsellors are in a hurry to 'solve' the problem. They want to set goals for the clients and want the clients to get cracking at attaining the goal. Many businesses often use the line, “It's just business, not personal” Counselling on the other hand is totally personal not a business. It does not work like a business to achieve targets. Counselling clients may start to work on the goal, then fall back, then start again, fall back, abandon the goal, set a new goal, fall back, start again. You have to remember that you are working with a person who is battling deep emotional issues. For people who are struggling to get out of bed, finding the motivation to follow through on apparently simple plans is not easy. You have to have the patience to be process-oriented not result-oriented.
In counselling, use the clock to measure time, don't use it to measure progress or success.