I had to look up my counseling licensure number yesterday to fill out a form. I found myself on the Wyoming Licensing Board website checking out the disciplinary actions against licenses in Wyoming. I recognized two of those names: one woman for sleeping with a teenage boy (resulting in sexual assault charges as well), one woman for letting her license expire (working in a school counseling setting). The other actions I sifted through were much the same—counselors taking liberties with clients or letting their license lapse.
There was a time only just recently when I was told how much I sucked at counseling, how much I sucked at life. The stars were aligned and my life seemed to reflect these ideas. I worked in a state and school where I held both licenses—school counseling and licensed professional counselor candidate. There were moments when I felt I was going crazy. I questioned my coworker about her licensure and it forever affected our relationship. She did not want to take the tests, pay the initial fee. I was made to feel my ethical concerns were unwarranted in a charter school where “folks don’t need to be licensed.” But—this is counseling?
First—do no harm. To me, the harm caused was not necessarily to a client but to a profession. My peer–and sometimes my mentor–did not have the qualifications to perform the job. I had to take several national exams, complete 60 hours of graduate courses, pay hundreds of dollars. I passed ethics and diagnosis with A’s. I worked hard and my background always presents new hurdles and I will be made to never to forget my mistakes. The harm was to me—I thought there was something wrong with me and I was nitpicking. Sifting through the disciplinary actions made it clear that this was not the case. Practicing without a license can be detrimental.
When I first arrived at my new counseling outfit, I was so happy to have our profession elevated. I sign all documents with my letters: MS, PPC. I have a nice corner office. I send faxes. I perform assessments, intakes, and evaluations each day. When we were gearing up to train our staff for our summer day treatment program, there was a section in which we talked about appropriate touch. Again, thoughts of the past bubbled back up and an interaction with my former director came to mind. I had some knowledge of sexual abuse of some of our students, but this I kept to myself. I just asked that staff not touch kiddos. I provided alternatives (handshakes, rituals, proximity, etc.)
I ended up at dinner with a coworker and just like the other coworker, I started to feel so small. I was flat out told by her I was wrong about touching kiddos. She felt her actions (children on her lap, children with their heads on her lap, braiding hair, etc) were in line. Kids who have experienced sexual abuse often have indiscriminatory connections with adults, throwing hugs out like candy at a parade. Yes, touch is so important which is why I teach parenting classes that foster attachment. Attachment of a child to their primary caregiver—not a teacher assistant. I felt small, rigid, stupid. In the midst of all of this, my former partner would tell me I had manipulated the system. But—those 60 graduate hours? The narrative was that I had fooled them. I was just good at standardized tests—none of this reflection of my ability.
Well. I’m bigger now. I’ve gained some weight which really bugs me but I’m trying to survive in this first year of transition. But—I’ve got respect. I watch as others start to adopt my choice language with kiddos and watch me adapt and circle up the kids each step of the way. I don’t need any verbalizations of my value because I see my leadership reflected right back. Its not a battle to tell them not to touch kids—its just known. I don’t have to explain why licensure is important. I live and breathe by my license. As I create healthy connections and boundaries with kids the relationship grows and grows and then arrives the corrective emotional experience. For the child, and for me.
I hope to never have disciplinary action against my license and worry now that I’ve put it in this blog, somehow that former partner will mess that up. But, I have nothing to worry about. I don’t sleep with my clients. I’m very mindful of my license, my supervision, the profession. And I’m slowly starting to let it seep in that I’m a professional. Those two years of grad school, of sobriety, of fighting for my life were an investment I’m banking on now. Licensed in two states—really close to being fully licensed. Gearing up to build up a child and family program where I am the expert. Its okay if I’m reading into things—its my job.
While I’m not sure if this is the place for me, this is the profession for me. I come home each night with paint stuck into the crevices of my fingers where I bite my nails when I get that feeling of dissonance. The paint on my pants, on my finger pads, the sticks in my hair—I’m doing it! I have clinical hunches that are validated and I always take the position of curiosity. What does this behavior do for the client? What did my behavior at the school do for me? Lacking confidence, feeling beat down, forever trolling around with a bag of toys because I never had an office—this did nothing for me. So I stopped. I moved. And I became more accepting of the child within me and of the young woman that is growing up.
“I am not all knowing.
Therefore, I will not even attempt to be.
I need to be loved.
Therefore, I will be open to loving children.
I want to be more accepting of the child in me.
Therefore, I will with wonder and awe allow children to illuminate my world.
I know so little about the complex intricacies of childhood.
Therefore, I will allow children to teach me.
I learn my best from and am impacted most by my personal struggles.
Therefore, I will join with children in their struggles.
I sometimes need a refuge.
Therefore, I will provide a refuge for children.
I like it when I am fully accepted for the person I am.
Therefore, I will strive to experience and appreciate the person of the child.
I make mistakes. They are a declaration of the way I am – human and fallible.
Therefore, I will be tolerant of the humanness of children.
I react with emotional internalization and expression to my world of reality.
Therefore, I will relinquish the grasp I have on reality and try to enter the world as experienced by the child.
It feels good to be an authority, to provide answers.
Therefore, I will need to work hard to protect children from me!
I am more fully me when I feel safe.
Therefore I will be consistent in my interactions with children.
I am the only person who can live my life.
Therefore, I will not attempt to rule a child’s life.
I have learned most of what I know from experiencing.
Therefore, I will allow children to experience.
The hope I experience and the will to live comes from within me.
Therefore, I will recognize and confirm the child’s will and selfhood.
I cannot make children’s hurts and fears and frustrations and disappointments go away.
Therefore, I will soften the blow.
I experience fear when I am vulnerable.
Therefore, I will with kindness, gentleness, and tenderness touch the inner world of the vulnerable child.
– Principles for Relationships with Children”
― Garry L. Landreth, Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship